05/12/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Leave Sean Penn Alone

On Thursday night, actor Sean Penn came to Washington to accept a well-deserved humanitarian award for his work in Haiti since the Jan. 12 earthquake destroyed most of the capital city of Port au Prince and left at least 230,000 people dead.

But no one will read about that.

The gala, hosted by Haitian Ambassador Raymond Joseph and his wife, Lola Poisson-Joseph, was a fundraiser to help rebuild what is left of Petit Goâve, a town about 40 miles west of the capital. Two-hundred people RSVPed but 316 showed up. To keep costs down, Lola (as everyone calls Madame Poisson-Joseph) fed them all with food prepared by her own hands -- prepared out of love for what she called her "Haiti cherie."

But no one will read about that.

The Washington Hebrew Congregation provided space in its synagogue for the event, which featured as its keynote speaker Archbishop Barney Auza, the Papal Nuncio (the equivalent of a Vatican ambassador) of Haiti. This coming together of Jewish and Catholic cultures, for a cause that both support, is significant.

But no one will read about that.

Student Nathalie Cerin performed a hauntingly moving Haitian Creole ballad heavy with the sorrow of loss and hope for the future. She attends college here in the United States but was at home in Haiti on break and saw her house crumble in a pile of dust during the earthquake.

But no one will read about that.

Instead, the Internet was abuzz Friday with news that a reporter had been ejected from the press room at the event for asking Sean Penn a provocative question about an off-the-cuff remark he made that he hopes his critics die screaming of rectal cancer.

Penn has proven himself an unflagging advocate for Haiti. He was one of the first high- profile people on the ground after the earthquake. He personally transported $1 million into the country in backpacks, much of it his own money, he told "CBS News Sunday Morning." He spent three weeks living in a tent. He brought his own daughter into the devastation, and together father and daughter dragged a woman and a child from the ruins of a collapsed building and personally drove them to a makeshift hospital.

Penn, of course, has had more than his share of run-ins with the media and is known for an explosive temperament. But he handled this particular situation with aplomb and grace, refusing to be goaded. You can see for yourself on YouTube that his response was reasonable and, in its own way, an on-point critique of the ravening media environment.

"You know, I think that you are investing in a culture that I am not interested in," he told his inquisitor with a slight smile. "And you should go your way."

The gotcha culture of the media in Washington and elsewhere is occasionally mildly entertaining. But at an event where many people have gone to such great lengths to do something good, what could be more unseemly?

The goal to shame, harass, embarrass or even just snare five minutes of "famous for DC" notoriety represents the worst of a self-serving media culture. "I'm on drudge, now i [sic] can die," the reporter, Tara Palmeri of the Washington Examiner, crowed on Twitter on Friday morning after the Drudge Report picked up her story.

"Tara's story linked on Drudge after her fued [sic] with Sean Penn," she bragged on Facebook 30 minutes later.

The journalist goes on to accuse Penn of violating her First Amendment right to free speech because a PR person asked Palmeri to leave and police escorted her from the premises. But the First Amendment protects the right to freedom of expression from governmental interference -- and there was no such interference here. Moreover, the First Amendment does not guarantee a right to remain on private property or to force a non-governmental entity to answer your questions. (And it does not give members of the press any special free-speech privileges not available to citizens in general.)

But, anyway, good for you, Tara. You took on Sean Penn. And you got people to Read All About It!

But they won't be reading about the important things done Thursday night for the people of Haiti.