Names and Faces: Sean Penn, Tara Palmeri, Paula Abdul, Aaron Schock

Paula Abdul spent time with wonks.
Paula Abdul spent time with wonks. (Peter Kramer - AP)
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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sean Penn's choice words

A local reporter was evicted from an interview with Sean Penn at a Haiti benefit Thursday night after asking him a question that event organizers deemed out of bounds.

A bit of history: Last week, the Oscar winner -- who started an earthquake relief organization and has been working in Haitian refugee camps -- told CBS that critics cynical about celebrity do-gooderism should "die screaming of rectal cancer."

Thursday night, Washington Examiner reporter Tara Palmeri, last in line to question Penn in a closed press room at the Washington Hebrew Congregation, used her turn to bring up Penn's quote: "How have you seen your critics change since you mentioned that they should die of rectal cancer?"

It didn't go over well -- certainly not with Penn, who told Palmeri, "I think that you're invested in a culture that I'm not interested in." In a YouTube video of the exchange, a woman off-camera -- whom Palmeri identifies as C.J. Jordan, the event's publicity coordinator -- can be heard telling Palmeri that her question is supposed to be about the night's benefit.

"It's related to the Haiti benefit," Palmeri says.

"Ma'am, this is the end of your interview," Jordan replies.

It went downhill from there. Jordan escorted Palmeri out of the room into a reception area, where several other reporters were gathered, Palmeri told The Post on Friday. "I was told that they were going to call my editors and have me fired if I didn't write a letter of apology to the ambassador of Haiti," a guest at the event, Palmeri says. "She told me, 'You desecrated this sacred place.' "

Jordan, a former coordinator for John McCain's presidential campaign who has been doing volunteer publicity work for the Haitian Embassy since the Jan. 12 earthquake, confirmed those details: "I told her that she didn't know who I was, and that if she wanted to keep her job, she should write a letter of apology."

Upon Penn's arrival, he had agreed to answer one question each from six media outlets, terms set by Jordan, who says that she did not specify that the questions should only be about the benefit. But, she says, "when someone of that magnitude is giving of his time and talent for a worthy cause, you know, we want to be respectful. More importantly, we were in the temple. And all the other reporters asked wonderful questions. She could have led into that question into a different manner."

"I think this whole thing has been blown out of proportion," Rabbi Bruce Lustig tells us. In a story Palmeri wrote about the fracas, she says Lustig -- whose Cleveland Park synagogue is donating 50,000 packaged meals to Haiti and provided space for the event -- tried to take her camera and delete its contents. Lustig says he approached Palmeri and Jordan in the reception area, noticing obvious tension, and tried to help. He says he only suggested that Palmeri delete her video footage, and offered to help when she appeared to be fumbling with the buttons.

"I did not hear the question," Lustig says. "It was clear that they felt she was being rude. My first comment to the reporter was, 'We, of course, believe in the First Amendment, but there's a time and place for everything.' "

So . . . how was the benefit? "It was very successful," Jordan says. "We had standing room only, and it was an outpouring of love for the people of Haiti. Mr. Penn's remarks were wonderful." Jordan paraphrased the actor: " 'If bringing attention to me means bringing light to Haiti, then I understand that.' "

End notes

Spotted: Former "American Idol" judge Paula Abdul and Rep. Aaron Schock at a National Young Leaders Conference event on the Hill on Thursday (the Illinois Republican was an NYLC participant back in high school). . . . Stevie Wonder at Blues Alley on Thursday night. He stopped in to see saxophonist Najee and jumped onstage for two songs. . . . Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (both in suits) having a two-hour dinner at Rasika on Thursday night.

-- Marissa Newhall, from staff, wire and Web reports

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