Four Reasons Why Rolling Stone’s Cover Is Upsetting

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Objections to Rolling Stone’s article about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have ranged from the fact that the coverage humanizes Tsarnaev to the choice of photo to the fact that Rolling Stone usually, though not always, puts a celebrity on its cover. Here, four compelling arguments from those who have voiced disapproval:

1. In a July 17 letter to Rolling Stone’s publisher, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino wrote,

Your August 3 cover rewards a terrorist with celebrity treatment. It is ill conceived, at best, and reaffirms a terrible message that destruction gains fame for killers and their “causes”… To respond to you in anger is to feed into your obvious marketing strategy. So, I write to you instead to put the focus on where you could have: on the brave and strong survivors and on the thousands of people — their family and friends, volunteers, first responders, doctors, nurses and donors — who have come to their side. Among those we lost, those who survived, and those who help carry them forward, there are artists and musicians and dancers and writers. They have dreams and plans. They struggle and strive. The survivors of the Boston attacks deserve Rolling Stone cover stories, though I no longer feel that Rolling Stone deserves them.

2. Also on July 17, Katlyn Townsend, a friend of Jeffrey Bauman, who lost both legs in the Boston bombing, posted an open letter on Facebook:

I have seen firsthand the physical and emotional devastation left in the wake of the marathon bombings. The people of Boston have lost so much. We have lost family and friends. We have lost limbs and suffered life-altering injuries. We have forever lost our sense of security. We lost an 8-year-old child. All at the hands of your cover boy. While I respect and support the media’s right to freedom of speech, I do not condone your blatant abuse of that right to sell magazines. Your use of a provocative, borderline sympathetic image and headline of someone who has caused so much pain to our country is appalling, insensitive and disgusting. This person does not deserve to have his name mentioned publicly, let alone be featured on the cover of a magazine.

3. On July 18, Ty Burr of the Boston Globe wrote:

There are many, many ways Rolling Stone magazine could have put Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its cover ... Rolling Stone went with a selfie. That, in itself, says everything — most of it ill advised … The selfie is our modern mirror. It’s less a way of looking out at the world than reminding ourselves that the world is looking at us, even when it isn’t. When you take a selfie, you are imagining yourself as how you’d like to be — as who you’d like to be. You are engaging in persona management: the creation of a cuter, cooler, more glamorous you. There’s a reason that adolescents take selfies at the rate of about 100 per minute. They’re trying on masks. And the ones they release to the world are the masks they want us to see.

In Tsarnaev’s selfie, he stares just off the camera’s eye-line with an opaque but calm expression. A tangle of hair falls over one eye; it’s very possible he worked for a minute or two to get that lock just so. The faintest ghost of a smile hovers around the corners of his mouth. He’s slumped against a white wall, wearing a white Armani Exchange T-shirt whose letters cluster like artful scribbles. He is the picture, literally, of a relaxed, sincere, slightly mysterious young dude … By putting this Tsarnaev on the cover, Rolling Stone at best plays with and at worst buys into the accused’s own manufactured image, casual but potent, speaking in a language we all understand.

4. Richard Donahue, the MBTA officer shot in a standoff with the Tsarnaev brothers, told NBC:

I realize the importance of journalism in covering this person’s story, but to see the face portrayed in that way will deeply impact the victims who were affected the most by what happened in April … The objection is the photos. I read the story myself last night … Covering the story is all well and good, it should be talked about, but they could have picked a better cover that’s not going to be as sensational and offensive to many people.

In response to the outcry, Rolling Stone has posted this editor’s note:

Our hearts go out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, and our thoughts are always with them and their families. The cover story we are publishing this week falls within the traditions of journalism and Rolling Stone’s long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day. The fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is young, and in the same age group as many of our readers, makes it all the more important for us to examine the complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens.

MORE: We Need to Learn More About Young Men Like the Boston Bomber, Not Less

74 comments
jbyong
jbyong

Rolling Stone wanted to be edgy and they thought it was cool that pic looked like Jim Morrison since you know they are like magazine about iconic rock stars.  But they went too far. The article romanticizes terrorist Jahar and is just as DISGUSTING as the Teen Beat cover. Beautiful, soulful eyes - R U Kidding me? Who says this about cold blooded remorseless killer???  Brothers were lazy potsmokers who never had real jobs and Americans paid for their welfare and this dirtbag Jahar even got scholarship to go to college. Jahar wasted his college by smoking pot and he was failing classes. They blame financial problems on parents who left for Russia and "boring" college. The article was more about blaming society and everyone else to humanize Jahar as the poor soul victim. Even though he killed maimed 250+ Americans and partied and prob smoked pot after bombing. It was SICK OFFENSIVE COVER and ARTICLE and Rolling Stone just trying to be edgy and sell magazine.  Too bad the author and editors did not lose any family members to the bombings to see how disgusting and hurtful to victims this had caused.  Oh yeah that Manson cover was 20 years ago and at least the editor at that time had decency not to use Manson picture that looked like Teen Beat or teen rock star.  Mugshot would have shown this is what happens when you KILL PEOPLE! IDIOT EDITORS!

ThomasHealy
ThomasHealy

3 words, TIME: Monsters Next Door (May 1999)

arvay
arvay

Maybe TIME is jealous because Rolling Stone's coverage of our economy, via Matt Taibbi -- so outdistances every other "journalistic " effort?

The cover is a blunder, and we can count on the lubricated  ones of the government to jump on this. 

CaribbeanSail
CaribbeanSail

Its almost funny that something like this is posted on TIME, a magazine that used to have the balls to name people like Hitler, Stalin and the Ayatollah person of the year and place them on the cover.  The fact is, these horrid people sometimes were the most influencial people of the year, even if it was bad rather then good.  But social and political pressure would never had allowed TIME to make Bin Ladin person of the year, even though appropriate based on the original intent of the issue.   Now we have on TIME a post criticizing Rolling Stone (granted typically a pop culture magazine, but who also does hard news time to time) for having the bravery they lost.  The cover is honest, news media too often just shows the "ugliest" photos of our villians, but reality is that these people can an do look "just like us" and an attractive photo from his facebook page probably serves the public far better then a mug shot would.

sonterrific
sonterrific

Hmmmm. Rolling Stone is trying to figure out why tragedies like this happen. Well, let's see. Perhaps it's because mass-media puts scumbags like this in the spotlight. Placing a celebrity-style photo of them on the cover of magazines with the likes of Michael Jackson and Brad Pitt. Or maybe it's because you also readily supply them with excuses like how a family failed them and caused them to become a monster. Let's not blame the poor guy who decided to place a bomb in a crowd. It's not his fault. It's everyone else's.

xandersun
xandersun

Well, he WAS a human, wasn't he? If misguided in the end. We "Christians" talk a lot about violence-glorifying-Muslim-extremists, and insensitivity shown by "humanizing" and "romanticizing" a person who represented and wreaked death and violence in some misguided belief and allegiance to something that wasn't worth it. If we really are different from the Muslim extremist killer, then why not a bit of foregiveness and attempt to understand? 

Rolling Stone will remove that cover when society is no longer so hypocritical so as to indulge the "humanizing" of such people as Nathan Bedford Forest, or the 24 medals of honor awarded to U.S. soldiers at Wounded Knee. Or when Time magazine put a "humanizing" picture of Timothy McVeigh on its cover. But then again, he's "white" and "Christian", so that doesn't count.

Kalyan
Kalyan

What's wrong in a photo published on a cover page? The whole purpose of freedom of opinion is based on the idea of publishing pleasent and unpleasent in the same manner without any prejudice to either. And, by the way, this question of sensitivity to people's feelings are never raised when all magazines publish 'hunger' / 'poverty' photos of other countries. Is that a case of double standard?

DarleneLEmanuel
DarleneLEmanuel

yes he did a terrible terrible thing and people were hurt over it but i'm tired of the whining. I CAN'T wait to grab my issue of it. It comes out tomorrow. Does anyone know which stores WILL be selling it??? He is absolutely fascinating and quite good looking...

Sean_C2
Sean_C2

This is one of the dumbest "controversies" in recent memory.  The cover calls him a 'monster', and somehow people regard this as too sympathetic because the photo was too nice-looking or something?  Good God, people, get some perspective.

ClifftonAinley
ClifftonAinley

@Sean_C2 ...and shaping it as he is some victim himself in the process. If they are trying to paint him as a monster why use a photo of him posing like he is Zoolander. I think you need to get some perspective...

ShawnArscott
ShawnArscott

Nobody seems to say that there has not been a trial yet - innocent before guilty. 

AcidRed
AcidRed

@ShawnArscott GUILTY, GUILTY, GUILTY!!! WHAT? About the LIVE news do YOU not get?????

I didn't see it happen LIVE therefore IT didn't happen??? REALLY??? Maybe if it was YOUR loved one's bleeding and dead YOU would see the obvious. Cut the BS......

sonterrific
sonterrific

@dvette63 @ShawnArscott I do believe he's guilty but as we learned in the Zimmerman trial, the news just can't be trusted to tell you the truth. We'll have to see what happens in court.

egret26
egret26

Hey, TIME Magazine - you might want to look back at who you've featured on your covers over the years before you get your undies in an uproar over any other publication.  Hypocrites!

c.adam.flynn
c.adam.flynn

@egret26 Time is a journalistic magazine whose primary offering is news and journalism; Rolling Stone is a music/pop culture magazine whose primary offering is music/entertainment news and interviews (with a small side of news and journalism).  Its an apples to oranges comparison.  RS treated the bomber as if he was any other celebrity that they routinely place on their covers; that's what people are upset about.

Beemo123
Beemo123

Kinda funny that Rolling Stone totally dodged the issue at hand by defending the story, which nobody (not even the Mayor of Boston) objected to, rather than the ridiculous cover picture. I'm all for freedom of speech, but that doesn't make it any less offensive to people who were affected by it and that's what Rolling Stone doesn't understand. Glamorizing the kid, and that's what this is, is wrong. He doesn't looks like that everyday. He probably spent 15 minutes in front of the mirror and had to take 10 pictures before he got it "perfect." So rather than publish a candid of the kid (which would be far less objectionable), they post this. Hell even having this ridiculous cover as an inset over an image of one of the blasts would at least cause some juxtaposition which would probably be more in line with the article itself. But no, they went with a full cover glam shot.

I think the editors must realize they goofed up, their lack of acknowledging the photo is probably evidence of this - realizing that anything they say in defense of the picture (not the story) will just make them look worse. Wouldn't be surprised if a few people get fired if this debacle ends up costing Rolling Stone more money than the controversy will generate due to lost subscriptions, boycotts, etc. The way things often play out though I kind of doubt this, they are probably enjoying the most buzz from anything they have published since Hunter S. Thompson wrote for them. Ah well, c'est la vie. 

TL;DR Not for censorship, simply common sense.

egret26
egret26

@AmyCushing Yeah - its name is caritas, unheard of in the conservative population.