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

57 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.

ShawnArscott
ShawnArscott

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

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!

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.

ChuckSwindler
ChuckSwindler

I like how Time just reprints some other opinions, slaps a ubiquitous and utterly lame "xx reasons you should...blah blah blah" headline on there and calls it an article. What is this, the Huffington Post?

Addledminds
Addledminds

In reading the article and the comments... this picture upsets "us" (Us being white Americans) because he looks like one of "us". If there was a trace of any other ethnicity, I doubt anyone would complain. Tsarneav can't be changed into the "other". He's not an alien, not a minority... he's just a kid like any other. This kid just happens to be a murderer just like the white kids at Columbine or Sandy Hook or innumerable other massacres. We need to own up to our legacy, we teach hatred as unthinkingly as we breathe. We saw that in the recent "stand your ground" verdict. We identify with the perpetrators and then don't seem to understand when things go terribly wrong.

ryanhscott
ryanhscott

In summation:

1)  Mayor Menino:  I shouldn't talk about this, but I will anyway.
2) Ms. Townsend:  I support free speech, but not when that speech offends me.
3) Mr. Burr:  Couldn't you have found an uglier picture?
4) Mr. Donahue's excerpt is the most subtle and most correct:  The picture is meant to create sensation to sell the mag (which it is--thanks everyone!) and the picture will offend most of those affected by the Boston bombings.  

Indeed, just seeing the face of Mr. Tsarnaev is enough to offend some, others are offended because the glamorous way in which Mr. Tsarnaev is portrayed. I truly feel for the victims and victims' friends and family, myself included, regarding what happened.  But are we really going to collectively go Mr. T every time a picture displays a mass killer who's not in prison attire?  I appreciate different or offensive or presents a contrary viewpoints because I can learn from them.       

Taking myself as averagely cynical, this call for opprobrium seems to come from a place of fear, which results in patronage.  The fear is that others may replicate such actions to achieve similar celebrity.  Patronage comes in the form of economic censorship vie free-market choice--the old "we can tell you what you ought and ought not read, America" song-and-dance in updated form.  

Let's get one thing straight--Mr. Tsarnaev was made popular long before Rolling Stone put him on the cover.  The media, which is only a mirror to the demands of its viewer, turned him into a superstar.   

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

He's not getting the rock star treatment.  Did anyone bother to read the article?

This is America.  If you don't like it, don't read it.

TrajanSaldana
TrajanSaldana

i don't remember any of this outrage when osama bin laden appeared on magazine covers? and he supposedly killed and injured FAR more Americans than this kid allegedly did...Americans just love whining

JoelofCydonia
JoelofCydonia

The fact that these people view getting a Rolling Stone cover as a "reward" shows how ridiculous our obsession with celebrity is.  We hold fame in such high esteem that we feel guilty talking about criminals because our attention has become some sort of honor.

JustinCaouette
JustinCaouette

If they weren't condoning his actions I could understand the outrage but the magazine is clearly against him (as you said he is referred to as a "monster" without his guilt proven just yet--which it likely will but he has claimed innocence). Some people have criticized them for the picture itself, as it makes him look like a 'real' person. I, on the other hand, think that it's important for the public to see him as he looked in real life and not ONLY as he looks in mug shots or with his hat backwards. The face of a "monster" can and oftentimes DOES resemble people we encounter daily. It's important for the public to realize that. Once realized, I think a lot of misplaced prejudice against certain 'looks' would go by the wayside. 

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...

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......

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.

egret26
egret26

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

ClifftonAinley
ClifftonAinley

@ryanhscott Nothing to do w fear, buddy. It is called class. I know that class isn't in high supply these days, but it is time for people in our society to start getting some. Rolling Stone is well within their rights to put this on their cover, but Americans have a right to run their name through the mud for doing so; and rightfully I might add.

starlit108
starlit108

@Hollywooddeed 

The controversy is not about the article; it is about the cover picture.  And yes, he IS getting the rock-star treatment.

ClifftonAinley
ClifftonAinley

@Hollywooddeed Indeed. We also have the right to call a magazine out onto the rug when they don't display even a hint off class...

MuricanBob
MuricanBob

Brother, you said it yourself. This is MURICA, we DON'T read and we still don't like it! Lol MURICA!!!!

starlit108
starlit108

@TrajanSaldana The problem is NOT putting them on a cover.  The problem is  the glamour of the image.  

AcidRed
AcidRed

@TrajanSaldana No POS deserve's to be on the cover of ANY magazine and only shows the lows these RAG's will go to to get toilet paper sold, think about it.

c.adam.flynn
c.adam.flynn

@tnmc music and entertainment vs. news and world events.  It's an apple to orange comparison.  Besides, it's not the act of putting him on the cover per se, its the act of selecting and promoting an image that the accused chose to portray himself as, rather than an image that reflects the nature of his acts.

starlit108
starlit108

@JustinCaouette 1. Do you know what "condoning" means? 2. The picture does not look like "just like us" in "everyday life".  It looks like a dressed-up,. made-up rock star. The backwards hat shots are like the rest of us in every day life, actually.

gysgt213
gysgt213

@JustinCaouette I agree.  The lesson: You cannot judge people just by how they appear.  The cleanest cut guy in a suit could turn into your worst nightmare while a guy looking like Charles Ramsey could be your savior. 

Finally these are not reasons anyway.  They are opinions. 


jbelliott311
jbelliott311

Thank you!! I was trying to explain this to my husband last night, but you did it much more eloquently then I did!

I have already passed it on to him.

This should be a point of discussion about how and why he became a "suspected" terrorist (ie: the article's content). Not about a magazine cover.

ClifftonAinley
ClifftonAinley

@JustinCaouette Here is a reason; it comes off as glorification. The media make these psychos into pop culture icons and it needs to stop

c.adam.flynn
c.adam.flynn

@JustinCaouette The fact that it is an emotional response is the entire point.  From a technical and legal perspective, they did nothing wrong.  There will be very little logic in any response from the victims and witnesses of the attacks; the revulsion that people feel towards this cover, which features a man that caused direct harm to some of those making appeals, is an entirely natural and human response that RS was either blind to, or willingly ignored.  Either way, the cover was in bad taste.

prieten
prieten

@JustinCaouette 

First, thanks for the link. It's interesting to hear dissenting voices. However, I am not very impressed with Ms. Caouette's rationalizations. First of all, saying Rolling Stone did it before with Manson in the 70s and Time did it with McVeigh in 1995 and "no one complained" just isn't true. And in any event, two wrongs don't make a right. Next, she says it is a known fact that you will get extensive media coverage if you commit a crime, so appearing in a glamour shot on the cover of a magazine popular with the young is no incentive for copycats. Really? How many criminals get on the cover of a national magazine which usually features pop culture celebrities' faces on the cover? Last, she says it's important people realize that "real" (normal-looking?) people can commit horrendous crimes. As the Boston Globe commentator pointed out, this isn't a "real" photo of Tsarnaev, it's a preening, narcissistic "selfie" photo. He might have even been imagining his face on the cover of some magazine! No, we have to admit Rolling Stone picked this photo for its outrage potential, and now people are understandably outraged.

One more comment from me, I find it strange how Ms. Caouette keeps insisting people shouldn't jump to conclusions about Tsarnaev because he has pleaded innocent hasn't been convicted yet. Is this some kind of "philosophical" stance? I may be naive but I think a philosopher, who suspends her judgement  despite the mountains of evidence we are aware of, just can't be expected to give us much insight into any philosophical questions either.    

 All right, Justin, fess up, is Ms. Caouette your sister?

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.

tnmc
tnmc

@c.adam.flynn @tnmc It's right there on the front cover of Rolling Stone magazine:  "Music- POLITICS - Movies & TV - etc..."  Rolling Stone is one of the final remaining bastions of real political journalism left in the US these days.  Matt Taibbi's writing about the financial crisis is pretty much unparalleled.  The late Michael Hasting's writing revealed McCrystal as being unfit for command.  No one else is writing what Rolling Stone writes about politics so this criticism of the magazine as merely being puffy entertainment is just not true.  Dr. Hook may have sung about being on the cover of the Rolling Stone but they probably did not want to be described as monsters both on the cover and in the content of the story.

Or is it just that nobody in America actually *reads* anymore and only looks at the pictures?  

ClifftonAinley
ClifftonAinley

@mikehower @JustinCaouette Nobody is saying they don't have the right. You have the right to do a lot of classless things. Just because you have the right does not make it right....

c.adam.flynn
c.adam.flynn

@mikehower @JustinCaouette No one is complaining about the article, or the fact that it was featured as a cover story.  The image they chose to represent the accused; one that he himself chose to represent himself, rather than one that represents his actions, is the only thing people are upset over.

The article itself may be good journalism, but the cover image selected is certainly bad marketing, as it will discourage many from reading it.

c.adam.flynn
c.adam.flynn

@tnmc @c.adam.flynn This is not political journalism.  Politics have nothing to do with the story.  Besides, 1 or 2 articles out of 30 in any given RS episode will be about politics, and they will almost always be preempted on the cover by the latest celebrity who is interviewed in the same issue.  Either way the point is moot; the issue is not the article, nor the fact that the bomber was on the cover.  It is only about the glamour of the image chosen, and how it only represents how the accused sees himself (via a "selfie") and ignores the horrific nature of his alleged actions.