Rolling Stone is facing an outburst of criticism over its decision to put surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its cover — a spot normally reserved for rock stars and actors. Outraged observers called the image — showing the 19-year-old Tsarnaev with tousled hair and a dreamy gaze, in a picture he once posted online —"disgusting," arguing that it glorified terrorism and insulted the victims of the deadly April attack.
"Boycott Rolling Stone" immediately became a trending topic on Twitter in Boston. Northeastern University criminologist Jack Levin said the cover story was sending terrorist wannabes the message that, "If they want to become famous — kill somebody." Celebrities were among the first to slam the magazine for giving an accused terrorist the rock-star treatment.
Maybe I'm old fashioned but putting the Boston bomber on the cover or Rolling Stone is a terrible idea.
— Albert Brooks (@AlbertBrooks) July 17, 2013
Who knew Rolling Stone was the magazine for dreamboat terrorist cover boys? Should rename it Tamil Tiger Beat.
— Mo Rocca (@MoRocca) July 17, 2013
The magazine describes the cover article, by contributing editor Janet Reitman, as a "riveting and heartbreaking account of how a charming kid with a bright future became a monster." Reitman, Rolling Stone says, spent two months talking to investigators as well as Tsarnaev's friends, neighbors, and teachers. The story reveals that Tsarnaev downplayed his family troubles and hardline Muslim beliefs, although he once confided to a friend that he felt terrorism could sometimes be justified due to U.S. policies toward Muslim nations.
Rolling Stone's detractors, however, see little purpose in splashing Tsarnaev's glamour shot on the cover — other than to stir up publicity and sell heaps of magazines. Here's Jim Geraghty of National Review:
The Rolling Stone cover has a real late-Newsweek, hoping-controversy-drives-newsstand-sales vibe.
— jimgeraghty (@jimgeraghty) July 17, 2013
The article also angered Tsarnaev's fans, who include smitten young admirers who have sent him love notes in jail. Members of the "Free Jahar" movement (Jahar is another spelling of Tsarnaev's first name) tweeted that Rolling Stone was "stirring the pot even more" by calling Tsarnaev a monster even though he has not gone on trial yet.
The magazine is not without its defenders.
Everybody is all ragey rage outraged over the Rolling Stone cover of Tsarnaev but has anybody read the actual story it promotes?
— Garrett Quinn (@GarrettQuinn) July 17, 2013
That Dzhokhar selfie on the Rolling Stone cover was everywhere at the time. It was on the front page of the Times! pic.twitter.com/ix0KreMst7
— Stefan Becket (@stefanjbecket) July 17, 2013
That might be Rolling Stone's best defense. As Slade Sohmer notes at Hypervocal, the Times isn't the only publication that has already used the image Rolling Stone put on its cover — it has been "on every news website in the country." Months of incessant coverage has already glamorized Tsarnaev, Sohmer says.
But now that his smug selfie stares at you from the cover of a rock magazine, regardless of the fact that the story itself seems to be good journalism — real journalism telling a story we WANT to hear, we NEED to hear, the 'teachable moment' story of how a normal kid ended up trying to commit mass murder in the name of terrorism — we're outraged?...
Rolling Stone's Janet Reitman went deep on this profile, revealing new details that might paint a more helpful picture for us of what a terror suspect might look like. By all accounts, this is something that people are not only interested in, but something by which they're fascinated. Its the big feature this month. What happens when someone's the big feature? They get the cover. How do magazines try to get you to read it? They entice with the cover. That's all that happened here. Next. [Hypervocal]