Feature

Editor's letter: Rolling Stone’s cover photo

Many Bostonians are outraged at the magazine's cover photo of alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

The bond between a magazine and its audience is often passionate. But rarely does that relationship get as heated as in the case of Rolling Stone’s cover photo of alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (see Talking points). Many Bostonians are outraged, accusing the magazine of glamorizing a man accused of killing four people in cold blood and putting their city in lockdown. Such sensitivity is understandable, given the rawness of the city’s emotions. Here at The Week, when we put a photo of the bombing scene on our cover in April, some readers thought we had invaded the private pain of the victims. The next week, when we put an illustration of the Tsarnaev brothers on the cover, some readers argued that we should have shown victims or first responders instead. Still others said our artist’s rendering made the pair look too “Muslim.”

This is no plea for sympathy. We in the news and opinion business dish out criticism all the time, and we’re obliged to take it. But we can’t avoid offending someone, especially with covers. Viewers process the visceral message of a cover photo or illustration in an instant, unlike the more nuanced text inside. When I worked for Time in 2001, no one doubted who had most influenced that year’s events “for better or for worse”—the long-standing criterion for Person of the Year. Time had put such arch-villains as Hitler, Stalin, and Ayatollah Khomeini on that year-end cover. But the editors decided that naming Osama bin Laden Person of the Year so soon after 9/11 would deeply offend a wounded America. When they chose Rudy Giuliani instead, I thought they’d chickened out. Today, I can hardly blame them.

James Graff

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