July 17, 2013

Bomber as rock star? Rolling Stone cover draws outrage

The fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was young, good-looking and well-assimilated 'makes it all the more important for us to examine ... how a tragedy like this happens,' the magazine says.

The Associated Press

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In this magazine cover image released by Wenner Media, Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev appears on the cover of the Aug. 1, 2013 issue of "Rolling Stone." (AP Photo/Wenner Media)

AP

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"All of a sudden you realize that's the Boston bomber," said Gabler, who lives in the Washington, D.C., area. "The cover almost tricks you into what you're looking at. I haven't read the article yet, and I know it will probably be quite in-depth, but my initial reaction is that the photo that's being used almost makes him look like a good guy."

Rolling Stone said the cover story was part of its "long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day." And the magazine has had plenty of covers featuring people outside the realm of entertainment, from President Obama to Charles Manson.

Putting criminals and alleged criminals on the covers of major magazines is justified if they are major news figures, said Samir Husni, a journalism professor who heads the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi. It's digitally manipulating a photo that never is, said Husni, reached by phone on vacation in his native Lebanon.

"They'll probably regret it later," he said of Rolling Stone's handling of its cover. "Even if it wasn't doctored it's going to bring those negative reactions."

Hundreds of Facebook and Twitter commenters condemned the magazine. Many cursed. Others expressed sadness and still more vowed never to read or purchase the magazine again.

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino spoke for them in a letter he dashed off to Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner accusing the magazine of offering Tsarnaev "celebrity treatment" and calling the cover "ill-conceived, at best," in that it supports the "terrible message that destruction gains fame for killers and their 'causes.'"

The letter goes on to call the cover an obvious marketing strategy and concludes: "The survivors of the Boston attacks deserve Rolling Stone cover stories, though I no longer feel that Rolling Stone deserves them."

What does the controversy say about the culture today? It's a culture that has already produced an online fandom for the attractive young bombing suspect, including young girls calling him "hot" and promising to help clear his name. At his hearing last week, a dozen or so girls wore T-shirts and stickers bearing his face.

Jamieson had this to say on that score:

"If you took that picture and you walked into an audience three months before the bombing and you said, 'Here, this is a cover of Rolling Stone,' what would people say? They'd say, 'Ah, a new artist emerges on the national stage and Rolling Stone is doing a cover. What is his name? Well I guess it's Bomber.'"

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