It’s now a cliche that a criminal, mass murderer or assassin would just love to see his/her picture on the covers of newspapers, magazines, and on television. Now Rolling Stone magazine is under fire for putting a self-portrait photo of Boston bombing suspect Jahar Tsarnaev on the cover of its latest issue.
And the photo — if you didn’t know it was Tsarnaev who along with his dead brother are accused of being the Boston bombers behind the April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon carnage — indeed looks like the photo of a young rock star. You almost wonder: Does this guy have a music video on MTV? It has set off an explosion of controversy.
The magazine was accused of glamorising terrorists by outraged online commentators, who deluged the Rolling Stone Facebook page with complaints that the cover was “tasteless” and “offensive”.
The photograph of the accused bomber is one that Mr Tsarnaev himself posted online and it has been widely published in the media previously.
But under the magazine’s famous masthead, with his tousled hair and unflinching gaze at the camera, the soft-focus cover shot of the 19-year-old portrays him more like a rock star than an alleged terrorist.
On Twitter people have said the picture of Tsarnaev looks similar to an old cover featuring Jim Morrison of The Doors.
“This cover makes him look like some kind of cool rock god… it’s horrible,” said a commentary on the magazine’s Facebook feed. Over 5,000 people have commented on Facebook since the magazine cover was revealed on Tuesday night, with many saying they were cancelling their subscription or would never buy the magazine again.
USA Today notes that the article inside is quite solid:
The article by contributing editor Janet Reitman is titled “The Bomber: How a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam and became a monster.”
• FBI negotiators were able to get a wounded Tsarnaev to surrender while huddled in a boat in the backyard of a Watertown, Mass., home by relaying a plea from his former wrestling coach to give up.
• In the months leading up to the bombings, Dzhokhar was increasingly isolated, with his parents away and his relations with two sisters strained. When a friend asked to meet Dzhokhar’s 27-year-old brother Tamerlan, the suspected mastermind of the Boston Marathon attack, the younger brother said, “No, you don’t want to meet him.”
• Around 2008, his older brother Tamerlan confided to his mother that he felt like “two people” were inside of him. A friend had suggested to her that he might need a psychiatrist, but his mother instead pushed Tamerlan deeper into Islam in hopes it would cure his inner demons and growing mental instability.
• Dzhokhar, also known as Jahar, never spoke about the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, but did slip once and told a high school friend he thought the attacks could be justified. He pointed to U.S. policies toward Muslim countries and U.S. drone strikes.
The use of the photo is likely to be debated both ways. The more prevalent view will be that the cover does glamorize him and could encourage someone out there with a sick mind or kill-for-politics agenda to eventually act, seeing how famous someone could become — and even coming away with a glamorous image. On the other hand, in packaging a news story, editors will indeed go for the best “art” they can to promote it. And the story isa kind of “who ever would have thought” piece. So the cover if viewed totally within that context is totally fitting. But can you really remove the context?
Rolling Stone: "We only put Dzhokhar Tsarnaev so that hipsters would hate him."
— Top Conservative Cat (@TeaPartyCat) July 17, 2013
Let's give Rolling Stone the benefit of the doubt. Maybe Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's new album is really, really good.
— CC:Indecision (@indecision) July 17, 2013
— Michelle Malkin (@michellemalkin) July 17, 2013
— Stern Show (@sternshow) July 17, 2013
At Rolling Stone: "Let's use Zimmerman next!" "Does Dylan have a new album dropping?" "Not Bob, George!" <eye gouge> <wrench to nose>
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) 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
@MoRocca Never thought that I would prefer Justin Bieber on the cover but…
— Kimberly (@KD782001) July 17, 2013
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
"Come for the bomber cover, stay for 500 pictures of Jack White, Johnny Depp, BB King, Keith and Bruce all jamming together!" -Rolling Stone
— Drew Magary (@drewmagary) July 17, 2013
Was Rolling Stone out of its mind to put the Boston bomb suspect on its cover? http://t.co/GxApRPBgfE
— GuardianUS (@GuardianUS) July 17, 2013
Rolling Stone's Boston bomber cover turns a criminal into a rockstar, some say: http://t.co/hVxZK9ddDm Reactions +issues the cover raises.
— Poynter (@Poynter) July 17, 2013
— OneRepublic (@OneRepublic) July 17, 2013
— linksteroh (@linksteroh) July 17, 2013
I cannot believe @RollingStone put the face of the Boston Bomber on its cover. We know what he looks like. Why glamorize a murderer?
— Anthony Lopopolo (@sportscaddy) July 16, 2013
— Larry Pareigis (@ninenorthlp) July 16, 2013
— Robin (@caulkthewagon) July 16, 2013
Well the Boston Bomber made the cover of Rolling Stone. Cool choice!
— Adam Graham (@grahamorama) July 16, 2013
UPDATE: Great Minds Think Alike Department. GO HERE to read the post by The Week’s Harold Maas (written before this was posted on TMV).
GO HERE for more blog reaction to the story and cover.
UPDATE 2: This criticism will be one that resonates:
Former White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor expressed concern on Wednesday about Rolling Stone magazine putting Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its cover, tweeting that “A disaffected US kid could see this and think terrorist are afforded rock star status.”
The cover – which prompted the pharmacy chain CVS to announce it wouldn’t sell this issue of the magazine – features a normal image of Tsarnaev looking at the camera, appearing like a normal young man.
The same image once appeared on the cover of the New York Times; objections seem to primarily revolve around the fact that Rolling Stone almost only features celebrities on its covers – most recently Johnny Depp – and thus this image would put an accused terrorist into that category, of someone to be celebraties.
–And a LOT MORE TWEETS
–Another must read: Eric Wemple: To Rolling Stone detractors: Please
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.