Rolling Stone magazine is featuring Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, on the cover of its next issue. The decision to make Dzhokhar the Cover Boy has some people in the social media very riled.
They think the cover photo makes Tsarnaev into a rock star and glams up an accused terrorist. Rolling Stone defends the cover, saying the story is legitimate journalism that explores how a young man, in the same age range as many Rolling Stone readers, became involved in a “tragedy.” (I’m not sure that “tragedy” is quite the right word to describe an intentional bombing specifically designed to kill innocents, but let’s pass on that issue.) The headline on the cover says: “THE BOMBER: How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam, and Became a Monster.”
I’m not quite grasping what the big deal is. I’m not falling for the Rolling Stone statement about “serious journalism” as a justification for the decision. You could do a serious piece about Tsarnaev without putting his tousled mug on the cover. I’m sure Rolling Stone, like every other magazine, hopes that the cover will attract the eye of casual newsstand browsers and lead to increased sales. There’s nothing wrong with that; Rolling Stone just doesn’t want to admit it. The fact that the cover already has become controversial and provoked lots of chatter probably was something the magazine was hoping for, too.
But really — who cares if Tsarnaev is on the cover of Rolling Stone? Do people really believe that anyone will become a terrorist in hopes that he, too, will make a magazine cover? And what’s with the “glorification” argument? Tsarnaev’s cover photo has already been on the front page of just about every news website; I don’t remember any outcry about glamming then. Are people really arguing that, any time a terrorist act is committed, newspapers and websites can’t publish a photo that makes the suspect look like anything other than a deranged killer? That seems silly.
So let Rolling Stone publish its piece, and let it try to sell a few extra magazines in doing so. I’d like to see some real digging into what happened to the Tsarnaev brothers, to see whether there is something we can do to prevent the next terrorist attack. Maybe if Rolling Stone sells out this issue, more journalists will cover that very important story.