Rolling Stone decided to make a profile of Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev the cover story of their next issue, but their choice of cover photo has more than few people baffled and upset. (update: It's also prompted a growing number of retail chains to boycott the entire issue) The layout, which is being described as "shocking" and "offensive," resembles any number of rock star images that have graced the magazine over the years... and that's exactly the problem. Many people feel that the photo the editors chose makes Tsarnaev look like a smoldering teen heartthrob and not the accused murderer and terrorist that he is.
A few people have pointed out that the magazine has featured plenty of villains and criminals on its covers in the past, including Charles Manson in 1970. And the magazine (like other publications) only has a few photos of the man to choose from, which is why we've actually seen this image in several other places before, including The New York Times (and this website.) But the combination of Tsarnaev's casual, glamorous appearance with the famously "cool" magazine's attitude just isn't sitting well with most people.
At least Rolling Stone went w/ "THE BOMBER" over their first choice: "Boston's Bad Boy: Sexy, Vulnerable, Dangerous." http://t.co/4bqAtrpANg— Adam Graham (@grahamorama) July 16, 2013
Wonder how many people see the Boston bomber on the cover of “Rolling Stone” and think it’s a member of a boy band or star of a CW show?— Alan Spencer (@MrAlanSpencer) 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
Last wk I wrote about Tiger Beat Terrorist Syndrome. This wk, Rolling Stone editor joins the Ja-harem. http://t.co/wlcJSdI4us— Michelle Malkin (@michellemalkin) July 16, 2013
At least Rolling Stone didn't go with this Dzhokhar Tsarnaev cover concept… pic.twitter.com/BvGTktYn6S— Dave Gilson (@daudig) July 17, 2013
Ironically, even the small community of "Free Dzhokhar" zealots, who are unabashed fans of Tsarnaev (and his looks) are against the cover too, believing the story and the use of the word "monster" in the headline will unfairly prejudice people against him.
Of course, what is getting lost in the outrage is the substance of the actual story, written by contributing editor Janet Reitman,
which has not been posted online. (Update: The full story is online now, along with an explanatory non-apology for the cover.) It promises an in-depth look at Tsarnaev's personal history and a chronicle of his drift toward radical Islam and terrorism, but it may be overshadowed by this cover controversy. The article could be sympathetic or gut-wrenching or grippingly informative, but it's likely that most of the people who see the cover will never read it, and even fewer people will get to discuss it seriously.
Update (12:50 p.m.): The CVS pharmacy chain announced this afternoon on their Facebook page that they will not sell this particular issue of Rolling Stone in their stores out of respect for the victims. CVS, which is the second largest pharmacy in the country, is based in Rhode Island. Tedeschi Food Shops is also refusing to sell the magazine.
Update (2:40 p.m.): Rolling Stone has published the full story online, along with this editor's note, defending the cover choice:
Our hearts go out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, and our thoughts are always with them and their families. The cover story we are publishing this week falls within the traditions of journalism and Rolling Stone’s long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day. The fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is young, and in the same age group as many of our readers, makes it all the more important for us to examine the complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens. –THE EDITORS
Update (3:20 p.m.): Two more retail chains have joined the boycott: another major pharmacy chain, and a New England-based grocery store chain. Walgreens and Tedeschi Food Shops have also opted not to sell the August issue of Rolling Stone. Walgreens announced on Twitter that they wouldn't sell the issue in question:
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Walgreens will not be selling this issue of Rolling Stone magazine.— Walgreens (@Walgreens) July 17, 2013
While Tedeschi Food Shops posted the following note to Facebook:
Update 3:40 p.m.: Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has also weighed in on the cover. "Your August 3 cover rewards a terrorist with celebrity treatment," it begins, while acknowledging that "there may be valuable journalism behind your sensational treatment." Here's the letter, via the Boston Globe:
Update, 6:48 p.m.: Stop & Shop, another major New England-based grocery store chain, won't sell the Rolling Stone issue either, according to a short statement sent to The Atlantic Wire.