For decades, the cover of Rolling Stone has been a coveted and iconic space for groundbreaking musicians; Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix are just a few to have graced it, and now, alleged Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev joins their ranks.
When news broke Tuesday that the baby-faced terror suspect would cover the August issue, the response from the public reflected general feelings of outrage and dismay.
This afternoon, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino responded with a letter to Rolling Stone, calling the cover story an “obvious marketing strategy” that is “ill-conceived” and “at best…re-affirms a terrible message that destruction gains fame for killers and their ’causes.'”
The music publication features a shaggy-haired Tsarnaev in a story titled “The Bomber,” which “delivers a deeply reported account of the life and times of Boston bomber Jahar Tsarnaev,” according to the magazine. But many are enraged that the publication, which has covered several high-profile criminal cases in the past including a 1970 piece on Charles Manson, would give the 19-year-old terrorist the rock star treatment.
“I think it was a marketing ploy,” said Suffolk University Communication Professor Robert Rosenthal. “I think they knew it would create some controversy, but I do believe people will stand by their pledge to boycott the magazine.”
“The article itself I don’t think will cause this level of controversy… Had they picked a photo that was unflattering of (Tsarnaev) when he was out of the boat, or something in prison garb that made him look evil, I think they would’ve gotten a better response. They still could have hyped the story because it sounds like its going to be a decent investigative piece, and wouldn’t have alienated anybody,” Rosenthal said.
Chris Redshaw, creator of a Facebook page named “Boycott Rolling Stone magazine for their latest cover”, agreed with Rosenthal’s assertion that the article is not the issue: “It’s not the article that I have a problem with. It’s putting his face on the cover; a polished picture. I was outraged. It’s pouring salt in a very raw wound.”
Redshaw, 42, acknowledged the magazine’s previous use of notorious serial killer Charles Manson on a 1970 cover, but said she believes the Tsarnaev cover is more offensive.
“It was a different culture. We didn’t have the internet,” she said.
In his letter to Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, Menino asks the magazine to focus on the Boston Marathon terror attack survivors. “They struggle and strive. The survivors of the Boston attacks deserve Rolling Stone cover stories, though I no longer feel that Rolling Stone deserves them.”
At 3 p.m. Wednesday, hours after news broke of the controversial cover, Rolling Stone released a statement saying “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 withing 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 Djohar 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.”
Regardless of the publication’s intent, Rite Aid, CVS and Tedeschi said they won’t sell the magazine, and the Facebook page had more than 70,000 “likes” as of 5 p.m. In its “About” section, the page says, “Rolling Stone announced [its] new cover today, featuring the Boston Bomber in a Jim Morrison-esque type pose. This is unacceptable and a slap in the face for those he killed and maimed. Join me in boycotting this filthy rag.”
“Rolling Stone…SHAME on you!!” wrote Melinda Bowden Carroll on the page’s comment section. Mark Farmer wrote, “I’m done with that magazine, what a disgrace to all the victims…How about a tribute to them Rolling Stone!!!”
Others, however, were not so bothered by the controversial cover.
David Franz offered this comment on the Facebook page: “This picture shows a young man full of promise. The transformation of that young man into the monster he became is at the heart of the article. It is entirely logical to use in that context.”
Commenter Henry Davis pointed to the freedom of the press, saying “The cover has the bomber’s face because he is the subject of the article. It serves to highlight how he was just a short time before a fairly normal kid who had a lot in common with many of Rolling Stone’s readers. There have been any number of tributes to the victims and I don’t think the magazine is under any obligation to do another. If you don’t like it obviously you don’t have to buy it, but I think pressuring businesses to not carry a magazine because you don’t like the cover is wrong. I think Rolling Stone is absolutely right to stand by their cover. These businesses are not brave, they are simply bowing to the loudest voice and essentially suppressing protected speech. You are all within your rights, but I think you are wrong.”
In a poll done by “The Today Show,” 91 percent of readers believe the cover goes too far.
Tsarnaev’s groupies are also “disgusted” with the cover story because it proclaims the terror suspect is, in fact, a bomber. His fans, the “Free Jahar” crowd, stand strong behind the law’s presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
Rolling Stone reporter Janet Reitman’s in-depth story offers up details about Tsarnaev’s life, including the night he was captured by law enforcement. As he was hiding in the boat in Watertown on April 19, police negotiators told him his old wrestling coach had made a public plea for him to surrender. Police said reminding him of his old life was what convinced him to surrender.
The story also claims Tsarnaev hinted that the thought the 9/11 attacks could be justified, and told a friend who wanted to meet his older brother, Tamerlan, “No, You don’t want to meet him.” Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed shortly before Dzhokhar was taken into custody. Federal officials claim in an indictment that the 19-year-old ran his brother over in a frenzied attempt to evade police, contributing to his death.
The report also alleges that Tamerlan once told his mother Zubeidat Tsarnaev that he felt like there were “two people” inside him. Instead of seeking treatment for her son, the report claims she pushed him further into religion; the significance being that the brothers were allegedly motivated by radical Islam. Before his capture, Tsarnaev allegedly scribbled notes inside the Watertown boat that said, “The U.S. Government is killing our innocent civilians,” “I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished,” and “We Muslims are one body you hurt one you hurt us all.”
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