Rolling Stone magazine recently came under fire for putting Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bombing suspect, on the cover of its latest issue.
“THE BOMBER: How a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam and became a monster,” the cover read. On its left were titles to slightly less charged stories like ”Jay-Z’s ‘Magna Carta’ Stumble” and ”Robin Thicke: Pretty Fly for a White Guy”.
According to critics, Tsarnaev’s casually tousled hair and dreamy-eyed look made the bombing terrorist look more like a sexy musician rather than a criminal.
Ed Kelly, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, called the cover “insulting”. “What he did to a city, a country, we’re never going to forgive him for it,” Kelly told CNN. “We’re not going to cower from it. It disturbs us that our media chooses to celebrate it.” Pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens, and Stop & Shop vowed not to sell the issue in response to public outrage.
But we’re forgetting something. In the minutes, days, and weeks following, we heard about Dzhokhar — and his now deceased brother Tamerlan — almost constantly on the news. Anchors, reporters, and radio hosts were updating us in real time about every little piece of the investigation. Once discovered, the suspects’ faces were plastered all over television and print with back stories unraveling like a riveting mystery novel.
In short, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was glamorized from the very beginning. But nobody is outraged over that.
Nobody is outraged over the fact that the New York Times published the same photo in their Sunday, May 5 edition with the title “The Dark Side, Carefully Masked.” Catchy title, check. Seductive photo, check. So what’s the difference now?
“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,” Rolling Stone said in a statement, defending its choice. “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.”
Isn’t that what the news has been doing all along? Examining the complexities of the story by interviewing every Tom, Dick, and Harry to find out more about the brothers and their motivations? Haven’t these faces been staring at you for months? And now because the story is being juxtaposed with a catchy title and placed on a cover normally reserved for guitar gods or famous leaders, we’re newly outraged.
In a letter to Wenner Media, the parent company of Rolling Stone, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino criticized the magazine for choosing to publish this profile rather than focusing on the survivors and the many volunteers, nurses, and doctors that helped during the attack.
“Your August 3 cover rewards a terrorist with celebrity treatment,” he wrote. “It is ill-conceived, at best, and re-affirms a terrible message that destruction gains fame for killers and their ’causes’.”
Mayor Menino is right. The Rolling Stone cover does reward a terrorist with celebrity treatment and it was done in bad taste. But they are not the only ones at fault. Tsarnaev turned into a celebrity the moment the media decided to focus all of its attention on the bombing suspect back in April, not when Rolling Stone published this cover.
What’s the difference if my face gets on Rolling Stone, the front page of a newspaper, or on television? As an unstable person thinking of possibly committing an act of terrorism, I’d want to get attention in any way possible. But we don’t need Rolling Stone to realize that we’ve been enablers of that all along.