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Anger mounts over ‘Rolling Stone’ cover featuring Boston bombing suspect

In this magazine cover image released by Wenner Media, Boston Marathon bombing suspect  Dzhokhar Tsarnaev appears on the cover of the Aug. 1, 2013 issue of "Rolling Stone." (AP Photo/Wenner Media)

In this magazine cover image released by Wenner Media, Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev appears on the cover of the Aug. 1, 2013 issue of "Rolling Stone." (AP Photo/Wenner Media)

Karen Brassard wondered Tuesday why her cousin wrote on Facebook that he no longer supports Rolling Stone magazine. So the Epsom woman, who was seriously injured along with her husband and daughter in the first explosion at this year’s Boston Marathon, did some research and soon discovered the motivation: the cover of the August issue, which features a sultry, debonair portrait of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the younger bombing suspect.

The issue, which hits newsstands tomorrow but was previewed Tuesday evening, includes an in-depth account of Tsarnaev’s evolution from a seemingly innocent adolescent to the alleged radicalized young adult capable of mass murder.

But it was the cover shot – depicting Tsarnaev with tousled hair and chin stubble – that had many outraged yesterday.

Thousands of people flooded the magazine’s Facebook page with comments, voicing disgust over the decision to display the 19-year-old so favorably and prominently. Some vowed to cancel their subscriptions. Others cautioned that glamorizing Tsarnaev could encourage people to emulate his actions and said the space should have gone instead to a survivor of the attacks. At least four retail chains announced they wouldn’t carry the issue: Walgreens, CVS/pharmacy, Stop & Shop and Tedeschi Food Shops.

Katlyn Townsend is a friend of and media contact for Jeff Bauman, a man with Concord ties who lost both his legs in the attacks and has since become a national symbol of resilience. In a letter she posted online to Rolling Stone co-founder and Chief Editor Jann Wenner, she denounced the decision.

“Your use of a provocative, borderline sympathetic image and headline of someone who has caused so much pain to our country is appalling, insensitive, and disgusting,” Townsend wrote. “This person does not deserve to have his name mentioned publicly, let alone be featured on the cover of a magazine.”

In response to the vitriol, Rolling Stone editors published the article online yesterday with a note acknowledging the bombing victims but defending the article and cover shot.

“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,” it read.

Those closely affected by the attacks had varying reactions.

Brassard, who said her family is still recovering physically and emotionally from the incident, called the cover selection “absurd.”

“There are so many deserving people who are a much better example of what we should be putting out there as Americans,” she said. “This is not what we want to be advertising. It’s not what we should be promoting.”

Brian Collins of Canterbury, who ran in the marathon and was with his son near the site of the explosions, said he disagreed with the decision but planned to read the article.

“I’m interested in what it has to say,” he said. “It seems like it’s been pretty plowed ground, but they may have some different insight.”

Ron Abramson, an attorney from Bow who was near mile 25 of the race when the bombs were detonated, said he had yet to read the story but could respect Rolling Stone’s choice – noting that “infamy is still fame.”

“I don’t know about the marketing aspect or Rolling Stone getting away from its music roots, but if there is a thoughtful treatment of someone who had a seemingly promising childhood and then did this, then I think that’s a valid discussion,” he said. “We can’t just bury our heads in the sand and not acknowledge it.”

This isn’t the first time controversy has circled around a Rolling Stone cover. The magazine has a history of publishing provocative lead shots, said Sue Hertz, a journalism professor at the University of New Hampshire, including one of convicted mass murderer Charles Manson.

“It’s a matter of taste rather than ethics,” Hertz said. “Rolling Stone was willing to take the risk to get some attention. Clearly it has been negative. But they knew perfectly well what they were doing. I saw someone comment on Facebook that they should have put Jeff Bauman on the cover. That’s not going to sell magazines, that’s just going to make everyone sad.”

Hertz said debate over the Tsarnaev photo will likely entice more people to read the story.

“Because people are so angry about the photo, they’re also reading about it and the teasers about what’s inside the article, and so my guess is they will read it,” Hertz said. “Because it may get at what we all want to know, which is, where did this kid go wrong?”

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, and on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

Legacy Comments11

It's a picture of him, and one -- or one like it -- that's already been published numerous times in numerous media outlets. The RS article doesn't glorify or excuse him. Anyone who expects the monsters among us to be as ugly and as readily identifiable as a Disney cartoon villainess needs to open their eyes and see that evil can come in a pretty package.

RS did this because they are in financial straits. What better way to sell than to be shocking. Nobody has put forth the idea that RS should be censored. Like anything else you find distasteful, do not watch or buy it. RS was always a mag that touted musicians. It was an honor to get on the cover of the RS. Many in the music industry see this cover as a betrayal to Boston to sell their mag. We have quite a few young men out there who are angry, disturbed and out of control. When you put a psychopath on a mag that caters to what is the bible of cool, hip and progressive, than you just might be catering to all those sickos out there that will buy into it and commit horrible offenses to get on the cover of the RS. The Jihad rock star is a bad idea.

As reports have pointed out, this same picture has been used repeatedly by other media sources, including the NYTimes, without much ado. What we're looking at is a picture of the banality of evil. The cover's subtitle makes clear RS's reason for choosing this cover, and its theme: "How a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam, and became a monster." Censoring RS makes no sense, and betrays some of our best values. If you don't like it, you're free to look away, and not read it.

That is the point, RS is doing the usual, defending a bad guy. They are doing that by saying the terrorist is the victim of a bad family etc. It is insulting to the victims in Boston. RS has always been a rag anyways. They are in trouble financially, so this is a lame attempt to sell more magazines. Best way to do that is to create controversy.

And of course, you made your comment "RS is...defending a bad guy" after carefully reading the article in its entirety.

Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, and many other evil men throughout history were good looking and charming men too. This guy is an islamist, cowardly, murderer of women, children, and police officers. His image has no business on a magazine cover, and certainly his story should not be psycho-analyzed into another poor-unfortunate-victim-of-society. He is an evil, cowardly, murderer.

From what I have, besides a photo that makes a terrorist look like Jim Morrison of the Doors, the article sympathizes with him,. He came from a dysfunctional family etc. When we have copy cat teens doing the same thing to get on the cover of Rolling Stone, maybe you folks will wake up to the fact that glamorizing terrorists is not a good idea. We seem to have an epidemic of sick young men out there.

Calm down everybody. When did Americans become so thin-skinned that they have such knee-jerk, emotional reactions to a magazine cover? I guess we are more comfortable if our enemies are all ugly and scary looking. Well, this guy doesn't fit our collective image of the bogeyman. It bothers us everyone because he is a goodlooking, popular, athletic, seemingly clean-cut caucasion and he does not fit the mold of what we want our adversary to be. The same media who are now scorning Rolling Stone have also shown this exact picture hundreds and hundreds of times. Hypocrites just jumping on a media bandwagon. Calm down everyone; be objective here and make up your own minds.

OUTRAGEOUS !!!!! NHD & The Pack ! Hi to all my friends !!!!! Nhdriver

I concur Driver. Thanks for the return!

what does one expect from a extreme liberal rag.

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