Rolling Stone magazine continues to push the envelope

Published Jul 24, 2013 at 6:16 am (Updated Jul 19, 2013 at 12:38 pm)

Rolling Stone magazine may have released its most controversial issue in the publication’s 46-year history. Last week, the issue with accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover caused quite an outrage. On social media, people lashed out at the publication. Stores refused to carry the issue, including Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid and 7-Eleven. In New England, the number of retail outlets refusing to carry the issue was even higher.

The chief complaint amongst those appalled with the decision to put Tsarnaev on the cover is that Rolling Stone is glorifying him as a “rock star.”

But, the cover cutline reads “The Bomber: How a Popular, Promising Student was Failed by His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster.” Read the story inside, and rock star status is the farthest thing from Rolling Stone’s agenda.

Obviously, the decision to write the story was a serious one, and the decision to put Tsarnaev on the cover was not taken lightly by the publication’s editors and publisher, Jann Wenner, either. At the beginning of the piece, the editors wrote: “...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.”

Those who are taking to social media, to the airwaves and to anyone else who are listening about Rolling Stone elevating the suspect to “celebrity status” are merely keeping the conversation going. Yes, putting him on the cover does put him in the spotlight, but the story is not about how great this person is – it is about what a monster he is. It examines how he went from a promising high school student and athlete to a murderer and terrorist. Rolling Stone never calls him a rock star – but a lot of other people did.

There’s no doubt, too, that for every person boycotting the magazine and refusing to read another issue ever again, there’s another person who’s curiosity was piqued enough to purchase the issue, or to purchase a subscription.

Critics have panned the decision to use the particular photo, which they argue depicts the “innocence of youth.” It’s worth noting that The New York Times published the same photo back in May.

The media is often criticized for sensationalizing stories like this, dragging them on, giving terrorists, murderers and the like the notoriety and attention that they were striving for. But, we see it a little differently. We see it as reporting the facts. And the facts are this – the Boston Marathon bombing was a horrible, horrific incident. Three people lost their lives, and more than 260 were injured.

If the Rolling Stone story can shed light on how a person becomes a radical monster, and can prevent just one similar incident by way of intervention, then that makes running the cover story and the backlash all worth it.

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