Rolling Stone magazine cover glorifies Boston bomber like a rock star.

July 18, 2013

Publicity stunt, onerous mistake or both?

By now you’ve seen the new cover of Rolling Stone magazine, featuring the photographic portrait of Boston bombing terrorist, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Look again. It’s not just a picture of the killer but a kind of brooding, sexy one. The kind this magazine has been putting on its covers for decades. He looks more like a member of Maroon 5 than a despicable murderer of innocent people. The indie scruff of beard. The Jim Morrison hair. Are those bedroom eyes?

My god, they’re treating him just like a rock star.

My jaw drops at the audacity of it. It’s like a bit out of Oliver Stone’s controversial film, Natural Born Killers, where two killers become celebrities. But that was satire. A statement about society’s fascination with fame, our gullibility for people with much charisma and zero morals. Fiction. Until now…

Of course, I’m not going to buy the magazine. Ergo, I’m not going to read the article. But I’ll guess what the editors were thinking: super provocative image equals scary amounts of buzz. Sigh. Is Rolling stone so hard up for relevancy it would stoop to glorifying a cowardly terrorist to move its product? Apparently.

I can hear the brave editor now: “We are an icon of the sub-culture. Our mission is to stir the pot. We start brave conversations about challenging topics.” Or maybe he points to Time magazine’s consideration of Osama Bin Laden for “Man of the Year.” Or the New Yorker’s controversial cover featuring Barack Obama fist pumping his gun-toting wife. There are other such examples.


But I say bullshit. Time ultimately did not choose Bin Laden, dismissing him as a “garden variety terrorist.” The New Yorker’s cover was, in my opinion, legitimate satire. I would also argue they have poetic license. By showing the right wing’s fantasy of the Obama’s they were demonstrating its ludicrousness.

The Rolling Stone cover is wrong. Calling it “too soon” is too small an accusation. It’s worse than that. Rolling Stone covers are iconic for one thing: glorifying rock stars and celebrities. While they have featured controversial figures before, this portrait crosses the line. Not because of who Tsarnaev is, or even for what he did, but because of the romantic way he is being portrayed.

They want to do a story on him, fine. But if they’re going to put him on the cover don’t portray him as a lovely man. He is anything but.


8 Responses to “Rolling Stone magazine cover glorifies Boston bomber like a rock star.”

  1. E. said

    Bravo! I couldn’t agree more. Their cover is disgusting and indefensible. Rolling Stone has sunk to an all new low, and I hope they suffer for it.

  2. Mark said

    I absolutely agree that the cover is wrong…really disgustingly wrong.

    It highlights a bigger issue though, media companies now know that this is a good way to boost sales in any climate.
    The boundary of human decency is constantly being pushed and warped.

    In my brief period working in media and advertising I genuinely felt pressure to do things I knew were wrong, doing things which could affect the moral or physical welfare of people in the long run.

    The Rolling Stone scenario is extreme, but the industries bread and butter is small, incremental sensationalist pushes where a little outrage keeps the conversation firing.

    So the question we need to ask ourselves is why does this strategy work?

  3. Steffan1 said

    Backlash to the backlash. I suppose they have a point but I stand by my disgust…

  4. Tracy said

    It was pointed out in an Adweek piece that the New York Times ran that photo as well.

    Frankly, having been busy with a deadline and computer crash, I didn’t see The Cover ’til today and I honestly expected another bloody close-up of victims. As someone with a journalism degree (and concentration in PR) but who went to work in advertising, I’m sure it’s not cynical to believe a buzz was intended. I’m also sure RS is well aware that many Americans want and need their villains to be black and white, one-dimensional, straight out of a comic book, with no motivation beyond pure evil — for at least 20 years. And those Americans will make their displeasure known by boycott. And where Americans go, patriotic retailers follow.

    I will read the article because knee-jerk ‘I haven’t/won’t read it myself but…” outrage is for Fox viewers and my friend who brags about not reading books. If the piece is NOT thoughtful and well-researched, then the cover IS a tacky ploy.

    If it is thought-provoking and doesn’t linger on The Bomber’s pouty lips and luscious hair, then it’s a call to use Americans’ seldom-exercised critical thinking abilities.
    I’m actually not expecting much beyond the exhaustive coverage I read in the NYT and Washington Post — which detailed the bombers’ background and descent into radicalism without painting them one way or the other. Something that might be construed by some as sympathetic — yet didn’t seem to bring out the torches and pitchforks, like a can’t-miss color cover on a “populist” magazine.

    Find it in exceedingly bad taste; be angry. Boycott the issue, ban RS from your homes and offices. That’s your right. But it’s also a big glaring example of “freedom of the press” in action. As one Adweek comment pointed out, “Americans think they like their ‘freedom’ but they don’t, really.”

  5. commeants said

    For pete’s sake, that’s what he looks like! He can’t help it…

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