Rolling Stone Wasn't Trying to Glorify Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, But It Did Something Worse


It has only been 95 days, in case you were wondering. 95 days since three people were killed and 264 were injured when two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon. 95 days since Jeff Bauman lost both his legs. It has been 92 days since MIT police officer Sean Collier was mercilessly shot to death in his patrol. And now, after 95 days, one of the architects of these despicable acts is on the front cover of an iconic American magazine. By placing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover, Rolling Stone hit a pressure point Americans feel regarding acts of terror. Unlike many, I do not believe the magazine was attempting to glorify the bomber. Rolling Stone attempted to show the disintegrated humanism of Tsarnaev, but rather should have shown human strength and character of the individuals who lived through that day.

The description on the cover reads, "THE BOMBER. How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by his Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster." Referring to someone as a monster is far from attempting to give him a "rock-star" status. The cover hits a unique pressure point within the hearts of not only those who lived through the Boston bombings, but Americans as a whole. As any country that has been touched by the atrocities of terrorism would be, America is sensitive to the matter and I think Rolling Stone irritated those sentiments.

Readers have vocally admonished the cover.

"Is this for real?" someone on Rolling Stone's Facebook page wrote. "Why don't the VICTIMS get the cover instead? It's sick that no one cares that people died, real people with lives and families, they just care about whatever will sell."

"I think it's wrong to make celebrities out of these people. Why give the guy the cover of Rolling Stone? TIME gave Charles Manson the cover and all the magazines carried pictures of the Columbine shooters on the covers, too. Don't make martyrs out of these people," another said.

The magazine has issued a statement stressing that the image was intended to produce "serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day." Rolling Stone is no stranger to covering important news events. In June 1970, another mass murder, Charles Manson, was featured on the cover, stirring tremendous controversy. Already, CVS and Tedeschi Food Shops, who have strong ties to the Northeast, released statements saying that they will not carry the issue of the magazine. "As a company with deep roots in New England and a strong presence in Boston, we believe this is the right decision out of respect for the victims of the attack and their loved ones," said a spokesperson from CVS.

Many magazine covers are designed to grab the reader's attention, to rouse discussion, and make powerful statements. Granted, they are also constructed to be profitable. The media has a responsibility to convey the story and the truth, but it also has the power to display the incredible story of the heroic actions on that day.

The magazine's strategy was ill conceived. The cover is offensive because in showing a simplistic, humanizing, and self-taken image, Rolling Stone didn't capture the inhumanity of his actions. It is too soon to start delving into the life of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev; what he did is still too raw. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino put it best in a letter to Rolling Stone: "I write to you instead to put the focus where you could have: on the brave and strong survivors and on the thousands of people — their family and friends, volunteers, first responder, doctors, nurses, and donors — who have come to their side." 

In reading the reactions of people across the country, I am reminded of the night President George Bush spoke to the nation following the horrific events of September 11th. "Today, our nation saw evil," he said, "the very worst of human nature — and we responded with the best of America." That is what happened in Boston, and that is the important story here. It is the rescue workers and individuals who came to the aid of those injured that embody the truest form of human nature.