Rolling Stone editors speak on cover photo of alleged Boston bomber


Rolling Stone editors have updated the publication’s current article on alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev with a statement explaining the reasoning behind using a cover photo of Tsarnaev that has drawn extensive criticism online and off.

Tsarnaev appears on the front of the magazine’s Aug. 1 issue, next to a headline that reads, “The Bomber: How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster.”

“Our hearts go out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, and our thoughts are always with them and their families,” said a statement attributed only to “the editors” at Rolling Stone.


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“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 use of a rather casual photo of Tsarnaev, one he is believed to have taken himself and one that’s been used previously by other media outlets, including the New York Times, has drawn ire for casting the bombing suspect in a rather flattering light.

Though Rolling Stone does not shy away from political and controversial stories -- its work by late reporter Michael Hastings contributed to the downfall of Gen. Stanley McChrystal -- the soft lighting and curly hair in Tsarnaev’s photo has him looking like a member of one of the hip indie bands that have graced the magazine’s cover.

That was, in part, the point, wrote the editors in Wednesday’s statement.

“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,” the statement said.

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Plenty of people disagree.

Among them is Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who wrote a rather critical letter to Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner. “Your August 3 cover rewards a terrorist with celebrity treatment,” Menino wrote. “It is ill-conceived, at best, and re-affirms terrible messages that destruction gains fame for killers and their ‘causes.’ There may be valuable journalism behind your sensational treatment, though we can’t know because almost all you released is the cover.”

Rolling Stone on Wednesday made available the 11,000-plus word article from writer Janet Reitman. Tuesday night, the magazine wrote that Reitman had spent two months interviewing “dozens of sources -- childhood and high school friends, teachers, neighbors and law enforcement agents, many of whom spoke for the first time about the case -- to deliver” her story, reportedly due to hit newsstands Friday.

“To respond to you in anger is to feed into your obvious marketing strategy,” Menino wrote. “So, 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 and volunteers, first responders, doctors, nurses and donors -- who have come to their side.”

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Some artists have echoed such statements. Famed Boston punk band Dropkick Murphys tweeted that Rolling Stone “should be ashamed.” The tweet asked instead for “one of the courageous victims on your cover instead of this loser ...”

Country star John Rich said on Twitter, “You always think as an artist ‘If I ever get on the Rolling Stone I’ll know I’ve made it!’ That was until they started promoting terrorists.”


The Boston Globe reported that Tedeschi Food Shops and the CVS pharmacy chain stated they will not carry the issue.

“CVS/pharmacy has decided not to sell the current issue of Rolling Stone featuring a cover photo of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect,” the drug store posted on its Facebook page. “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.”


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