A Rolling Stone cover story on Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is generating a lot of controversy.
“It’s not the article itself that has people upset, but the fact that the photo on the cover of Rolling Stone of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev makes it look as if he could be the lead singer of whatever cool new band Rolling Stone was trying to feature,” says KIRO Radio’s Luke Burbank.
Luke agrees with those that think Rolling Stone is making a poor choice in featuring the suspected bomber on the cover, saying it’s the magazine’s coveted and revered position.
“Rolling Stone is a place where people are elevated to worshiped status. When you’re on the cover of Rolling Stone, if you’re in a band, you’ve made it. So when you’re on the cover of Rolling Stone as a bomber, it’s like we’re saying you’ve made it,” says Luke.
“I think it glorifies him in a way and I just think there are other ways that Rolling Stone could have portrayed him, could have covered this story, without basically making him into a star, a legendary figure.”
Luke thinks the photo, which he calls swoon-worthy, might inspire others to follow in Tsarnaev’s footsteps.
“If I were a future Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, if I were another Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold, if I were somebody who thought, ‘Man, life isn’t worth living, I want to take out as many people as I can, and wouldn’t it be great if I also became some sort of a cult hero,’ this would look like a pretty great way to do it.”
The same photo potentially appearing on the front of other sources is not really the same thing as this Rolling Stone placement, Luke says.
“If you’re on the cover of US News & World Report, it’s seen in the context maybe of something newsier.
The cover story, by contributing editor Janet Reitman, was described by the magazine as a story that traces how “a bright kid with a charming future became a monster.”
Luke thinks it’s fine to run the story, but if they were going to run a picture, they shouldn’t have chosen one that could be attractive to other young people.
“How about a photo of him bandaged up and likely intubated when they took him into the hospital? How about something that demonstrated the consequences?”
Another potentially disturbing thing about choosing this cover layout, Luke points out, is if Rolling Stone wanted to create controversy to sell more magazines.
“I think it rubs some people the wrong way, the notion that Rolling Stone went into this knowing it would be controversial […] and the idea that they used this image as a way to sell magazines when this image is associated with incredible pain and suffering.”
Some retailers announced they will not carry the magazine in their stores.
Rolling Stone put out a message on its Facebook page Wednesday responding to the controversy:
Our hearts go out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, and our thoughts are always with them and their families. 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.
The magazine with Tsarnaev on the cover will be appearing on newsstands Friday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.