Bringing Glory to Terror

Few journalistic issues have been more divisive than that of Rolling Stone Magazine’s choice to feature the lone surviving Boston bomber on its upcoming cover.

What’s your view?

Peppercomm’s Laura “Bedrock” Bedrossian, who wrote today’s guest post, has a most definite POV on the subject. Let her know whether you agree, disagree or, like Whitey Bulger, decide to take the Fifth.

Rolling-Stone-Tsarnaev-Cover-ThumbnailUnless you live under a “stone” (pun intended), you know that the latest—or soon to be latest—cover of Rolling Stone magazine has created a firestorm in the media, online and, really, just everywhere.

From the comments I’ve read and the major brands that have come out against the cover going so far as to ban the issue from being sold in their stores, there is no bigger “eff you” to the victims of the bombing than immortalizing the Boston bomber’s image on the cover of a popular consumer magazine.

I’m not saying the article doesn’t deserve to be written and his side of the story shouldn’t be heard, but this is an interesting creative choice. There were certainly other artistic directions to go in rather than linking his image to the feature.  So why did the editors choose that one? My guess? Sales and exactly what’s happening now—the widespread conversation about the magazine.  

I don’t think it was much of a stretch for the editors to find it ethically appropriate to put the bomber’s image on the cover. Despite not being a hard news outlet, the precedent for glorifying horrific crimes in this culture has been set long ago. Case in point? The Mafia.

It may sound silly, but how many movies, shows, books, etc. have you read/seen on the subject? Even on specific mobsters? The crimes of this organization have been horrific and very high in frequency and are still happening. Yet, the public can’t get enough of it.

While we know these crime rings still exist (thank you reality TV for confirming that, residents of states like New Jersey and Rhode Island see that these families are still a part of society), it’s not quite as scary to encounter someone in this group —mainly because the police and public aren’t intimidated/terrified anymore.  But when did we reach this point where glorifying these types of criminals and crimes as acceptable? Did the first movie or magazine story about the mafia reach the same level of anger from the public as this issue of Rolling Stone?

I don’t know the answer, but I do wonder if the type of notoriety for criminals accused of terrorism is heading toward this same type of ‘immortalization’ status.

Right now, everyone is talking about the latest Rolling Stone issue, clicking through to the website and thinking about Rolling Stone. Links to the now-live online issue can be found in multiple stories across the internet, as well as social media.  All of the major news outlets are covering the controversy and putting Rolling Stone front and center. Some are positive remarks, some negative, but all are discussing the subject of the Boston bomber’s image and Rolling Stone.

As more outlets cover the story, the magazine will get more people talking about it, get more people clicking through to the website and then people will most likely be more apt to buy the print version to see what the article is about (not to mention those sales from the people who will see the name Rolling Stone wonder why it’s trending and then pick it up).

A Poynter Institute article on the matter has some interesting information that is hard to ignore:

“Rolling Stone has not publicly acknowledged its critics but did talk briefly with USA Today:

Rolling Stone declined to comment to USA TODAY on the controversial cover, except to note that the outcry is reminiscent of another polarizing cover, more than 40 years ago, on cult leader and mass murderer Charles Manson.


 That cover, in June 1970, including a prison interview with Manson, became one of Rolling Stone’s biggest selling issues and won a National Magazine award.”

Whether this will become a best-selling issue for the magazine remains to be seen, but they certainly seem to be treading familiar water. Is it at the cost of immortalizing terrorists?

It seems that Ii it’s OK to immortalize murderers and criminals like the mafia (and Charles Manson, to name a few), I see nothing wrong with putting a picture of an alleged bomber on the cover of a magazine. It would have been a more tasteful editorial choice for there to be a different cover (and it would have shown that the magazine stands by its fellow Americans), but, hey, that doesn’t sell and get people talking does it?


12 thoughts on “Bringing Glory to Terror

  1. Pingback: Bringing Glory to Terror | PRiscope

  2. Somehow, the impact of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Rolling Stone hasn’t really affected me all that much. I stopped reading it years ago, when I stopped doing drugs.

    But your story is spot on. BTW say hello to Steve, I used to work at Greco-Ethridge Group. That;s how we met.

  3. I agree with Peter too. Does everything have/need to be politically correct?

  4. Hitler was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year at the start of WWII. We didn’t burn them at the stake for that choice.

    I didn’t think the article or the cover glorified this guy. It’s not like Rolling Stone snuck him out of jail, hired Annie Liebowittz and a stylist, and set up a shoot. That image has been used in many other places by now. For better or worse, those images and how Jahar Tsarnaev saw himself is part of this story. The worst thing RS has done is made a blatant bid to get themselves some attention and appear relevant. In that regard I guess they’ve succeeded. But ever since 9/11, there’s been this over-the-top effort to protect someone’s delicate sensibilities, which only weakens us as a nation and culture. If we can’t handle one image over what amounts to a pretty trivial story, we’re in bad shape.That’s not the USA I believe in.

    • Those are great points, Peter. Also, thank you for reading. I read something that mirrors a few of your points in a NYTimes piece on the issue–definitely interesting.

      To me, this seems like a strategic move from RS to pump up sales–and it certainly will work given how heated the debate has gotten as to whether or not this was the cover they should have moved forward with.

      I do think putting Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover provides even more “fame” for him. However, as you noted, this isn’t the first time similar covers have been issued. My larger point was really about how specific figures from the mafia (and then just the idea of the mafia) have graced the covers/been subjects of magazines, movies, books, etc., despite the reign of terror they have instilled over the years. I’m more surprised that people are as upset as they are about the cover as they are since this isn’t the first time someone who has committed awful crimes has been on the cover of a magazine. I’m sure it won’t be the last either.

      • Good point. 40 years of everything from “The Godfather” to “The Sopranos” has made the Mafia seem either warm and cuddly or philosopher kings. In fact, they’re neither. Yet no criminal group remains more glorified.

  5. Thanks for reading, Donna. Yes, I agree with you that they should be able to make their own creative choices (and would never want to infringe on the freedom of speech/the press), but I was more surprised by the move (or not too surprised, I suppose). There were certainly many different creative directions that cover could have gone in.

  6. Good article. I don’t particularly care for the Jim Morrison photo of the boston bomber being on the cover but this is freedom of speech so that’s more important to me. I also like the political articles from RS and will read this one too. That being said, why couldn’t the cover have been the guy in the cowboy hat saving that kid’s life.