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Between the Lines: Cover Bomb

Did Rolling Stone step over the line?

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

I know it must be cathartic for many people to join the chorus condemning Rolling Stone magazine for its decision to put an image of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its August cover. For any of us who feel anger rising in our throats whenever we think of that fateful sunny day on Boylston Street and the carnage allegedly wrought by Tsarnaev and his older brother Tamerlan, the image of Dzhokhar is likely to trigger an immediate reaction of revulsion and contempt. It isn’t surprising, perhaps, that some of us will go beyond the anger we feel toward the accused terrorist and allow our ire to spill onto a magazine that chooses to put his picture on its cover.

For people in the general public who want to rail against Rolling Stone for its decision to run not just a photo of the younger Tsarnaev, but an image that strikes many viewers as glamorous or at least sympathetic, I get it: any attention paid to this allegedly vile punk is too much to bear. Surely a magazine engaged in conscientious journalism would never make such a decision. Ergo, Rolling Stone is an irredeemable rag, interested only in cheap sensationalism and profits.

I don’t share that view of Rolling Stone, nor do I object in any way to its August cover or the accompanying story by Janet Reitman, “The Bomber: How a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam, and became a monster.” The story, in my view, neither glamorizes nor sympathizes with its subject. It is fascinating and nuanced, but if you hated Dzhokhar going in, you’ll still hate him when you finish reading Reitman’s piece.

While I can forgive most people for lashing out at the messenger as a convenient surrogate for the real and reasonable source of their anger, I find much of the pious criticism coming out of the mouths of politicians inexcusable. For Boston mayor Tom Menino and Gov. Deval Patrick to leap at the chance to join the chorus of condemnation is as ridiculous as it is predictable—pure political pandering from two men who spin out more self-serving crap in a week than Rolling Stone and its editor Jann Wenner have in almost five decades.

In this case, Patrick was carping about the cover before he’d even read the story. “I haven’t read it, but I understand the substance of the article is not objectionable, it’s apparently pretty good reporting,” Patrick told Reuters. “But the cover is out of taste, I think.”

If Rolling Stone is exploiting the Boston tragedy for its own gain, all the TV networks and daily newspapers that milked the story in April, running all the photos they could get of the Tsarnaev brothers, are equally guilty. Now they can exploit it again—with help from Menino and Patrick and on the back of Rolling Stone.•

 

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