Rolling Stone’s Lame Defense Regarding Their Cover of the Boston Bomber

Rolling Stone misses the point here. Nobody is upset that they did a story on Tsarnaev. They’re upset because they put a glam shot of him on their cover.

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 EDITORS

There’s a growing list of stores that are refusing to sell this issue.


  1. That’s a piss-poor cop-out of an excuse. That cover is just one more example of why I don’t read that mag. R.S. has become nothing more than a hardcopy of Mtv.

  2. Absolutely disgusting and RS should know better. I’m sure the book deal is next. What a slap in the face to the victims. I’m sick of criminals becoming “celebrities” and victims remaining victims. What an f’d up society we live in.

  3. While I loathe using his quote, in 1990 Gene $immon$ once said, “Critics never got it, to this day Rolling Stone still doesn’t get it….but that’s ok, being accepted by aging hippies is not at the top of my priorty list”.

    IIRC, the New York Times used the same photo on their front page not long after the marathon… but it’s still a very tacky move RS.

  4. Oh fuck yeah, it isn’t imperialist torture-murder that inspires violent resistance to empire, it’s pictures on the cover of the Rolling Stone.

    Keep strong Bahston as you hide under your beds when the BPD (Banker’s Pig Department) tells you to, and remember, if you don’t fellate your local porker then the turrists win.

    Fuck yeah amerika!

  5. Agree 100% that RS missed point with the cover and their subsequent statement. The majority of people who come into contact with this cover/article will not read the article, and it’s ridiculous to expect that everyone would. What you’re left with then, for the majority of people exposed to this, is a picture of a folk-hero, Morrison-Dylan looking kid that gets the nickname “The Bomber” in the same font and style as everything else on the cover. He’s even “failed by his family,” absolving him of responsibility to some degree. He gets worldwide exposure on the cover of our culture’s cool magazine of record, and the image is beautiful. To the casual observer, there’s no sign of tragedy, imprisonment, destruction, thoughtlessness, death, etc., just cool. It’s great PR for this kid, and I don’t think he deserves great PR.

    Regardless of the argument “will this cover inspire/contribute to future acts of violence from others,” I think it’s relatively safe to say that the image alone is a journalistic failure. It was bad enough when the NYT used it, but at least that was news. The cover of RS is an entirely different context, something that people aspire to. They misused that platform here.

  6. I’m not sure what the problem is.

    The banner describes him unambiguously as THE BOMBER!

    The sub banner describes the journey from Promising Student to Monster.

    The Picture shows a pretty normal looking young person who, from the subheadline, will be described in the article as turning from this into a monster.

    I think if you then disregard a literal interpretation of that cover and pretend that people won’t read the text, won’t understand the text, will only read the cover in terms of cool-culture signifiers etc etc is akin to Listening to the song Born in the USA by Bruce Sprigsteen and blaming him for it’s interpretation as a jingoistic Anthem because people might be too lazy to listen to the verses.

    I think that a lot of contemporary terroristogeddon preoccupation is being turned to indignation in order to object to the cover (setting aside the simple rule that you should not judge a book…).

    Rolling Stone, like much of the journalistic media, is a hybrid news/entertainment magazine. Journalists in this mid-ground cover all kinds of criminal biography (I’m thinking mostly of the cult of personality surrounding serial killers and mass murderers) with varying levels of seriousness and sensitivity. Each one of those stories has the potential to upset the communities involved. No one seems to want to pull these issues from the shops because the ‘T’ word isn’t involved.

    It’s also a pertinent question to ask why someone who looks like a rolling stone reader would evolve into someone who could and did perpetrate those acts.

    1. I appreciate you making this argument. One honest question I have though, do you think, as a teenager, the tsarnaev kid is happy to have made the cover or embarrassed by it? And by extension, would like-minded individuals be happy if it were their picture?

      It’s just my opinion, but I imagine the word “awesome” ran through his 19-year-old mind when/if he saw this.

      1. Justin,

        It’s not a stretch to assume that for purely cool reasons that a young man would think ‘awesome!’

        But if he is now a Jihadist, and a terrorist in the sense that he want’s to create terror by his actions, being seen in a softened image on the cover of a youth culture magazine may seem counterproductive to him.

        In terms of speculating it depends on what he believes and what we think he believes.

    2. I live in Boston, just want to get that out there. If people hadn’t made such a big deal about the RS cover, I never would have seen it. I have seen it on the news, some other news, gossip programs, and a lot of websites, using this image to talk about the RS cover problem. I mean, if it’s a problem, how does this solve the problem of glorifying him? I have seen this image so many times.

      Another thing that made me think – I went to look at your link but I didn’t read very far before I came up with a thought of my own. It might make a point, but my own thoughts started to crowd out what I was reading, so here goes: I was thinking about “stranger danger” back in the day, when we all were informed that sometimes batshit dangerous people are nice-looking. They don’t look scary, you can’t judge someone’s character by how they look. It was drilled into my head around the age of 11 or 12. Predatory rapists can be downright handsome, and kidnappers can be clean-shaven.

      Tsarnaev has a pretty face. I am not sure we shouldn’t so-called “glamorize” him. That’s what he looked like when he walked around. You wouldn’t pick him out as a bad guy. I don’t really want to say I approve of the cover, but I do think we should keep being reminded that horrible people don’t look like horrible people. They’re among us. They look like they could be our friend. I also don’t think this is the first “glamorization” of a killer. Bundy was classified as handsome. There was a picture of Charles Starkweather in my colled Criminology textbook that was not off-putting, to say the least. I don’t pay a lot of attention. Mug shots, like driver’s licenses, aren’t what these awful people look like when they are walking in our midst.

      So is it wrong to show a picture what he looks like, because it’s not how we like to think of him? We want him to look like a loser, and he is, but I don’t see this picture as attractive to aspiring killers. I’m not an aspiring killer, so I don’t know what they look for in a magazine cover with a fair bit of circulation, exponentially broadcast to people who otherwise would never have noticed Rolling Stone’s provocation. It is provocative. It does test people, and I’m not sure if RS fails the test or the news-viewing population does. I don’t agree with people who say we have to diminish the killers so people don’t even know who they were or what they look like. That’s just sentimental bullshit, in my opinion. I think the victims are the victims and we shouldn’t forget them, but we should also balance that with awareness that killers look like some dude in a band, that you’d think was cool. I think most people don’t start out to be killers, obviously. He was a normal person, he had a normal childhood, like yours or mine, essentially. How could someone so like me become so different and violent?

      Are we afraid of the answer? Is it just that we like to judge people and only ever see them how we think they should be seen? Nasty and ugly and obviously someone to avoid? Is un-glamorizing him to show him as he really is either? Once a killer, always a killer? Turn in your handsome card, you killer, you’re not allowed to look like that anymore? Kind of like drawing horns and a mustache on a picture of your ex. You used to like this person, now they have to look like the devil.

  7. I heard Ray Bradbury once,many years ago, on the subject of celebrity for lawbreakers. He said they should all be tried with bags over their heads (no pictures of the face), and their names should be anonymous. He felt, as so many of us do, that criminals should never become famous (or infamous). I am personally appalled that every perpetrator or accused suddenly becomes known by three names. Why is this person so important that even his middle name should become known?

    1. Maybe this isn’t really true, but I thought the middle name thing was to distinguish a killer from other people with the same first and last name. It’s not meant to be intimate.

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