Rolling Stone Sparks Controversy With Cover Story

From USA Today:

“Rolling Stone’s cover treatment and glam photo of Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev touched off a firestorm Tuesday, especially from Boston-area readers who charged that it turns an accused killer into a “rock star.”

The article by contributing editor Janet Reitman is titled “The Bomber: How a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam and became a monster.”

The lengthy article draws upon interviews with childhood and high school friends, teachers, neighbors and law enforcement agents, the magazine says.

But it’s the soft cover image that seemed to rile social media. The Bob Dylan-style photo shows the 19-year-old Tsarnaev, with long, curly hair, mustache and goatee, staring directly into the camera.”

It’s a “Bob Dylan-style” photo? Really? This shot looks like the millions of other selfies that teenagers take every day. Don’t people understand that not everyone with long hair and dreamy eyes is an aspiring folk signer? Or marathon bomber? Ugh.

The hyperbole aside, I have to say that I don’t take issue with this magazine cover. Of course, I understand why people would be upset by the choice of this photo, given what he is accused of doing.

But there is a deeper societal meaning behind the knee-jerk reaction to this story. The reason that this cover is so controversial is that people like their villains to black and white. It is easier for our minds to rationalize something terrible, like the Boston Marathon bombing, by attributing to “evil.” It’s simple, and it doesn’t require too much thought or analysis.

But making things easy for us is not Rolling Stone’s job. They don’t (or at least shouldn’t) care about making the reader “feel” good. True journalism is about finding the truth wherever it may be, and to give the reader the whole story as best as one can.

Because the truth is that real life isn’t as cut and dry as we are led to believe. People may not want to humanize Tsarnaev, but they forget that he is in fact human. He has thoughts, experiences, and feelings just like everyone else. To portray him otherwise is not only incorrect, but it also hides the bigger picture of what happened.

So we can just lie to ourselves and dismiss Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as demonic monster that should be locked up and forgotten. Or we can try to understand how a young immigrant kid turned into terrorist and maybe find a way to prevent it from happening again. I’d pick the latter every time.


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