Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Tsarnaev on Rolling Stone Cover: Rock-Star Treatment or Good Journalism?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Tsarnaev on Rolling Stone Cover: Rock-Star Treatment or Good Journalism?

Article excerpt

Rolling Stone's decision to feature Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its Aug. 1 cover has kicked up a social media and real world dust storm.

Facebook and the Twittersphere are surging with commentary, most of which - though not all - condemns what many are calling a glamorous, introspectively poetic photo that gives celebrity-style treatment to a terrorism suspect.

Indeed, the image is lifted from Mr. Tsarnaev's own social media page - and if Facebook had existed when Bob Dylan was a teen, this could easily have been his self-portrait.

In Boston, both Tedeschi Food shops and CVS have announced they will not sell the issue.

In the bottom right corner of the cover, the headline reads: "The Bomber: How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by his Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and became a Monster."

If you flip to page 46, the story begins soberly enough: "He was a charming kid with a bright future. But no one saw the pain he was hiding or the monster he would become."


The problem with the story, say the critics, is that what many consider the disastrous effects of romanticizing evil have already happened, long before anyone flips into the actual magazine piece.

A statement released by Rolling Stone Wednesday defended the story as "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." However the statement did not directly address characterizations of Tsarnaev's cover image.

Giving Tsarnaev rock-star status by featuring him on the cover is dangerous, says Los Angeles psychiatrist, Carole Lieberman, author of "Coping with Terrorism: Dreams Interrupted."

"This will provoke wannabe terrorists to commit similar acts, so that their picture will be on the cover, as well," she says.

Most important, Rolling Stone appeals to a counter-culture demographic, notes Dr. Lieberman, which includes "people who think it's cool to topple authority figures and the status quo, a population that could well give birth to the next domestic terrorist."

The headline is actually more troubling than the photo, says Carolyn Kitch, a professor of journalism at Temple University in Philadelphia. It suggests a tragic fall, she says, a standard, recognizable storyline, "the fall-from-grace story: How could it be that this promising young man was led astray?"

Interestingly, she notes via e-mail, "that is also the plotline for the story of the young man who is on the cover of People magazine this week: Cory Monteith, the Glee star who died of a drug overdose." This is a typical narrative template for the dead-rock- star story, she says, but in the case of the Rolling Stone coverline, it narratively enfolds Tsarnaev himself within the tragedy. …

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