A Rolling Stone story on Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is generating controversy even before it hits stores, with critics saying the cover photo glamorizes an accused killer and some retailers saying they will not carry the issue.
The photograph of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, scheduled to hit shelves today, looks more like a young Bob Dylan or Jim Morrison than the 19-year-old who pleaded not guilty last week.
The same image of Tsarnaev, an ethnic Chechen who came to the US as a child, was widely circulated and used by newspapers and magazines before, but the music magazine is being criticized for turning it into something more appealing — and making Tsarnaev look like a rock star.
“I can’t think of another instance in which one has glamorized the image of an alleged terrorist. This is the image of a rock star. This is the image of someone who is admired, of someone who has a fan base, of someone we are critiquing as art,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
Public outrage was swift, including tough words from the Boston mayor, bombing survivors and the governor of Massachusetts. At least five retailers with strong New England ties said they would not sell the issue that features an in-depth look into how a charming, well-liked teenager took a dark turn toward radical Islam.
The magazine uses Tsarnaev’s nickname in a headline: “Jahar’s World.” Its cover teaser declares for the story: “The Bomber. How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster.”
The story was made available on the magazine’s Web site on Wednesday.
A brief Rolling Stone statement offered condolences to bombing survivors and the loved ones of the dead. Three people were killed in the bombing and dozens were wounded.
“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 statement said.
That’s little consolation for James “Bim” Costello, 30, who needed pig skin grafts on most of his right arm and right leg after the bombing. His body was pebbled with shrapnel, including nails he pulled out of his stomach himself. Three of his close friends lost legs that day, and others suffered serious burns and shrapnel injuries.
“I think whoever wrote the article should have their legs blown off by someone,” struggle through treatment “and then see who they would choose to put on the cover,” Costello said.
Rolling Stone said the cover story was part of its “long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day.”
The magazine has had plenty of covers featuring people outside the realm of entertainment, from US President Barack Obama to Charles Manson.