The Real Trouble with the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Rolling Stone Cover

It’s not that they put him on the cover. It’s the way they put him on the cover.


The internet is overrun with outrage that Rolling Stone put a glamour shot of alleged Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on their cover. Here are three representative pieces of feedback from Rolling Stone‘s “fans” on its Facebook page:

  • Very un-American. Fuck you Rolling Stone. I thought it was supposed to be an honor to be on your cover?”
  • The media…including Rolling Stone…has lost all notions of honor in the value of making a buck.”
  • Why the f***k would you EVER consider putting that bastard on the cover? ARE YOU INSANE?”

Rolling Stone has clearly made a gross miscalculation here, but in each of these, uh, passionately delivered critiques are some misconceptions about just why. On the question of whether it’s an “honor” to be on the cover of Rolling Stone: A lot people seem to forget that Rolling Stone, while known for its music coverage, also contains harder news, and sometimes that news makes their cover. They put Charles Manson there in 1970 to tease an interview they scored with him in prison, even though he’s, you know, Charles Manson. The story won a National Magazine Award. Since then, they’ve often put aside the usual celebrity cover format to feature a newsy subject, not because it’s an honor, but because it was the subject of a story or interview they wanted readers to see.


As for whether putting Tsarnaev on the cover was a ploy to “make a buck,” you can bet the editors know that if they’re looking to increase newsstand sales, they’re better off just getting those teen vampires from “True Blood” to pose naked again. People buy magazines with the faces (and naked bodies) of people they recognize and like. Condé Nast’s best selling magazine, for instance, isn’t The New Yorker, though its cover often has witty takes on hard news. It isn’t even Vogue, though it often has beautifully shot celebrity photography. It’s Glamour, whose cover features One Direction this month. If Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was Rolling Stone‘s ploy to make money, it doesn’t seem like a very well considered one.

As for whether he should be on the cover of a magazine at all, let’s suggest that the problem here isn’t that they put Tsarnaev on the cover persay, but that they chose a photo that doesn’t differentiate him from the rest of their glamorous celebrities. Many have suggested that the cover evokes Jim Morrison.

Much as we’d like to, we can’t simply ignore Tsarnaev for the rest of time. He hasn’t even stood trial, and he’s a reasonable subject for journalistic inquiry. In general, we should allow magazines that cover news, as Rolling Stone does, to put evil people on their covers, especially if they’re teasing journalism that merits it and furthers the story. (It’s worth noting that no one has actually read the article that will accompany this cover by contributing editor Janet Reitman. The magazine says it will be deeply reported, and maybe it will be.) The editors probably didn’t want to choose a grainy surveillance photo of Tsarnaev, since that’s sort of outside their aesthetic. But perhaps they could have gone the same route taken by The Week, which asked almost the exact same question of Tsarnaev—How did Dzhokhar become so radical?—on its cover without inspiring a tarring and feathering on Boston Common. The difference: they depicted him with a cartoonish illustration.




And lest you think the cartoony route wouldn’t fit with Rolling Stone‘s aesthetic either, recall how they often depicted another cover subject for whom they didn’t harbor much goodwill: George W. Bush.


Other publications used the same photo of Tsarnaev to illustrate much the same point that Rolling Stones cover line makes: he didn’t seem, to those who knew him, like a mass murderer.

 But Rolling Stone just has to be more sensitive to the context their magazine gives that photo. The point here is that Rolling Stone does occasionally important and award-worthy journalism about non-musical subjects, and perhaps they’ve done so again. The problem is that no one looking at the Boy Band member-cum-terrorist they’ve put on the cover this month would know it. And that, as people say, gives him undue glory and in the worst case, might provide inspiration to those who’d seek infamy by whatever horrible means possible. Rolling Stone could have gotten away with a cover devoted to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. They just couldn’t get away with this cover.

  • Mike Oliver

    I don’t care .what you’ve done in light of this tragedy is inexcusable .
    I have a bright idea Rolling Stone, put this on the cover of your stupid magazine…

    Krystle Campbell, 29Deceased
    Martin William Richard, 8Deceased
    Lingzi Lu, 23Deceased
    Sean Collier, 26Deceased
    Richard H. Donohue Jr., 33Severe injury
    Kaitlynn Cates, 25Severe leg injury
    Brittany Loring, 29Severe head, leg and arm injuries
    Sydney Corcoran, 17Severe leg injury
    Liza Cherney, Age UnkownInjuries Unknown
    Heather Abbott, 38Injuries Unknown
    Jeff Bauman Jr., 27Severe leg injury
    Roseann Sdoia, 45Severe leg injury
    Jacqui Webb, Age UnknownSevere leg injury
    Celeste Corcoran, 47Severe leg injury
    Kevin Corcoran, Age UnknownMinor injuries
    Zhou Danling, Age UnknownInjuries Unknown
    Gillian Reny, 17Injuries UnknownMarilyn Kight, 63Severe leg injury
    Erika Brannock, Age UnknownSevere leg injury
    Denise Richard, Age UnknownSevere upper body injury
    Jane Richard, 7Severe leg injury
    Denise Spenard, Age UnknownAbdominal injury
    Beth Roche, 60Severe leg injury, other injuries
    Lee Ann Yanni, 31Severe leg injury
    J.P. Craven, 24Head injuries
    David Yepez, 15Head and arm injuries
    John Odom, Age UnknownInjuries Unknown
    Michelle L’Heureux, Age UnknownSevere arm and leg injuries
    Patrick Downes, 30Severe leg injuries
    Jessica Downes, 32Severe leg injuries
    Jarrod Clowery, 35Hearing loss, leg injuries
    Darrel Folkert, 42Leg injuries
    William White, Age UnknownSevere leg injury
    Mary Jo White, Age UnknownHand injury
    Kevin White, Age UnknownModerate injuries
    Eric Whalley, 65Severe head injury, other wounds
    Ann Whalley, 65Injuries Unknown
    Sarah Girouard, 20Injuries to lower extremities, received surgery
    Aaron Hern, 11Leg injury
    Victoria McGrath, 20Severe leg injuries
    Nicole Gross, 31Leg injuries
    Michael Gross, 38Head injuries
    Michelle Connolly, 52Head injuries
    Remy Lawler, 25Upper leg injuries
    Nicholas Yanni, 32Temporary hearing loss
    Ascer Barlatier, 35Wounded in chest and leg
    Jenny Chung, Age UnknownShrapnel wounds
    JP Norden, 31Severe leg injury
    Paul Norden, 33Severe leg injury
    Dan Soleau, 36Hearing loss
    Ryan C. McMahon, 33Back and arm injuries

    • Ty

      Exactly! RS showed blatant disregard for the victims, very good point Mike! Kudos!

    • Ryan Williamson

      This story isn’t about the victims. Yes we all feel horrible. Yes we wish it never happened. But what Rolling Stone is doing is looking at the cause. And since nobody has read the article yet you can’t say with certainty that it won’t do some good to look at what makes a person commit a terrible act. If one person learns from this article to not let a friend or family member fall into radical Islam then it will have served its journalistic purpose.

      • Joco

        If one borderline terrorist learns from this cover that blowing people up will make you look like a rock star, then what?

    • SWDC

      Thank you very much

    • ediclau

      The trial is noy yet finished. How are you so sure to blame D. Tazarnaev? The whole story was so strange. There are hundreds of american movies and books where you can see that for political reasons, a corrupt part of the security establishment blame anyone and then kill him just to close the case.

      • Ralfine

        A lynch mob has a great tradition over there.

        A white school girl says she got raped and the first black teenager found is hanged.

        • Michael Doyle

          Over there is a federal us court moron.

  • Joe Pandolfo

    All these ‘articles about an article’ is just giving Rolling Stone more publicity. They were looking for a way to sell more magazines, and apparently they found a way. Don’t buy it, don’t support it.

    • plasko20

      Well, obviously. As with any magazine ever the whole point is to get increased revenue. They are not charities.

  • Lee Rudnicki

    Rolling Stone’s new cover features Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and apparently the editorial staff did their best to find the most Jim Morrison-like publicity photo of the terrorist they could find. Congratulations, there is a lot of buzz about the new cover. You made Dzhokhar look great. All he’s missing is a guitar.

    But Rolling Stone, this dumb ass cover transforms a terrorist into a rock star. What are you thinking? This is irresponsible journalism at its finest, and disrespectful to the victims of the Boston bombing. Think about what message you are sending to kids his age – you’re making it look cool to be a terrorist. Cool to blow things up in a crowd. Are you that crazy for publicity?

    Rolling Stone is a legendary magazine with a storied literary and pictorial tradition of excellence … BUT THIS AIN’T IT.

  • Liz Larocca

    Yeah, Rolling Stone, why did you have to show an actual photo that Tsarnaev took of himself when depicting a white kid as a bizarre Arab caricature would’ve lessened everyone’s cognitive dissonance? If you maintain the cover is insensitive, you are certainly entitled to both your opinion and your feelings. But to hold up that cartoon from The Week as a less problematic alternative is another matter entirely.

  • Adam Vaccaro

    The Week’s cover is far more deserving of scrutiny in terms of messing with a narrative than RS. What, let’s just Arab him up and then it’s okay?

  • HeywoodJa

    Kerry and Bush didn’t blow up the marathon–that’s just a false equivalence. And when they put Manson on the cover, people were furious–if you were alive back then you’d remember. There wasn’t any twitter to record everyone’s instantaneous outrage, but people were ticked off.

  • Frank

    Would be nice to see all those outraged to turn that energy into something positive and go out and work for change where their efforts CAN have some impact rather than just armchair ranting. There’s animal rights, homelessness, equal rights, political corruption, on and on.

  • kimmah

    The article has been available on line for at least two days. I read it and the cover and cover comment perfectly reflect the point of the story. This kid looks “normal”, not like a raving terrorist from the news. He could be anyone’s neighbor or student, yet he turned into what he is today. His family utterly failed him.

    • Douglas J. Bender

      His “family” apparently APPROVED of his activities; at least his mother apparently did. Furthermore, One of the boys is named for a noted Islamic terrorist or murderer of their home region from the 1600s or 1700s or so. Kind of says a lot about his “family” — it’s not that they were uninvolved in or unconcerned about their lives. Oh, and the brothers had every advantage here in America, going to excellent schools, having their needs paid for by the American taxpayers, etc.. They had and have no claim to “victimhood” or any grievance.

  • ugh

    Jann Wenner is an athiest faggot. All you need to know.

    • plasko20

      A gay person that does not believe in god? Why are either of those points relevant to the discussion?

  • ugh

    You libs don’t get it. You fed and clothed this family, put a roof over their head, and then they killed you. Unreal.

    • Shayna

      So your tax dollars didn’t go to their welfare because you’re conservative? Weird. I didn’t know we got to choose where our money goes.

  • CATO

    Eric, you can say what ever you want but the articles is bad as the cover. The article is five pages of material already know for any person who follows the news. Also, there are many contradictions with the first statements of their friends. Second, she did not mentioned that even Taliban’s leader made a statement “making fun” of the brothers because they looked “girly-boy” and they do not represent what the “jihad” is. She only said, “they did it by themselves”.This is important information that she omitted, reflecting that her two month research was a joke. Finally, a magazine that deal with music, video games, models, movies is not the place for serious journalism. A serious journalist magazine has not 2/3 of its pages full of advertisement.

  • ediclau

    The fact is that the guy looks very much innocent, and the whole story sounds strange. So, the simple photo of the boy could make doubt many more people about the guilty of him, even the inside note speaks about him as the bomber.

    • plasko20

      That is kinda the point. That racial profiling does not work, that stereotypes are wrong. That anyone could be the next sympathiser and bomber, even little old lady next door with her cats. Showing this guy as a harmless looking white dude is essential to get this point across,

  • rideforever

    The USA is itself responsible for this cover. By killing so many people in the Middle East over the years, the USA has totally devalued human life.

    It is just a commodity that can be terminated if the oil price is right.

    How many people has the USA killed since Vietnam, and in how many countries ?


    It’s a depraved world view.

    • plasko20

      The USA has not devalued human life. Humans did that. Humans everywhere on earth. All 7 billion of them acting like selfish animals.

    • kay browne

      Silly us, we forgot two wrongs make a right.

  • Amy Hughes

    It’s “per se” not “persay”.

  • Irene Delaney

    Except that The Week’s cover is super, super racist…

    • annebeth66

      Funny how they had to darken their skin, to take two pale white guys to make them dark like Arabs.

  • Missi

    What happened to being innocent until PROVEN guilty????? Good for you Rolling Stone, I LOVE the cover and have bought 2 copies so far. And NO Im not a teen “fan girl”

    • Michael Doyle

      “fat girl” Idiot look in the mirror.

  • Sarah Risko

    Okay, since I’ve actually lived in Boston my whole life can I put my two cents in please? That thing on the cover is guilty. Those of us who live and/ or actually posses intelligence know he is guilty because they confessed not once but, TWICE. The first time was when they carjacked someone and stated: “we did the Boston bombings, we’re gonna go kill a police officer, and when we come back, we’re gonna kill you”-that from the person they carjacked in Cambridge. Then they murdered Sean Collier, the MIT police officer who was sitting in his car minding his own business and they killed him for no reason.

    Cambridge police caught up with when they stopped for gas and an employee called the police. The older terrorist shot at police first then a firefight ensued. Police managed to wound him then, the younger terrorist got in the stolen car and proceeded to run over the police. The police got out of the way and he ran over his older brother. Then the manhunt ensued. The following morning the entire city of Boston along with the cities and towns of: Brookline, Belmont, Cambridge, Allston/Brighton, Newton, Somerville, Waltham, and Watertown was on lockdown all day. The T (public transit system) shut down all operations. No buses, trains, subway, or commuter boats. No taxi service until 3:00 that afternoon. Businesses were closed. There was suppose to a Sox game that and normally people would be walking around Newbury Street, Kenmore Square, and Yakee Way.

    Nope, it was a freakin’ ghost town. I tried to leave my apartment to get some bread and peanut butter and was met by a police officer at the top of my street yelling in his lovely Boston accent: “What ‘ah you doing? Get back in yea house!” “I just need some bread and peanut butter” I said, trying remain calm. “I’ll bring it to you just go back home. Where do you live?” I told him and brought bread and peanut butter to me. Later that evening we saw that the little bastard had been captured. A month later we find out that he wrote his confession on the side of the Watertown boat he had been hiding in. How do we know he’s guilty? Those two reasons: the carjacking and the written confession on the side of the boat. Alright, that that’s cleared up let’s talk about that cover. Okay, that cover is disgusting! It’s an insult to the four people that were murdered and the 280 people that were maimed by these losers. I’m posting this video: The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, he’ll explain the article to you:

  • Sarah Risko

    Watch This: The Last Word with Lawarence O’ Donnell: Rolling Stone is Running Scared

    From a Life-Long Bostonian

  • AJ2449

    Now that his Jaw and Face has been totally Effed Up after his fight with the police.
    Let’s wait for the New johar photos to come out. And see if his “fans” are quite so in love with his new Frankenstein looking face

  • kay browne

    Probably the most articulate argument on why it was a bad decision. Although I disagree with the revenue incentive, I believe that was an important factor.