This week we will be discussing the Rolling Stone cover story on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombings. The 1 August issue has currently been banned by CVS, 7-Eleven, Walgreens, and various local retail outlets across the U.S. Every day this week a different Urchin will publish their take on the topic. Stay tuned, and feel free to join us in taking sides.
The 1 August issue of Rolling Stone is the first of what is sure to be many controversies surrounding the Boston Marathon tragedy. And that was kind of the point. Not for a moment do I doubt that Rolling Stone intentionally sought to spark debate around its cover story. Because, hey, controversy sells… even if it’s not at CVS, 7-Eleven or Walgreens. Ban something and people want it even more.
Despite Rolling Stone‘s introductory statement:
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 publication’s final, overriding mission is to sell magazines. Remember the Charles Manson cover story? Is it excusable for marketers to take advantage of people’s emotions? (Oh wait, that’s their job.) The article, by Janet Reitman, is a delicate and sensitive treatment of a difficult and painful topic. Reitman does not ask the reader to sympathize with Tsnarnaev, or “Jahar” as he was known among his friends. She only asks that we attempt to understand what went wrong. The story itself is not controversial and could have been in the pages of any major publication. And, if it had of been, it would not have evoked half the debate.
Do I agree with Rolling Stone’s decision? As a writer, I think it’s tacky and cheap. I think Reitman should be frustrated that the silly cover is getting more attention than her well-written article. However, if I was the publisher of Rolling Stone, I wouldn’t hesitate to make the same decision. I think the real problem at hand is not the magazine’s tactless cover choice, but our culture’s insatiable need for drama. The most sickening thing about it all is the fact that “Jahar” probably thinks it’s really cool to be on the cover of a Rolling Stone.