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A magazine cover.

This image of accused Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev appeared on the cover of the August issue of Rolling Stone magazine.

Image from Rolling Stone Magazine via Reuters

Melody Kramer

National Geographic

Published July 17, 2013

Rolling Stone's cover image, of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnev, has already appeared widely in print—but is now creating a firestorm online, where many have accused the hallowed publication of glamorizing a suspected mass murderer.

The photo in question, a self-portrait taken directly from Tsarnev's Twitter profile, features the 19-year-old suspect looking straight at the camera. It was not lit or manipulated in any way by Rolling Stone.

So why the controversy? It's hard to say. Magazine covers are there to sell magazines. And the images editors choose are not always ones that readers necessarily agree with, says Keith Jenkins, the director of digital photography at National Geographic, who agreed to answer a few more questions about the Rolling Stone cover.

Thousands of people took to social media sites like Twitter and Rolling Stone's Facebook page to voice their opinions about the Rolling Stone cover. Why do you think the image of Dzhokhar Tsarnev incited such a firestorm on social media?

There is a pretty raw and open wound that still exists around what happened in Boston and you have to remember the fact that it was the most significant terror attack on U.S. soil since September 11. So it's understandable that emotions around this cover are pretty raw, because anything that calls attention to this case is going to be a lightning rod for commentary. Social media is simply where that takes place.

But magazine covers feature suspects all of the time and this kind of response never erupts. What's different about Rolling Stone's cover?

Even in an era of waning magazine circulation, Rolling Stone has an iconic status in our society. And we can clearly see that it retains its place, based on the response to this cover, as both a celebrity maker and celebrity validator. Celebrities can take the shape from musicians to mass murderers. And one can argue that Rolling Stone actually did what they would normally do given their editorial mission—which is to put that story front and center in front of their readers.

Rolling Stone did feature Charles Manson on the cover in 1970, to tease an interview they conducted with him in prison. But that was before social media existed.

Do we know how many letters to the editor went to Rolling Stone after Charles Manson was on the cover? Today's social media landscape allows us to see a response to a cover pretty quickly.

What do you think about the actual image? People are comparing it to Jim Morrison's cover and suggesting that Rolling Stone glamorized the image.

To their credit, they didn't doctor the photo. It's presented as it was presented in dozens—if not hundreds—of publications when it was first released. If there's anything to learn from this, the underlying lesson is that this is going to continue to happen. The role of media is to cover the stories that may be the most controversial and that's something that photography does as well. It sometimes shows us images that we don't want to see but are nonetheless important to telling the full story.

How has social media changed the way photography editors look for images for crime stories?

Ten years ago, we were looking for people's high school yearbook photos because we knew those were the photos that were most likely to exist. Now, in a lot of cases, we don't have to do that because those photos exist on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram.

40 comments
Andrew Booth
Andrew Booth

Hasn't this glorification of other such people always existed though? Just look at how people like Jessie James, Bonnie and Clyde and Pretty Boy Floyd are now regarded - as legends and folk heroes. In fact they were all vicious, cold-blooded killers. The same process might well be at work here.  

Herman Huebenthal
Herman Huebenthal

I urge America to boycott " The Rolling Stone".   Let's send a message to all irresponsible journalists. 

Herman Huebenthal
Herman Huebenthal

A Young boy was kill by this person and many others, there is no reason none at all to put a face of a murder on your magazine. People it's time to wake up, Stop glorifying these mass murders. This is exactly what they  want to happen. Please for the love of human decency change the cover photo with that of the young boy who was kill by that murder you just made a hero to someone...

Jb Yong
Jb Yong

I read the article and this is for people who have not read it. Rolling Stone wanted to be edgy and they thought it was cool that pic looked like Jim Morrison since you know they are like magazine about iconic rock stars.  But they went too far. The article romanticizes terrorist Jahar and is just as DISGUSTING as the Teen Beat cover. Beautiful, soulful eyes - R U Kidding me? Who says this about cold blooded remorseless killer???  Brothers were lazy potsmokers who never had real jobs and Americans paid for their welfare and this dirtbag Jahar even got scholarship to go to college. Jahar wasted his college by smoking pot and he was failing classes. They blame financial problems on parents who left for Russia and "boring" college. The article was more about blaming society and everyone else to humanize Jahar as the poor soul victim. The cover was appropriate for article because both wanted to make you feel sorry for Jahar. Even though he killed maimed 250+ Americans and partied and prob smoked pot after bombing. It was SICK OFFENSIVE COVER and ARTICLE and Rolling Stone just trying to be edgy and sell magazine.  Too bad the author and editors did not lose any family members to the bombings to see how disgusting and hurtful to victims this had caused.  Oh yeah that Manson cover was 20 years ago and at least the editor at that time had decency not to use Manson picture that looked like Teen Beat or teen rock star.  Mugshot would have shown this is what happens when you KILL PEOPLE! IDIOT EDITORS! Irresponsible JOURNALISM

bob wright
bob wright

The thing with Tsarnaev is that he's an atttractive, non-monstrous-looking guy. Those who are easily outraged and enjoy the feeling that it gives them want him to look like a comic-book villain, to fit well with their comic-book preconceptions. But that isn't reality: they want him distorted to suit their ideas of how things should be. 

The whole story with this guy is that he doesn't make sense in any simple way. He wasn't angry, socially inept and rejected, given to extremist views. He was a nice guy with an easy laugh and lots of friends, who acted in a way that is really hard to understand.

"Well, to hell with that. We want him presented as a crazed Muslim extremist with evil eyes" is not the reality. The outrage machine is demanding that reality be bent to conform to their wants and needs. 

Freon Sandoz
Freon Sandoz

What's different between the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Charles Manson articles and pictures? The answer is that Americans are raised on television, and need everything to be black and white, with no confusing shades of grey. Most especially, a terrorist must be 100% evil and must look the part, with no sympathy-inducing qualities whatsoever. The Dzhokhar Tsarnaev article and picture don't fulfill that expectation, so Americans cannot accept them and need to banish them from their sight.

Linda Venegas
Linda Venegas

Why don't Americans get as upset about the death that Monsanto and Obama are orchestrating on our country as a picture on the cover of Rolling Stone?  FGS, Rolling Stone has been controversial since their first publication, that's why they're still in print.  What part of poisoning the food chain do you not find upsetting?

Ramon Tinio
Ramon Tinio

The Rolling Stone glamour cover of a terrorist mass murderer has confirmed my belief that this magazine is a pandering, sell-out fink magazine.  Their only concern is the bottom-line and profit by way of vulgarity and sensationalism.  Never bought the magazine and never will.  I hope it goes bankrupt.

Russ Nash
Russ Nash

Whatever we read into it, or are told to read into it, the initial and overall impression is that of glamourising. 

I'm sure Tsarnaev will be very pleased about being "iconic" on the cover of this cool publication, alongside cool music names - and the fact that he has been a cover boy for other publications does not detract from the fact that Rolling Stone IS kinda cool...

Article: fine. Cover picture: not fine, very wrong.

Henrique Diogo
Henrique Diogo

@Mitchell Grosky, sorry your cover looks like a really bad tabloid newspaper page (do you even work in media) and the feelings of 170+ (not 300) who just happened to be standing in the way of the explosion by chance are already covered by hundreds of tv, newspaper, and internet publications, what we haven't got is an article that explains why a boy can be driven to do this, I appreciate your sentiments but I think tribute to the victims has been paid through many other publications, why bash rolling stone for looking at this topic from a different perspective, I think small minded people just look at the title of the publication and the picture and the rest is in their brain, they associate the two without logic or reasoning, the publication is not glamorising him, did nothing but  print an unedited photo on their front page, a photo that's been widely used already, if you were to read the article you would know it does nothing to glamorise his crimes, but most Americans don't actually read anything they stare and let their brain fill in the blanks with assumptions. Sorry for the rant, but i feel that in a place that promotes freedom of speech and then turning around and boycotting a magazine based on assumptions is just plain uneducated.

Amy Lamke
Amy Lamke

When I heard the first news story about the cover I thought, "good, maybe this will send a message to people not to trust someone just because they are attractive".

NOT ALL MONSTERS LOOK LIKE MONSTERS.

This public outcry that Rolling St...one is being irresponsible by putting him on the cover ... are they forgetting, not too long ago, when his face was on every cable news channel 24-7 for weeks after his brother was killed, after he was captured, and when the most of the news was mixture of tips, hearsay and conjecture ?

Now that an investigative journalist has taken the time to do some hard-nosed in-depth reporting, isn't there a responsibility to get that information out to the public, for the good of the public ?
Isn't that, after all, the very definition of responsible journalism ?

By breaking down in full detail the downward spiral that led this boy to commit a horrendous act, all while seeming on the outside like any other normal teenager, hopefully, will remind people to take a closer look and be a little more cautious about the people around them.

True that it may be painful for some people to see, but I for one feel it is necessary for all of us to be reminded to be ever-vigilant.

I have a friend who, years ago, was savagely attacked on her way home from school. She was only 16 and was brutally raped by 4 men. After she recovered from her physical injuries, she enrolled in a self-defense class. Her instructor was a man and there were many men in her class. She was uncomfortable with that, and on several occasions during hand-to-hand sparring, she re-lived events of the attack in her mind ... but SHE KNEW THAT IT WAS IMPERITIVE FOR HER TO LEARN WHAT SHE COULD TO PROTECT HERSELF IN THE FUTURE.

I for one, applaud Rolling Stone for having the fortitude to give us all that spoonful of medicine that some may not like, but assuredly will make us better.

Mitchell Grosky
Mitchell Grosky

I worked to create a cover which I honestly feel is more appropriate.   My question:  Why not a Rolling Stones Cover featuring the HEROES of the Boston Marathon?   The magazine could still have an article (if they wanted one) on how the young man became a monster on the INSIDE of the magazine. If anything, they could put a picture of the alleged bomber into a small insert on the cover, alluding to an article within.  I tried to show what, in my opinion,  the cover could look like if the editors were more concerned about the feelings of the 300 plus victims and the people of Boston– if they were more concerned with glorifying the HEROES of that day, rather than the alleged terrorist. I want to note that I have just finished the article and I found it to be insightful and valuable in understanding how this young man became an (alleged) murderous bomber, though I found the portrayal to be a bit overly-sympathetic.  My point is not that they should not have written the article–only that their choice for the cover was a poor one.

The picture is at this link:   http://thisweekwithmitchgrosky.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/a-better-rolling-stone-cover/

Eddie Brown
Eddie Brown

@bob wright No, he's just a moron that we would enjoy not looking at in any capacity. No need to make it more complex. 

Right Way
Right Way

@bob wright , Are you kidding me. This lazy, non producing, worthless POS did nothing of any value with his life. His LOOKS have nothing to do with what he did. He is a crazed Muslim a****** who decided to blow people's bodies apart with multiple bombs. What the hell do you call that. Average Joe American? Not hardly. Very few mass murderers "Look" like "monstrous" guys. The reality IS, he, for NO GOOD REASON whatsoever decided to butcher innocent people for his personal gratification while he lived in America, sucking off our welfare system, didn't accomplish a damn thing worthwhile with hls life and for no legitimate reason at all, destroyed the lives of others. You are a f****** idiot.

Eddie Brown
Eddie Brown

@Freon Sandoz Hm, i just thought the guy was a royal a**h*** and don't want to look at him in any capacity. But your rant was kinda funny anyway. Thanks for the laugh. 

Stephen Body
Stephen Body

@Freon SandozYour lack of perception as to the motives of everyone who was offended by this asinine cover would be funny if it weren't so sad. I'll spell it out for you: It's CONTEXT. The cover of Rolling Stone has always been a showcase, a reward for those who have achieved in rock and society. The proof is in any gallery of RS covers. Go ahead, LOOK, if you insist on popping off like this. The simple fact is that, if you put this jerk among those faces, it glorifies him. Period. And all those Americans you sneer at, with their lack of subtlety and wisdom, WILL take it as "Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Rock Star". THAT is the issue here, not your obtuse, hyper-analytical extrapolation of the views of people you clearly don't know.

ed skeeter
ed skeeter

@Russ Nash   Sorry, but if one thinks that he has become iconic because of being on the cover, and is being glamorized by being on any cover of any magazine, they are part of the problem of the dumbing down of America.

I  am appalled at how America has turned into such a nation of whiners about everything!  This is just what the government wanted, to be able to lead the sheep how and where ever they want to, because they can't think for themselves anymore.

Stephen Body
Stephen Body

@Amy Lamke I said this above and I'll repeat it here: "I'll spell it out for you: It's CONTEXT. The cover of Rolling Stone has always been a showcase, a reward for those who have achieved in rock and society. The proof is in any gallery of RS covers. Go ahead, LOOK, if you insist on popping off like this. The simple fact is that, if you put this jerk among those faces, it glorifies him. Period."   And all those people who see this cover - the same frame where Beyonce and Keith Richards and Bono and Eric Clapton are honored - will look at this and get "Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Rock Star". THAT is the objection, here.

Nothing stopped RS from covering the story and putting anything else on the cover. They did it for ONE reason: because controversy boosts magazine sales. They yearn for the days when they were relevant and cutting edge and jump on ANY chance to get a whiff of that again. It's fairly pathetic, really. And your rationalizing away their decision just supports that lame self-delusion.

And one last thing: I really DON'T need you deciding for me - and I suspect no one else does, either - what I'm going to be "better" for. Do you have constituency you represent or are you just playing Earth Mama and attempting to educate us clueless losers? I found the presumption of that statement pretty offensive, frankly. 

Michael Richards
Michael Richards

@Amy Lamke I live in Boston and I can tell you that the problem with Rolling Stone is not the article, it's putting a photo pf this monster looking undeniably and obviously 'cool' and fashionable on their cover. Can you imagine what the victims must feel when they have to look at that cover?  I guess it matters little to Rolling Stone, who seems to think that nobody knows the shock and awe buzz they obviously planned to create (now playing dumb, of course). I guess my biggest beef is with them denying it and trying to divert the issue to the article rather than the photo on the cover.  Come on, at least have the decency to own it.  One thing you can be sure of, Bostonians won't be buying "5,000 copies for their mother" of this issue.  In fact, many of us faithful readers won't buy a copy of it ever again.  It's sad.

Toddius Maximus
Toddius Maximus

@Amy Lamke Rolling Stone does not employ 1 single credible, honest, or responsible hard nosed investigative reporter.  They are staffed by a bunch of hacks and liars.  This goes back to the 60s.  Just ask bands like the Stones, the Doors, or Hendrix (RIP).  When they didn't have a good story about a band, they made one up.  However, I think you are a good little follower Amy.  Your foster parents must be proud.

Russ Nash
Russ Nash

@Amy Lamke But would your rape victim friend be happy about the rapist having his cool photo on the front page of a cool magazine alongside the cool likes of Jay-Z and Gary Clark Jnr?

 I'm all for inuring and tempering but this is glamourising.

ed skeeter
ed skeeter

@Mitchell Grosky You do realize that the story is not about "heroes" of the event, don't you?

The public has been kept from the reality of death and feeling uncomfortable for so long, that they scream at anything that upsets them.  How many pictures do you see of dead bodies from war, those coffins returning home from conflicts abroad?  You don't, so you do not actually realize that it happens.

Americans should be this upset about losing their freedoms. 

d h
d h

@Mitchell Grosky 

1. Your cover is heartfelt, admirable, and compassionate.  Thank you for taking the time to make it and share it. 

2. It would be a great fit for many magazines.

3. However, that's not really what Rolling Stone does or has ever done - is it?  

4. This is what I would expect from Rolling Stone and frankly I appreciate their challenging alternative point of view.

Freon Sandoz
Freon Sandoz

@Stephen Body@Freon SandozRolling Stone put Charles Manson on its cover and that picture/article didn't generate this kind of controversy. You are aware of that, right? If you're going to attack my analysis, you need to at least explain that fact.

Joe LoBianco
Joe LoBianco

@Stephen Body @Freon Sandoz One very obvious blind spot we all have is the very fact that this kid is still just a suspect and has yet to be proven of anything guilty. Did Rolling Stone make a decision that goes against its normal routine, yes it did. Has other media outlets for the past few months tattooed the scarlet letter onto this kid, yes they have. The Rolling Stone mag. is the whipping boy in this situation. But in the context of media spinning reality, what the rolling stone mag., in my opinion, has done is not wrong at all. They are showcasing the reward given to this kid for being the usa's new number one terrorist, whether or not that claim is based off any facts.

Rog Johnson
Rog Johnson

@Stephen Body @Freon Sandoz -- Being on a magazine cover glorifies him?! What planet are you from??

If Americans are as stupid as you say, then having his face on the cover is even more necessary, if order to get people thinking about what's actually said, not some stupid knee-jerk reaction.

Rog Johnson
Rog Johnson

@Stephen Body -- What's your issue with discussing real news (i.e. what's really important) in this country?

What GMOs are doing to us is a lot more important than whether Americans are upset by who's on the cover of RS.

Russ Nash
Russ Nash

@ed skeeter BTW, I'd have said the same if he was on the cover of Vogue and they'd run the article. Article fine, cover nah.

Russ Nash
Russ Nash

@ed skeeter Yeah, well you're welcome to your opinion and there's no need to apologise. Unfortunately the dumb, who I was speaking of (and who proliferate), will see him as iconic - being on THAT particular cool mag, in that sort of company. I think the same happened with Manson ("the man who killed the 60's" as some said). In fact Manson. was arguably more "justified". 

I'm not sure if your er, bleat meant I was whining, but if I was, I was whining for England where it's endemic, old chap.

ed skeeter
ed skeeter

@Toddius Maximus The sixties must have been quite a blur to you, eh Toddius?  Heck...I think it still is a blur today.


ed skeeter
ed skeeter


(This is my intended edited version)

@Mitchell GroskyMitchell Grosky You do realize that the story is not about "heroes" of the event, don't you?

The public has been kept from the reality of death and feeling uncomfortable for so long, that they scream at anything that upsets them.  How many pictures do you see of dead bodies from war, those coffins returning home from conflicts abroad?  You don't, so you do not actually realize that it happens.  You have been kept from reality.

This is just one article about one person, and a part of the whole story.  It cannot be told in just one minute, which unfortunately, is the length of most Americans attention span, these days.

Americans should be this upset about losing their freedoms

Russ Nash
Russ Nash

@ed skeeter@Russ NashNot just Tsarnaev feeling good about it either. Hey, he's a poster boy for Al Q on the cover of Rolling Stone. The article IS the interesting bit for sure, but it's rather eclipsed by the "cool" cover pic. Yes indeed, whadda guy!

I'm with Stephen Body on this - it's a contextual thing. As per my comment to Amy Lamke re her friend who'd been raped, I wonder how many people would appreciate the "non-conformity" if they saw that cool pic in the cool place alongside the cool if they'd lost people in the bombing? More, I'd suggest, than if they'd seen the same pic on the front page of a national newspaper. I'm sure they should know better but I don't think I'd be in a rush to describe them as 'whining'...


ed skeeter
ed skeeter

@Russ Nash @ed skeeter You are right, that Tsarnaev would feel good about it, but I was referring to the millions of minds that automatically start whining.   I do not want it to become endemic here, like it is in England. ;-)

I have no problem with the cover, because they are a different magazine (non-conformist) and do not always cover music, but have had other great articles of importance with covers to accompany the article. 


Rog Johnson
Rog Johnson

@ed skeeter -- "Unfortunately the dumb, who ..."

You meant "whom"..It's so easy to ridicule those too dumb to use grammar correctly, that I won't even bother with people who only look at the pictures instead of reading the article.

ed skeeter
ed skeeter

@Michael Richards @Amy Lamke   It is obvious that Mr. Richards cannot face reality and deal with it.  He even needs to  hide behind comedy (?) and blame old age.

Man up, and deal with the reality of what happened.  THAT would be Boston Strong.

Russ Nash
Russ Nash

@ed skeeter Just goes to show: put a cool pic of a young guy on the front of a cool mag, alongside some cool music names and an impression can easily be gained that has nothing to do with the article.

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