Rolling Stone Publishes Yet Another Controversial Cover

Rolling Stone Publishes Yet Another Controversial Cover

Rolling Stone magazine is receiving a sizable amount of backlash over their decision to use a "selfie" of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the accused Boston Marathon bomber, on the cover. One of the more shared opinions is that this is glamorizing and creating a celebrity out of an [allegedly] horrible individual; Rolling Stone is typically fond of using musicians and actors on their covers. Perhaps, though, the more troubling complaint is that the cover was "uninspired."

The magazine is no stranger to a controversial cover. They've published Britney Spears (at 17) in a bra, in bed...


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They've dressed Kanye West up as Jesus....

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But probably the closest comparison of the Tsarnaev cover would be this one of Charles Manson...

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...in which it wasn't so much the content of the article, but the presentation - it came off with the same visual impact as a poster for a rock concert.

It could probably be argued that many people who are quick to call for a boycot of the magazine aren't fully aware of the serious journalism that Rolling Stone is actually known for. Their presentation may have a lot of flash, but their content is equally as hard-hitting - going back decades with the likes of legedary writers like Hunter S. Thompson.

As far as the argument about glamorizing Tsarnaev, the article reads, "The Bomber. How a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam and became a monster." Calling someone a "monster" is hardly positive. The article itself seeks to try to understand how a horror like this could happen.

Let's also not forget that this image has been published before on the cover of the New York Times.

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What do you think?


Image: Handout image of accused Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of August 1 issue of Rolling Stone magazine

Via CNN, USA Today, and The Washington Post

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76 Comments

Well maybe its worse because I was personally affected by this incident, I am all for journalistic integrity but there is a fine line between journalism and just having a sheer disregard for the victims who were involved. It also poses the question, why this instagram selfie? Why choose the photo that makes him look like a "rockstar" he's not a rock star.. I think it would have been a lot smarter to have used his mug shot at least if you need to plaster his face on the cover...

It doesn't make him look like a rockstar, it's an accurate representation of who he was. It's showing how a normal looking kid can turn into a monster. We already know he's a coward and monster. It scares people that the kid could be one of their kids friends. It's hard truth.

Trevor Dayley's picture

I don't agree with using this photo for the cover, but hats off to the terrorist for his great use of split lighting in his selfie. .

Too much bounce. :-)

"failed by his family" He is responsible for his own failures. How did his family fail him? They brought him to Cambridge, he became a US citizen, he was popular, he was captain of his high school wrestling team, he worked as a lifeguard at Harvard, he was granted a scholarship, he went to college. His troubles appear to have started in college, but you can hardly blame his parents at that point in his life.

well, I guess you'll have to read the article to understand what they are trying to get at... That's the question you ask yourself with headlines. "Hey, they said his family failed him, maybe there is something in the article that explains what they mean"

The cover will encourage people to read the article. Kids most importantly. They will learn from a magazine they respect and follow...that this story has a tragic and horrible ending. It might help some lost and confused souls realize what they could turn into if they remain on the same path. It could save peoples lives. Rolling Stone is full of fantastic journalists who aren't afraid to take risks that might offend people if it's for the better good. I think we need more stuff like this. Or...we could just continue to brainwash our kids with video games and rock/rap bands...you know....good wholesome learning tools.

I think it's soft. and a bit pixelated. But on the political side... I hadn't realized RS. was even still publishing. Now that I know... I feel they are glamorizing someone that terrorized us. But they will be able to measure it, and clearly they have the data that shows it will increase readership. And that's really their only goal. Not to mention their right to do so. Even if 99% of Americans disagree, it is still their right to put as many nails in the rag-coffin as they wish.

Rick Navarro's picture

i wonder if RS got the licensing rights to publish this image. If not they could be in for a serious copyright lawsuit! lol Technically, if Tsarnaev took the image, he is the copyright holder. But then again, how many rights do you have left in federal prison?

Well, I see this differently, though I do not like what they did, they succeeded in what they wanted to do. GET YOUR ATTENTION and FS, you feel into the trap and by posting about the photo, you are giving them an audience and creating curiosity to buy their magazine. Also FS, you are validating there existence and lessening your validity. Think about it. The photo is very well done, but you stepped past the intent your are designed to do (photography and videography) and got into the politics of journalism. Now I want to add, I very much enjoy your posts on Facebook and Thank You for your quality writing and content. This one I consider a slip up, looking forward to more good content.

I am really surprised from the high number of bad comments about this cover. We are here on Fstoppers blog and I was expecting much more sensitivity to the impact of picture and the meaning. Yes Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is a young student of a normal appearance. Yes you can meet people like him everyday wihtout knowing who he is. And what makes you sick in front of that picture is that this presumed guilty terrorist doesn't look like a devil or a heartless guy. This is the reason why that picture is perfect for that cover, highlighting the question raised in the article:"How could that normal looking man do what he did?".

As photographers we try to build pictures trying to develop an idea and Illustrate our vision of the world. Rolling stones put the right picture at the right place to illustrate their article. When I see people saying we don't care of the article the problem is the picture, it makes me think of those same persons eating junk food just because of the picture on the package. You have to consider the whole (article + cover) if you really care about information and communication, that is why showing boobs or dicks can be rude or can be art, everything depends on the context!

I would put the author of this article Chris Knight on the same level as RollingStone stop writing Christ Knight

I really think our culture has become indoctrinated with the idea that being on "The Cover of the Rolling Stone" is a marker for success and in some way, the ultimate fulfilment of the American Dream. We really seem to believe the reality TV and tabloid lie that any publicity is good publicity and making the news in any fashion is something to strive for. It has gotten to the point where a well-respected magazine cannot even report on a national news story without being accused of glorifying an accused killer. The fact that people automatically assume having a cover on the Rolling Stone is the pinnacle of celebrity and glory is in and of itself sad. Do we need to start filtering our news and only only publishing photos of "good" people? Unfortunately, there are a great many evils in society, and in the world at large; rabidly zeroing in on one cover photo shows a complete lack of understanding of print journalism (I doubt if this would have made such a stir were it just on the front page of the RS website) and the issues at large. The controversy over the Britney Spears issue or the Kanye issue actually makes a lot more sense; the controversy is then about whether or not it's acceptable to overtly sexualize a 17 year old or disrespect a religion. The Tsarnaev issue is pretty straightforward and similar to the stories that every other magazine and newspaper in the country has been running since the bombing occurred. Why is it considered a "reward" to have your picture in the papers, regardless of the reason it was printed in the first place? Things happen in this world and we as a society have decided we would like to be informed of them. But somewhere along the way, news became more about just making it to the cover of a magazine, a means to an end, rather than just an end in and of itself. Burying your head in the sand and vilifying a magazine for daring to run a news story on an actual villain, is an unfortunate sign of the times. Snooki would be proud.

That of Britney actually dropped THE bomb!

Deymn fek lame joke lol

Any comments on this, instead of the redundant magazine cover?

Dzhokhar, at the moment of arrest, no deadly wound on the neck?

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