Rolling Stone’s Tasteless Cover Doesn’t Make the Article Unworthy

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When I first heard that people were boycotting Rolling Stone, I was surprised, because the last time I actually saw someone reading an issue of Rolling Stone was… well, never. However, the magazine’s new cover that featured alleged Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has stirred up intense anger from a lot of folks.

Before I actually saw the cover, I couldn’t imagine what the big deal was. Tsarnaev’s picture was in practically every news outlet following the bombing. “Why The Picture’s Not the Problem” from Coverthink presents a much more detailed and eloquent explanation:

“This is an extraordinary image for Rolling Stone to use, not because he looks like a Rock Star, but because it’s a selfie. Rolling Stone is legendary and rightly so for creating powerful identities on their cover. Here, they are doing nothing more than reflecting back to us the vanity of a young man’s narcissism, complete with his Armani Exchange T-shirt.”

Author Andy Cowles also points out an important, yet discreet detail: logo placement. When Rolling Stone put Charles Manson on their cover, the logo was set away from Manson’s face. On its recent cover of Tsarnaev, the logo was centered on the top of his head. Something as minute as logo placement might just sound like naval gazing, but I encourage you to take a look at the images side-by-side.

I am curious as to why this cover makes Americans so incredibly angry. Historically, journalism has been considered best when it makes readers think, even makes them uncomfortable. And Rolling Stone’s story did just that. It is one of the best examples of journalism I’ve read in a long time – so good, in fact, that it gave me chills.

Janet Reitman’s sketch of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pushed me out of my comfort zone because I could no longer pretend that there were warning signs before the Tsarnaev brothers (allegedly) committed such a terrible act of violence. Many people, including myself, try to rationalize tragedies in order to understand them. Deep down, we know that there is no rationale behind hurting innocent people, but as human beings, many of us have an extraordinarily powerful desire to understand things. This way, we may protect others and ourselves from the same experiences.

Had Dzhokhar looked culturally foreign on the cover, whether in clothing or grooming, would America feel like they understood the Tsarnaev brothers and consequently embraced the cover? If so, that is a tragedy in itself.

Before you judge Rolling Stone or swear off of it forever (even though you’ve never read it), read the article. It is excellently written, engaging, informative, and uncomfortable. Push yourself to engage in something that terrifies you.

Unfortunately for author Janet Reitman, Rolling Stone may have used Dzhokkar Tsarnaev’s picture in a cynical, profit-driven fashion, but that does not render the article unworthy to read.