NEW YORK (AP) A Rolling Stone story on Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is generating controversy even before it hits stores, with critics saying the cover photo glamorizes an accused killer and some retailers saying they will not carry the issue.
The photo of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev scheduled to hit shelves Friday looks more like a young Bob Dylan or Jim Morrison than the 19-year-old who pleaded not guilty last week, looking casual despite having a swollen face and his arm in a cast.
The same image of Tsarnaev, an ethnic Chechen who came to the U.S. as a child, was widely circulated and used by newspapers and magazines before, but the music magazine is being criticized for turning it into something more appealing ?and making Tsarnaev look like a rock star.
“I can’t think of another instance in which one has glamorized the image of an alleged terrorist. This is the image of a rock star. This is the image of someone who is admired, of someone who has a fan base, of someone we are critiquing as art,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
Public outrage was swift, including tough words from the Boston mayor, bombing survivors and the governor of Massachusetts. At least five retailers with strong New England ties said they would not sell the issue that features an in-depth look into how a charming, well-liked teen took a dark turn toward radical Islam.
The magazine uses Tsarnaev’s playful nickname in a headline: “Jahar’s World.” Its cover teaser declares for the story: “The Bomber. How a Popular, Promising Student was Failed by His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster.” The story was made available on the magazine’s website Wednesday.
A brief Rolling Stone statement offered condolences to bombing survivors and the loved ones of the dead. Three people were killed in the bombing, and dozens were wounded.
“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 statement said.
That’s little consolation for James “Bim” Costello, 30, who needed pig skin grafts on most of his right arm and right leg after the bombing. His body was pebbled with shrapnel, including nails he pulled out of his stomach himself. Three of his close friends lost legs that day, and others suffered serious burns and shrapnel injuries.
“I think whoever wrote the article should have their legs blown off by someone,” struggle through treatment “and then see who they would choose to put on the cover,” Costello said.
Lauren Gabler had finished her fourth Boston Marathon and was two blocks from the finish line explosions that April day. At first she thought the Rolling Stone photo, first released on the magazine’s website and Facebook page, was of a model or a rock star.
“All of a sudden you realize that’s the Boston bomber,” said Gabler. “The cover almost tricks you into what you’re looking at. I haven’t read the article yet, and I know it will probably be quite in-depth, but my initial reaction is that the photo that’s being used almost makes him look like a good guy.”
Rolling Stone said the cover story was part of its “long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day.” The magazine has had plenty of covers featuring people outside the realm of entertainment, from President Barack Obama to Charles Manson.
Putting criminals and alleged criminals on the covers of major magazines is justified if they are major news figures, said Samir Husni, who heads the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi. It’s digitally manipulating a photo that never is, he said.
“They’ll probably regret it later,” he said of Rolling Stone’s handling of the cover. “Even if it wasn’t doctored, it’s going to bring those negative reactions.”
Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino wrote a letter to Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner accusing the magazine of offering Tsarnaev “celebrity treatment” and calling the cover “ill-conceived, at best,” in that it supports the “terrible message that destruction gains fame for killers and their ’causes.’”
The letter calls the cover an obvious marketing strategy and concludes: “The survivors of the Boston attacks deserve Rolling Stone cover stories, though I no longer feel that Rolling Stone deserves them.”
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