Tsarnaev on Rolling Stone cover: Rock-star treatment or good journalism? (+video)
The Aug. 1 Rolling Stone cover has been harshly criticized for featuring what many are calling a glamorous photo of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bombing suspect.
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Interestingly, she notes via e-mail, “that is also the plotline for the story of the young man who is on the cover of People magazine this week: Cory Monteith, the Glee star who died of a drug overdose.” This is a typical narrative template for the dead-rock-star story, she says, but in the case of the Rolling Stone coverline, it narratively enfolds Tsarnaev himself within the tragedy.Skip to next paragraph
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But there are many, many examples of outrageous figures gracing the covers of magazines, from Adolf Hitler to Charles Manson, says journalism professor Mark Tatge, from DePauw University in Green Castle, Ind.
“The role of media is to inform and provide context for events. To the extent that this story gives us more information about this horrible tragedy, it is valuable,” he says via e-mail, adding that hopefully stories like these will only improve our understanding of what went wrong here so future incidents like these can be avoided. “Choking off or censoring stories like these is not the solution to the problem, nor does it help us move forward as a society,” Professor Tatge adds.
Doug Spero, professor of mass communication at Meredith College, in Raleigh, N.C., agrees that this is nothing new.
“I am a guy of journalistic ethics, and from what I am reading here, this looks like solid journalism,” he says via e-mail. People want to know what was in the mind of a Lee Harvey Oswald, he says, adding that there is a place for something like this “as long as it doesn’t become tabloid journalism.”
This is the kind of stuff that books are written about, adds Professor Spero, why not a magazine?
But comparisons to magazine covers featuring such historical evil-doers as Osama bin Laden miss the mark, suggests Brian Heffron, a former journalist and now Boston public relations professional.
“This feels very different than, say, a cover story of bin Laden in Time,” he says, adding that whether it is the style of the photo or the simple fact that it's on Rolling Stone, “it seems to glorify this alleged terrorist. The magazine seems to be romanticizing him as a James Dean rebel and not profiling a mass murderer.”
Let's face it, says Mr. Heffron, “the editors knew full well the controversy will grab attention” from its target demographic.
The magazine’s statement Wednesday addressed that point. “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 question, continues Heffron, will be, is the vitriol balanced by interest in buying the issue for the story?
The answer to that question is simple for psychiatrist Lieberman. It matters little what has been written about Tsarnaev within the magazine, she says, since many will just see the cover “and it will set their minds spinning, trying to figure out how they can become an immortalized 'hero' like Tsarnaev.”
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