Rolling Stone cover of alleged Boston bomber sparks controversy – Framing villains and violence

Social media went nuts Wednesday, when Rolling Stone released its latest issue, the cover featuring alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Rolling Stone Tsarnaev

As the day wore on, major pharmacy chains CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid all announced they would not carry the issue. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino wrote a letter to the magazine’s publisher condemning the glorification of terrorists and wondering why first responders and survivors didn’t make the cover.

The cover refers to Tsarnaev as “The Bomber,” though he pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial. The photo is from Tsarnaev’s Twitter account, and – let’s face it – could have just as easily been the face of a young pop star gracing the music magazine.

Surely that must be the reason for our collective outrage – Tsarnaev doesn’t look like the bad guy here, though the cover text goes on to say he “fell into radical Islam and became a monster.” But even that phrasing, “fell into,” refers to a narrative that has existed since the day a major American city was completely shut down until Dzhokhar was found bleeding in a boat – he was the sheep that wandered into older brother Tamerlan’s sadistic plans. Dzhokhar was to be admired before his fall. He “became a monster”; we remember his humanity. (Though the article makes it pretty clear “The Bomber” is no hero to be celebrated.)

But Boston remembers humanity as well. The three killed at the marathon; the MIT police officer killed in the lead-up to the massive manhunt; the 280 injured between the two events. In the days following the bombing, newspapers and television newscasts were filled with graphic images of victims clutching soon-to-be-amputated limbs along blood-soaked sidewalks. Seeing one of the two men responsible for that carnage on the cover of a national publication is going to stir some raw emotions.

Except it didn’t in May, just three weeks after the bombing, when the New York Times ran the exact same photograph on their front page to promote a similar profile story.

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