NEW YORK (CNN) — Accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s face on the cover of the latest Rolling Stone sparked a backlash against the magazine Wednesday in social media and in boardrooms around the country.
“THE BOMBER,” the cover reads. “How a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam and became a monster.”
The photo of a tousle-haired, thinly goateed Tsarnaev is one the suspect posted online himself and has been picked up by other outlets. But a groundswell of criticism objecting to its prominent play emerged on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook and among leaders in Boston, where the marathon bombings killed three people, wounded more than 200 and led to a frantic manhunt that left a police officer dead.
Ed Kelly, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, called it “insulting.” Using Tsarnaev’s booking photo might have been one thing, but a photo that shows “the innocence of youth” gives the wrong message, Kelly told CNN.
“He gave up any innocence he had on April 15, when he took the life of an innocent child, two women and then went on to execute a police officer,” Kelly said.
“What he did to a city, a country, we’re never going to forgive him for it,” Kelly said. “We’re not going to cower from it. It disturbs us that our media chooses to celebrate it.”
Three prominent New England-based businesses — CVS pharmacies, Stop & Stop, and Tedeschi Food Shops — heard the public outcry and announced they will not sell that edition, which will be on newsstands soon.
“Music and terrorism don’t mix!” the Tedeschi firm said on its Facebook page, which carries the cover image with a circle and a line crossed through it. One Facebook commenter said, “I’m done with Rolling Stone.”
The Illinois-based drugstore chain Walgreens and Rite Aid, based in Pennsylvania, said they won’t won’t carry the issue, either.
And in a letter to Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino urged the magazine to follow up with stories “on the brave and strong suvivors” of the attacks and the doctors, nurses, friends and volunteers who helped them.
“The survivors of the Boston attacks deserve Rolling Stone cover stories, though I no longer feel that Roling Stone deserves them,” Menino wrote.
Rolling Stone, critic defend cover
In a statement, the magazine said its thoughts were “always with” the bombing victims and their families.
“The cover story we are publishing this week falls within the traditions of journalism and Rolling Stone’s long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day,” it said. “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.”
While primarily a music magazine, the journal also has forged a reputation for hard-hitting pieces on national affairs, politics and popular culture. For example, journalist Michael Hastings wrote a 2010 profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal that led to the officer’s abrupt retirement. In his profile, Hastings quoted McChrystal and his staff criticizing and mocking key administration officials.
Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple said Rolling Stone should be out defending its article, because it’s “a pretty easy thing to defend.”
“What you have here is a story about a guy who was very integrated and well-balanced, by all accounts, member of our society until something happened,” Wemple said. “We don’t know precisely what happend and that was the whole point of this Rolling Stone story — to account for how he slid off the rails.”
He called the companies that are pulling it from the racks “cowardly,” noting that The New York Times used the same photo back in May. The photo doesn’t glamorize Tsarnaev, he argued, but “humanizes” him for people “who want to see him as an animal from Day One.”
“The facts are he wasn’t an animal, at least to his peer group, for the longest time. They remember him as a dear friend,” Wemple said. “That’s a problem, because he was part of our society and he turned on it by all indications, or allegedly.”
The article about the bombing suspect is a deeply researched account, the magazine said in a synopsis about the story, which it published online Wednesday afternoon. Among its revelations:
— A public plea from his former wrestling coach may ultimately have convinced Tsarnaev to surrender when police surrounded the boat in which he was hiding.
— In high school, Tsarnaev played down the fact that he was a Muslim. But he also took his religion seriously.
— He once confided to a friend that he thought the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks could be justified because of U.S. policies toward Muslim countries.
Slammed across social media
But Rhode Island-based CVS Caremark Corp. said its decision “is the right decision out of respect for the victims of the attack and their loved ones,” company spokesman Michael DeAngelis told CNN.
Tedeschi Food Shops, based in Rockland, Massachusetts, said it supports the need to provide news but not “actions that serve to glorify the evil actions of anyone. With that being said, we will not be carrying this issue of Rolling Stone.”
Stop & Shop, a chain of stores based in Quincy, Massachusetts, said it won’t carry the latest issue “due to the public response and our customers feedback,” spokeswoman Suzi Robinson said.
Richard “Dic” Donohue, a transit police officer injured in a shootout with the bombing suspects, also criticized the cover.
“The new cover of Rolling Stone has garnered much attention due to its sensationalized depiction of one of the alleged bombers. My family and I were personally affected by these individuals’ actions. I cannot and do not condone the cover of the magazine,” which is thoughtless at best, he said.
And the magazine’s Facebook post of the cover image had received more than 16,000 comments by Wednesday evening.
“Oh look, Rolling Stone magazine is glamourizing terrorism. Awesome,” Adrienne Graham commented on the magazine’s Facebook page. “I will NOT be buying this issue, or any future issues.”
Others expressed similar sentiments, and words such as “tasteless,” “sickening” and “disgusting” flew around social media.
“What a slap in the face to the great city of Boston and the Marathon Bombing victims,” commented Lindsey Williamson.
The cover also brought out comments from the “Free Jahar” movement. (Dzhokhar is also spelled Jahar or Djahar.)
“#BoycottRollingStone calling Djahar a monster and stirring the pot even more shame on you! Innocent until PROVEN guilty,” tweeted @Jahars_Tsarnaev.
Authorities accuse Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan of setting off a pair of bombs just seconds apart near the finish line of the packed Boston Marathon course on Boylston Street on April 15. Tamerlan was killed during the police pursuit three nights later; Dzhokhar was captured and charged with 30 federal counts stemming from the attack. He pleaded not guilty to the charges last week.