I’ve had a subscription to Rolling Stone magazine since I was 11 years old, reading it from cover to cover, combing every news story, album review and photograph for more than 25 years.
I’ve pumped my fist when my favorite musician or band has been on the front and scratched my head when the iconic masthead has been partially obscured by Justin Bieber or some bubblegum of that type.
The outrage over Rolling Stones’ decision to put surviving Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of the latest edition of the magazine is just strange.
I stop just short of calling it disingenuous, because for many people the outrage is real, the anger still fresh. Four people were killed, including three spectators and an MIT police officer, more than 260 people were injured and 14 of the injured are dramatically altered through amputations. Boston, itself, and the surrounding areas, are forever affected, scarred, traumatized.
But where is the anger over a magazine cover coming from? How is that justified? Journalism, art, it’s all there to make us think, to look at ourselves and evaluate how we, too, could go from milquetoast to monster in a matter of years.
That cover photo, while perhaps tasteless simply for the fact that it graces the front of a magazine dismissed by many as pabulum, was also used on the cover of the New York Times and other papers and magazines.
Is it more offensive because it is Rolling Stone, which is incorrectly thought to only traffic in pop culture, pop music and trivialities? Or is it offensive because it’s offensive, period?
Rolling Stone still practices good journalism and good journalistic standards even when it is skewed to a more liberal bent. It is a credible news organization and should be treated as such, not simply Tiger Beat making the Boston bomber out to be Jim Morrison.
Today, when I think of Rolling Stone I don’t think of a cover story on Britney Spears or the “Vampire Diaries,” I think of Matt Taibbi ruthlessly and consistently taking a metaphorical baseball bat to the high crimes of Wall Street and the reluctance of the federal government to do anything consistent to punish the financial power brokers.
I think of Michael Hastings’ piece on Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan in 2010, an expose and personality profile that undid the man’s career by his own admission.
I think of deeply and thoughtfully reported long-form stories on presidential campaigns, Mexico’s drug war, our own failed drug war, the prison system and other hard-hitting engrossing pieces.
The critically hailed documentary “Food Inc.,” based on the book from Eric Schlosser, found its early roots in stories in Rolling Stone tracing the E. coli bacteria outbreaks in hamburger meat in the late ’80s.
In the end, though, it’s about the photo and not the magazine. What are we seeing when we look at that photo? Maybe that will help define this outrage.
Are his features too soft to be a killer? Is his hair a little too playfully tousled, like a child in from an afternoon at the park? Is he a little too good-looking and harmless to fear? Is he not brown enough or is he lacking the visual cues of what we assume a Muslim should look like, with a wild beard and a keffiyeh atop his head.
He is a monster, that is for sure. But he is news, and the story will be good. So is the cover. It confronts as it confounds. It challenges and it elicits reaction and feeling. Simply put, it does everything good, ethical and powerful journalism should do, and for that the outrage is misplaced.