Outrage continues over Rolling Stone cover of Boston bombing suspect

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Maybe you can't judge a Stone by its cover, but by Thursday morning, hundreds of thousands of outraged readers were trying.

Rolling Stone magazine has a long history of tackling difficult and controversial subjects, but that was always the meat inside of the rock 'n' roll sandwich. The outside bread consisted of pop culture features on music, movies, television and, in more recent times, social media.

The decision to make Janet Reitman's piece on alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev the August cover story has done more than rankle those who claim it's made him a rock star. Retail outlets such as New England-based drugstore chain CVS and Tedeschi Food Shops announced they won't sell the issue, which is scheduled to hit newsstands today.

The photo -- a "selfie" picture shot by the subject -- features a laid-back Mr. Tsarnaev looking boyishly relaxed. It is hardly an exclusive, however; many news outlets have used the image already, including a May front-page story in The New York Times.

The Times headline was: "The Dark Side, Carefully Masked." The Rolling Stone cover refers to Mr. Tsarnaev as "a Monster."

Mr. Tsarnaev, 19, faces 30 counts, including murder and use of a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges. The teenager is charged with detonating two bombs at the finish line of this year's Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 260.

Alternate homemade versions of Rolling Stone covers began popping up on the Internet Thursday, including one with a Boston skyline and memorial candles. Another featured one of the victims.

"Leave it to a magazine that hasn't been relevant in the last decade to glorify the acts of a coward," was among the many critical posts on the magazine website.

A Facebook page, "Boycott Rolling Stone Magazine for their latest cover," had gathered more than 150,000 "Likes" by midday Thursday. On Twitter, #boycottrollingstone was trending.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino reportedly wrote to publisher Jann Wenner, complaining it "rewards a terrorist with celebrity treatment."

A juvenile tweet from Rolling Stone senior editor Christian Hoard -- quickly deleted -- helped fan the flames: "I guess we should have drawn a [penis] on Dzhokhar's face or something?"

On Thursday, the Boston Herald ran a huge, all-caps headline: "DUMB AS A ROCK," with a big red X through a version of the cover.

It certainly was a polarizing decision by Rolling Stone. Cynics claim it ran the photo to sell more magazines, but isn't that the point?

"Celebrity clearly sells in America, most especially on magazine covers," said David Abrahamson, professor of journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.

"Even if we set innocent-till-proven-guilty aside, there is a very fuzzy line between celebrity and infamy. In the media-sphere, the 'Hollywood Beauty' will often have to share prominence with the 'Criminal Beast.' "

"People are being absolutely ridiculous about this," read one post on the Facebook page "... so sorry he was not hideous or ugly to convince you of his inner-evil. It calls him a monster. It's far less attractive than the amazing artwork from their Charles Manson and O.J. Simpson covers ..."

The story -- and not just the cover -- was posted on the Rolling Stone site by Thursday morning, with the following statement:

"Our hearts go out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, and our thoughts are always with them 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. 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."

Chris, who created the Facebook page and describes himself as a 42-year-old man from North Carolina, isn't buying it. He updated the page to say that he was fine with the article but decried the use of that photo on the cover.

"For those of a younger generation, you may not get it. Rolling Stone isn't the magazine it once was. But let me tell you ... when I was growing up ... you were rock royalty if you made the cover ...."

"Even if you don't 'get it,' TRY to understand why we are outraged."

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Maria Sciullo: msciullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.


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