Some Pittsburgh retailers stock controversial Rolling Stone with face of Boston bomber

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For local retailers, choosing whether to carry the most recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine has become a loaded decision.

Many outlets such as CVS and Walgreens announced midweek they would not stock the latest issue on their shelves, after the magazine's cover -- which features a close-up portrait of alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev -- came under nationwide scrutiny. O'Hara-based Giant Eagle followed suit Thursday, citing customer feedback and the controversial nature of the issue.

Those looking for the magazine within the Pittsburgh region still have options, with some small, independent stores and large chains such as Barnes & Noble continuing to stock the magazine.

Greg Eide, owner of Eide's Entertainment in the Strip District, said the controversy has not deterred him. He said he thinks critics of the issue, which he does not expect to arrive until next week, have made a "mountain out of a molehill."

"It's a picture of the guy. That's what the guy looked like," Mr. Eide said. "If he was on the cover of Field & Stream with the same image, would there be such a brouhaha about it?" Notably, The New York Times published the same photograph of Mr. Tsarnaev on its front page in May, generating negligible controversy.

Mr. Tsarnaev, 19, faces 30 charges related to detonating two bombs at the finish line of this year's Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 260. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.

Mr. Eide said he thinks it is clear that writer Janet Reitman's profile does not aim to portray the bomber as any sort of hero or "turn him into a rock star." He also noted that his store might even sell more copies of Rolling Stone than usual because some outlets are boycotting it.

Although some stores pulled the magazine out of respect for victims and in response to public feedback, those that have continued to stock the publication said it has sold well so far.

Emma Murphy, manager of the Bradley's Book Outlet at Station Square, said she might try to order additional issues. The three copies that the store usually gets arrived early Wednesday and sold out by Thursday.

By Thursday afternoon, the Barnes & Noble on Forbes Avenue at Duquesne University had sold the handful of copies it received that morning, a store manager said.

The public outcry over the magazine's cover has been heard in the marketing world, too. Some advertisers have criticized Rolling Stone for not giving advance notice that the issue would include controversial content, which meant companies didn't have an opportunity to pull their ads.

A statement released by hot sauce brand Texas Pete, which has an advertisement in the latest issue of Rolling Stone, said the company has not yet reached a decision on future advertising in the magazine.

"Although we do believe that the Rolling Stone audience is savvy enough to realize that the Texas Pete ad is not related to or associated with the cover image or the editorial in Rolling Stone, we do not support the issue's creative direction for the cover," the company said in the statement.

A representative for personal lubricant brand Astroglide said the company would have canceled its ad if it had been forewarned.

Mike Walsh, associate professor of marketing at West Virginia University, said he thinks the media has amplified the controversy surrounding Rolling Stone's cover to the point that advertisers are now "running scared of it."

"Anything that offends or causes concern with customers is going to force them to run from that kind of controversy," Mr. Walsh said.

Rolling Stone said in a statement that it stands by the issue, maintaining that it "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."

businessnews

Gavan Gideon: ggideon@post-gazette.com or 412-263-4910. Jessica Tully: jtully@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1159.


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