How I Changed My Mind About the ‘Rolling Stone’ Cover

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably heard something about Rolling Stone‘s recent cover and the controversy that has followed.

Rolling Stone put an image of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the suspects from the Boston Marathon bombing, on their August issue. He looks like a regular, normal teenager. If you had no idea who he was, you would just assume he was the lead singer in some indie band and that seems to be the problem.

As soon as Rolling Stone shared their cover, chaos began. My Facebook feed filled with angry posts, celebrities tweeted their outrage, Boston Mayor Tom Menino called it “a total disgrace”, CVS, Walgreens and other local retailers have promised not to sell the issue. To be honest, I too was upset about the cover at first. I immediately vented my anger on Facebook. How dare they! They are glorifying a monster! What about the victims?! We should be focusing on them! 

Seeing his face just brought back a flood of emotions from that day. As a fellow Bostonian who was there, it’s safe to say it’s a day I will never forget. However, I’ve tried my damndest. That cover reminded me of the confusion of that day. Of me trying to cheer up my best friend as she cried in a state of panic. It reminded me of people telling me not to go near any trashcans out of fear there might be bombs in them. It reminded me of the week that followed as I rode the T with the swat team on my commute to work. It reminded me of how my sister woke up one morning and found out her classmate and friend Officer Sean Collier had been shot and killed by Dzhokhar and his older brother.

Maybe that’s why I had such a problem with the cover. It reminded me that even now I still don’t feel safe in my own city. However, I will not pretend to know why other people are upset. People are entitled to their emotions and that’s that.

After I initially saw the cover and proceeded to freak out, I walked away from my computer and went to the beach. I couldn’t help but think about that cover and my feelings about it changed. First, I realized I judged the cover without ever reading the story. I don’t really know if that’s fair and that might be my inner journalist speaking. The story is about how a seemingly normal boy became a domestic terrorist.

This leads me to my second point. Many have critiqued the photo, saying it makes him look too “normal” or that it even glorifies him. Some say it has a Jim Morrison feel to it. Rolling Stone didn’t doctor or change the photo. He’s in jail right now, so it’s not like they can have a photoshoot with him. In fact, the headline even reads he’s a monster, so I don’t think they are trying to glorify him.

He does, however, appear to look like any other 20-year-old and that’s the point. Up until the Boston Marathon, he was a regular kid – at least in the eyes of his friends and those that knew him well. I believe this cover is forcing us to deal with how we view evil. If the cover was a photo of him looking more villainous or maybe even one where he’s in court in handcuffs, then we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion.

However, that’s not the reality we are dealing with. Evil comes in all shapes and sizes and often looks like the boy or girl next door. My friend Holly said this:

It’s a hard pill to swallow but I think it’s an important lesson to know. If there is anyway to prevent this somehow, then I want to know. But what about the victims? Shouldn’t we focus on them? Aren’t there lessons we can learn from them? Absolutely… but that wasn’t the angle of this particular article. This is what New Yorker writer Ian Crouch said:

I firmly believe good journalism makes us think, challenges us and provides us with the opportunity to have intelligent and insightful conversations. Whether you agree with the cover or not, Rolling Stone has done their job.