By the time you read this, most of the controversy surrounding the Rolling Stone magazine cover photograph of the Boston bomber will most likely have died down. But if you were at the beach for the last three weeks and missed it, let me fill you in with the basics.
In the most recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine, the editors decided to do a story on Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The theme of the article is how the bomber started off growing up as real cool kid, and eventually, somehow, things went very, very wrong.
They used an older photo of Tsarnaev looking swimmingly handsome, happy, shiny and clean cut--taken long before he became the evil, terrorist killer who destroyed so many lives in Boston on that fateful day.
and Another Thing…
The decision to put this positive "celebrity" photograph on the cover (even though the article itself was very well written) backfired, causing a tremendous outpouring of disappointment, anger, hurt and an eventual Rolling Stone boycott in many stores and newsstands across America--especially in New England.
The issue at hand is a simple one to explain, but not as simple to ascertain as to whether it was the right or wrong decision.
On one side, many of the people who took offense were not complaining about the article itself--but about putting this flattering picture on the cover of a national magazine, which might be sending the wrong message. It might inspire and encourage other easily influenced, troubled souls who want their 15 minutes of fame to act out in a similar, horrific direction. Unfortunately, empirical experience tells us that this is probably a very realistic and justified concern.
The opposite point of view is that photos of villains (from Hitler to Bin Laden) have always appeared on national newspaper and magazine covers--and since Rolling Stone has expanded beyond music into hard news for decades now, the publication should not be singled out for printing the same photo that was previously in The New York Times and other publications.
Then there's the issue of censorship. Where do we draw the line? Should a publication that portrays a young killer as angelic and heroic on its pages be prevented from doing so by an official regulation?
Rolling Stone's decision to publish that cover photo may get more people to understand what happened to make Dzhokhar Tsarnaev turn bad. It may also sell more papers, or it could backfire with continued boycotts of the publication. How many advertisers they lose or gain and how many issues they sell or don't sell in the coming months will determine the answer to that question.
But God forbid that it should set off a series of copycat bombings for the thrill it'll getcha when you get your picture "on the cover of the Rollin Stone."
Email email@example.com or subscribe to his daily ramblings on Facebook.