Cover story’s ‘dangerous message’

Rolling Stone magazine put Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of its August issue. The cover, often reserved for rock stars and top celebrities, features the 19-year-old who has tousled curly hair and the hint of a goatee, reminiscent of the magazine’s iconic shots of rock and roll royalty Jim Morrison from The Doors.

The headline below him reads: “The Bomber. How a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam and became a monster.”

Janet Reitman, Rolling Stone’s contributing editor, said she spent two months interviewing “childhood and high school friends, teachers, neighbors and law enforcement agents” for the accompanying story titled,”Jahar’s World.”

In a blog posting late Tuesday, Rolling Stone detailed “five revelations” in the story, including Tsarnaev’s increasing devotion to Islam while still in high school, as well as his older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s possible mental illness, which the boys’ mother decided would be better treated by Islam than by a psychiatrist.

“Around 2008, Jahar’s older brother Tamerlan confided to his mother that he felt like ‘two people’ were inside him,” the blog posting reads. “She confided this to a close friend who felt he might need a psychiatrist, but Zubeidat believed that religion would be the cure for her son’s inner demons and growing mental instability, and pushed him deeper into Islam.”

More than 260 people were injured at the Boston Marathon when two pressure cooker bombs packed with nails, ball bearings and other shrapnel were detonated at the finish line.

It was the worst mass-casualty attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. Prosecutors could press for the death penalty for 17 counts.

The cover photo outrages people; over six thousand have left comments on the legendary magazine’s Facebook page, most denouncing Rolling Stone’s decision as “tasteless” and “disgusting.”

I completely agree.

What were these editors thinking? Why wouldn’t they choose to place the victims who lost their lives – Krystle Campbell (29), Martin William Richard (8), Lingzi Lu (23), and Officer Sean Collier (26) – on the cover? Or one of the numerous people who lost her/his limbs or senses, such as hearing, sight, and touch?

Rolling Stone has not commented publicly on their decision.

I think it is wrong to make this murderer into a celebrity or a martyr. Supporters of Tsarnaev, who believe in the face of overwhelming evidence that he is innocent, appeared last week during his federal court appearance in Boston. Some wore T-shirts with phrases like “Free the Lion,” while others held “Free Jahar” signs outside Boston’s John Joseph Moakley federal courthouse on Wednesday.

Reitman’s article may be a well-researched and well-written piece. But the glam shot on the front page clearly blurs the line between fame and infamy.

It sends a dangerous message to Tsarnaev’s supporters: If you want to become famous, kill somebody.

Sarah T. Schwab is a Sunday OBSERVER contributor and Fredonia State graduate. Send comments to

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