Rolling Stone defends Boston bomber cover

The magazine stands by the controversial image, calling it 'within the traditions of journalism.' But now Walgreen and Kmart are joining the boycott.

By Aimee Picchi Jul 18, 2013 10:34AM

Rolling Stone magazine is defending its Boston bomber cover, explaining to readers that the image that sparked outrage and a boycott "falls within the traditions of journalism."

Nevertheless, several large retailers are joining the boycott, with Walgreen (WAG) and Kmart becoming the latest to ban the issue from their shelves. CVS (CVS) and New England grocery chain Tedeschi have also pulled the magazine.

The outcry could crimp Rolling Stone's sales, most likely at newsstands and checkout counters, where last year it was averaging about 75,000 copies per issue. The bulk of its sales stem from subscriptions, which stood at about 1.39 million in June.

In its defense, the magazine added, "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."

August 2013 Rolling Stone cover (© Rolling Stone)While that may be the case, Rolling Stone's explanation didn't sit well with some would-be readers. After all, the most-cited problem lies with the cover image, which shows a youthful, even innocent-looking Tsarnaev. 

"You can include the story without glamorizing him by putting him on the cover. Total BS cop-out excuse," one commenter posted on Rolling Stone's Facebook page.

The flap boils down to Tsarnaev's placement on Rolling Stone's cover, a piece of real estate that's more typically associated with the lionization of music icons such as John Lennon and Kurt Cobain. 

A similar previous story on the front page of The New York Times, which apparently used the same dreamy-faced photo of Tsarnaev, didn't spark a furor, although the newspaper's public editor, Margaret Sullivan, told the Washington Post that she received "a couple" of complaints.

That hardly matches the outrage that's now pouring on Rolling Stone. Of course, Times readers don't blink when the paper publishes unnerving photos, but that's not what Rolling Stones subscribers expect or necessarily want to see.

Yet hidden behind Rolling Stone's covers are great -- and sometimes unsettling -- pieces of journalism, ranging from investigations written by Hunter Thompson to the recently departed Michael Hastings, who received the George Polk Award for The Runaway General, which profiled Stanley McChrystal.

This isn't the first time Rolling Stone has departed from its typical pop-star cover to portray a serious criminal topic. Back in 1970, the magazine depicted multi-murder mastermind (and musician) Charles Manson on its cover.

The Tsarnaev image may hurt short-term sales, but on the bright side -- at least for publisher Jann Wenner -- the brouhaha has sparked readers to pay attention to the magazine once again.

Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi.

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Jul 18, 2013 11:07AM
Jul 18, 2013 11:50AM

Rolling Stone is nothing but an extreme left piece of garbage publication that all of America should have boycotted regardless of this cover.  This is just all the more reason.

Jul 18, 2013 12:07PM
The last paragraph in the article above says it all... it's all about creating interest on the magazine again.  Short term sales may fall, but Rolling Stone is clearly in the spotlight again, and the long-term benefits will certainly pay off for them...just like that.
Jul 18, 2013 2:09PM
Rolling Stone editors are shameless idiots for producing such garbage. I hope the retailers not only drop them for this issue, but stop carrying the rag all together.  
Jul 18, 2013 1:55PM
Why didn't RS show the injuries around his picture that this young monster caused?
Jul 18, 2013 1:40PM
It's a glamor shot.......that's what's offensive. Should have used a more menacing photo that depict the real Tsarnaev.  Yes, shame on Rolling Stone.
Jul 18, 2013 12:10PM
The photo was retouched to make him look hot and innocent. And of course they are looking for excuses so as to make it not his fault. Typical liberal trash.
Jul 18, 2013 1:28PM
Look at the cover photo and then look at the sweet kid next door. A monster does not have to be sinister looking. That only happen in cartoons. 
Jul 19, 2013 8:48AM
How 'bout this: The next homeland terrorist or mass-murderer who commits their crime because they know they can be a "famous somebody" and make the front page of magazines, ROLLING STONE is named as a co-conspirator for promoting these senseless acts by elevating these losers to "rock star" status. Perhaps if the government / local jurisdictions / victim's families were to collectively sue them...

Enough of the "evil acts will make you famous" promotions (for profit) in this country. ENOUGH!

Jul 18, 2013 1:17PM

Looks like Rolling Stone is the Paula Deen di jour.  Pile on everybody.


I wonder what will happen when something truly awful happens. 

Jul 19, 2013 12:07AM
With all of the retailers refusing to sell this issue, I'm sure it will become a "collector's item"....selling on E-Bay and other sites for WAY more than the cover price.
Jul 18, 2013 12:36PM
My initial reaction to this was not favorable towards Rolling Stone Magazine but after thinking about it I changed to neutral. While I don't consider Rolling Stone to be a source of serious news many apparently do. Lots of people think of it as just an entertainment rag and equated this with making him an idol of some type. I think this is not a fair judgment.
Jul 18, 2013 12:32PM
If the cover of next month's Rolling Stone Magazine featured a photo of Ben Bernanke and the header "This man has ruined the world" few would raise anywhere near this much hatred for it. And yet, Ben has prematurely killed many more and lamed many more and victimized millions by his actions. Let us not forget that any idiot could have dropped $85 billion a month from a plane flying across America... and caused more economy and recovery and opportunity than Bernanke's QE ever has.
Jul 18, 2013 10:58AM

Rolling Stone is in the business of selling product. Have you looked at their subscription demographics? At the portion of their print run sold NON-subscription? All the sturm und drang over this cover photo+story is pure gravy for Rolling Stone.


The positive value of all the "shocked, shocked!" indignation and outrage over this issue of a has-been publication (in the sense that Playboy is a has-been publication) is to offer what any good capitalist has warm and runny dreams about: free advertising.


The negative value is to highlight a sadly provincial strain that runs through much of a nation that takes as an article of faith that it's not only ever so advanced and up-to-date, but also just about the brightest thing to light the universe since Kepler's supernova.

Jul 18, 2013 11:03AM
Last night this same article was posted here with a Comments portal that wouldn't allow thumb votes. Basically, in 11 minutes, every Right Wing Wing Ding closed-narrow-minded Limbaugh follower had judged the magazine without reading the article. OFFENSIVE is the continuous pummel of KOOL AID by Reuters and AP in the Money section. As for the Rolling Stone Mag article... I understand it is actual journalism and research, not propaganda. Because I am a FREE AMERICAN and not a puppet of New World Order, I will read the article, digest the journalism and formulate my own opinion of it. If I think it was poorly written, offensive or as psychopathic as the Boston Marathon itself is... then I will determine if I should ever read Rolling Stone again. We have nothing to fear except fear itself and letting garbage socio-slotting push us into fearing pictures of kids who make bad decisions under pressure or delusion is going to do us in. Grow up, America... it's an article and the cover has a victim on it.   
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