Outrage and boycott threats began peppering social media sites on Wednesday after the cover of Rolling Stone's Aug. 1 edition featuring a photo of the suspected Boston Marathon bomber was released.
The photograph of 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, which was taken from one of his social media accounts, has been used before. The New York Times used it for a cover story in May, but seeing it occupy a cover that usually features celebrities had many people accusing the magazine of glamorizing, even glorifying, the suspect.
The preview text on the cover story, written by contributing editor Janet Reitman, reads, "The Bomber: How a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam and became a monster."
The backlash began online after the cover was posted on Facebook, with users accusing the magazine of giving celebrity status to a suspected killer. In a statement, the editors of Rolling Stone defended the decision, saying it exhibits the traditions of journalism and the publication's commitment to serious, thoughtful coverage.
"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," the statement read in part.
The article, which was published online on Wednesday, details a two-month investigative report tracking Tsarnaev's path from well-liked student to terror suspect with a focus on the increasing influence of radical Islam.
Managing Editor Will Dana told NPR the photograph was an "apt image" because the story seeks to analyze how a teen who appeared normal to his peers came to abandon an apparent path to success. Dana added that those who read the article will quickly see Tsarnaev is not portrayed "as a hero." Rather, he says the investigation was an attempt to understand and explain what he characterized as "sickening violence."
Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to the April 15 bombings near the finish line of the Boston Marathon that killed three and wounded more than 260.
Boston Mayor Tom Menino wrote a strongly-worded rebuke of the cover, describing it as "ill-conceived at best" and accusing the magazine of reaffirming "a message that destruction gains fame for killers."
"Among those we lost, those who survived, and those who help carry them forward, there are artists and musicians and dancers and writers. They have dreams and plans," he wrote. "They struggle and strive. The survivors of the Boston attacks deserve Rolling Stone cover stories, although I no longer feel that Rolling Stone deserves them."
So far, Rhode Island-based CVS and Illinois-based Walgreens have said they will not carry the issue in their stores. Tedeschi Food Shops has also vowed not to sell the magazine, saying "Tedeschi Food Shops supports the need to share the news with everyone, but cannot support actions that serve to glorify the evil actions of anyone."
Rolling Stone, known for its music coverage, has a history of covering hard news as well. The magazine broke the story that ultimately lead to the resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal. The magazine is also no stranger to controversial covers. In fact, editors have compared the reaction to the most recent edition with the cover story that featured Charles Manson in 1970.
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