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Rolling Stone cover of bombing suspect called 'slap' to Boston

By Julie Cannold. Mayra Cuevas and Joe Sterling, CNN
updated 3:12 PM EDT, Thu July 18, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Some columnists and others speak out in support of the Rolling Stone cover
  • Boston Mayor Thomas Menino urges the magazine to follow with stories on the survivors
  • "Music and terrorism don't mix!" one firm says
  • The image is one Tsarnaev himself posted online; it's been published widely before

New York (CNN) -- Accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's face on the cover of the latest Rolling Stone sparked a backlash against the magazine in social media and in boardrooms around the country.

"THE BOMBER," the cover reads. "How a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam and became a monster."

The photo of a tousle-haired, thinly goateed Tsarnaev is one the suspect posted online himself and has been picked up by other outlets.

A groundswell of criticism objecting to its placement on Rolling Stone's cover emerged Wednesday on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook and among leaders in Boston, where the marathon bombings killed three people, wounded more than 200 and led to a frantic manhunt that left a police officer dead.

Paulina Gretzky's cover for the May issue of Golf Digest has stirred controversy and left some LPGA pros feeling overlooked. The magazine explained that as the fiancée of PGA Tour pro Dustin Johnson, Gretzky is a major celebrity in the golf world and thereby qualifies the recognition of a cover story. Click through the gallery to look at other controversial magazine covers through the years. Paulina Gretzky's cover for the May issue of Golf Digest has stirred controversy and left some LPGA pros feeling overlooked. The magazine explained that as the fiancée of PGA Tour pro Dustin Johnson, Gretzky is a major celebrity in the golf world and thereby qualifies the recognition of a cover story. Click through the gallery to look at other controversial magazine covers through the years.
Controversial magazine covers
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Photos: Controversial magazine covers Photos: Controversial magazine covers
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Police say the dead suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, is the man the FBI identified as Suspect 1. He was killed during the shootout with police in Watertown, Massachusetts, early April 19. He is pictured here at the 2010 New England Golden Gloves. Police say the dead suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, is the man the FBI identified as Suspect 1. He was killed during the shootout with police in Watertown, Massachusetts, early April 19. He is pictured here at the 2010 New England Golden Gloves.
Suspects tied to Boston bombings
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But some people defended the magazine's decision, saying it draws attention to the story of a young man who seemed an unlikely terrorist.

Ed Kelly, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, called it "insulting." Using Tsarnaev's booking photo might have been one thing, but a photo that shows "the innocence of youth" gives the wrong message, Kelly told CNN.

"He gave up any innocence he had on April 15, when he took the life of an innocent child, two women and then went on to execute a police officer," Kelly said.

"What he did to a city, a country, we're never going to forgive him for it," Kelly said. "We're not going to cower from it. It disturbs us that our media chooses to celebrate it."

Three prominent New England-based businesses -- CVS pharmacies, Stop & Stop, and Tedeschi Food Shops -- heard the public outcry and announced they will not sell that edition, which will be on newsstands soon.

Rolling Stone's most controversial covers

"Music and terrorism don't mix!" the Tedeschi firm said on its Facebook page, which carries the cover image with a circle and a line crossed through it. One Facebook commenter said, "I'm done with Rolling Stone."

The 7-Eleven corporation said Thursday its nearly 1,700 company stores across the country won't sell the issue, and the corporation is encouraging its 5,900 franchise stores to follow suit, according to 7-Eleven spokeswoman Margaret Chabris. She said the convenience story chain will likely resume carrying Rolling Stone after the issue with Tsarnaev on the cover but "that hasn't been decided yet."

The Illinois-based drugstore chain Walgreens and Rite Aid, based in Pennsylvania, said they won't carry the issue, either.

And in a letter to Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino urged the magazine to follow up with stories "on the brave and strong survivors" of the attacks and the doctors, nurses, friends and volunteers who helped them.

"The survivors of the Boston attacks deserve Rolling Stone cover stories, though I no longer feel that Rolling Stone deserves them," Menino wrote.

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Rolling Stone, critic defend cover

In a statement, the magazine said its thoughts were "always with" the bombing victims and their families.

"The cover story we are publishing this week falls within the traditions of journalism and Rolling Stone's long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day," it said. "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."

Suspect pleads not guilty

While primarily a music magazine, the journal also has forged a reputation for hard-hitting pieces on national affairs, politics and popular culture. For example, journalist Michael Hastings wrote a 2010 profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal that led to the officer's abrupt retirement. In his profile, Hastings quoted McChrystal and his staff criticizing and mocking key administration officials.

Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple said Rolling Stone should be out defending its article, because it's "a pretty easy thing to defend."

"What you have here is a story about a guy who was very integrated and well-balanced, by all accounts, member of our society until something happened," Wemple said. "We don't know precisely what happened and that was the whole point of this Rolling Stone story -- to account for how he slid off the rails."

He called the companies that are pulling it from the racks "cowardly," noting that The New York Times used the same photo back in May. The photo doesn't glamorize Tsarnaev, he argued, but "humanizes" him for people "who want to see him as an animal from Day One."

"The facts are he wasn't an animal, at least to his peer group, for the longest time. They remember him as a dear friend," Wemple said. "That's a problem, because he was part of our society and he turned on it by all indications, or allegedly."

Share your view of the cover

The article about the bombing suspect is a deeply researched account, the magazine said in a synopsis about the story, which it published online Wednesday afternoon. Among its revelations:

-- A public plea from his former wrestling coach may ultimately have convinced Tsarnaev to surrender when police surrounded the boat in which he was hiding.

-- In high school, Tsarnaev played down the fact that he was a Muslim. But he also took his religion seriously.

-- He once confided to a friend that he thought the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks could be justified because of U.S. policies toward Muslim countries.

Parents of suspect share phone call with son

Slammed across social media

But Rhode Island-based CVS Caremark Corp. said its decision "is the right decision out of respect for the victims of the attack and their loved ones," company spokesman Michael DeAngelis told CNN.

Tedeschi Food Shops, based in Rockland, Massachusetts, said it supports the need to provide news but not "actions that serve to glorify the evil actions of anyone. With that being said, we will not be carrying this issue of Rolling Stone."

Stop & Shop, a chain of stores based in Quincy, Massachusetts, said it won't carry the latest issue "due to the public response and our customers feedback," spokeswoman Suzi Robinson said.

Richard "Dic" Donohue, a transit police officer injured in a shootout with the bombing suspects, also criticized the cover.

"The new cover of Rolling Stone has garnered much attention due to its sensationalized depiction of one of the alleged bombers. My family and I were personally affected by these individuals' actions. I cannot and do not condone the cover of the magazine," which is thoughtless at best, he said.

And the magazine's Facebook post of the cover image had received more than 16,000 comments by Wednesday evening.

"Oh look, Rolling Stone magazine is glamourizing terrorism. Awesome," Adrienne Graham commented on the magazine's Facebook page. "I will NOT be buying this issue, or any future issues."

Others expressed similar sentiments, and words such as "tasteless," "sickening" and "disgusting" flew around social media.

"What a slap in the face to the great city of Boston and the Marathon Bombing victims," commented Lindsey Williamson.

But on The New Yorker's website, a column by Ian Crouch speaks out against the rush to judgment and in favor of the magazine.

The "vitriol and closed-mindedness of the Web response to the Rolling Stone cover, before anyone had the chance to read the article itself, is an example of two of the ugly public outcomes of terrorism: hostility toward free expression, and to the collection and examination of factual evidence; and a kind of culture-wide self-censorship encouraged by tragedy, in which certain responses are deemed correct and anything else is dismissed as tasteless or out of bounds," he wrote.

The cover image was not engineered, he wrote. "What is so troubling about this image, and many of the others that have become available since April, is that Tsarnaev really does look like a rock star. In this way, the photograph on Rolling Stone is of a part with the often unexpected, and unsettling, portrait of Tsarnaev that has emerged over the past few months."

S.E. Cupp, who will co-host CNN's new "Crossfire" program, tweeted, "To me, seems @RollingStone isn't glamorizing terrorism, but proving that it can look innocent and young and attractive. Important lesson.

"I hope every young @RollingStone reader reads Tsarnaev story, realizes that radical Islam's here, can even infect a young Jim Morrison."

Tsarnaev supporters respond

The cover also brought out comments from the "Free Jahar" movement. (Dzhokhar is also spelled Jahar or Djahar.)

"#BoycottRollingStone calling Djahar a monster and stirring the pot even more shame on you! Innocent until PROVEN guilty," tweeted @Jahars_Tsarnaev.

Authorities accuse Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan of setting off a pair of bombs just seconds apart near the finish line of the packed Boston Marathon course on Boylston Street on April 15. Tamerlan was killed during the police pursuit three nights later; Dzhokhar was captured and charged with 30 federal counts stemming from the attack. He pleaded not guilty to the charges last week.

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CNN's Sho Wills and Josh Levs contributed to this report.

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