There was significant controversy this week surrounding the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine. It wasn’t the content of the publication that upset a lot of people; it was its cover photo.
Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is shown as a good-looking, decent young man; many said this glamorous portrayal affords him the same treatment usually reserved for a rock star. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said the cover “rewards a terrorist with celebrity treatment.” PostandCourier.com quoted Kathleen Hall Jamieson, communications professor and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania: “I can’t think of another instance in which one has glamorized the image of an alleged terrorist.” Even folks like Maurizio Iacono of Canadian death metal band Kataklysm wrote, “Shooting sprees and bombing places are becoming a trend. Why? Because of the media making it so. ‘I’m nobody, I’m depressed, let me blow up something, so at the very least I’ll get my face on the cover of Rolling Stone. Now I’m somebody.”
What failed to become a significant part of the discussion was the photograph’s subhead, which read, “How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by His Family, Fell into Radical Islam and Became a Monster.”
It’s far more easily understood why the editors at Rolling Stone used that particular photograph when one factors in the caption. The picture served to underline the “nice kid” aspect; it wasn’t meant to make him a rock star.
More cynically, one could argue that Rolling Stone used the photo for the publicity which the editors and/or publisher knew it would get. Maybe this was a publicity no-brainer; it was a way to boost interest and sales by creating controversy. That’s the Donald Trump School of Publicity for Publicity’s Sake: Say something or do something controversial so that people will pay attention to you. My guess is Rolling Stone used this particular cover photo for both reasons; the magazine put an appropriate illustration to its headline–and got a lot of people talking about it. Your thoughts?