Rolling Stone, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the Crime of Responcible Reporting In America

RollingStone-TheBomberRolling Stone magazine recently made headlines (other than the literal headlines they make for their own magazine) by featuring Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (one of the alleged participants in the Boston Marathon Bombing) on the cover of their magazine.  Senator John McCain has come out to call the cover ‘stupid’ (a well thought out and reasoned response) whilst several retailers have refused to carry the magazine and some organizations have prompted a boycott of Rolling Stone.  The question is: why?

 

 

This is not the first time a major magazine has featured a controversial figure on its cover.  Time has made people like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin their ‘Person of the Year’ and given them the cover of their magazine.  Time has also featured Osama bin Laden on their cover.  O.J Simpson, after allegedly murdering his wife, was on the cover of a great many magazines.  Putting somebody on the cover of a magazine doesn’t suggest and endorsement of that person or their actions, it is merely an image to go along with news story.  It suggests nothing more than the fact that the person is part of a news-worthy story.

 

Rolling Stone has featured Jay Z on the cover of their magazine, which caused no controversy despite the fact that Jay Z has admitted to formerly being a drug dealer.

Rolling Stone has featured Jay Z on the cover of their magazine, which caused no controversy despite the fact that Jay Z has admitted to formerly being a drug dealer.

Some might argue that Rolling Stone is not a ‘news’ magazine, but rather that they are an ‘entertainment’ magazine.  This, of course, as anybody who reads Rolling Stone knows, it horseshit.  Anybody who would make such a claim has clearly not read the magazine.  As long as I’ve been reading Rolling Stone, it has always featured news articles.  Politics and news are as much a part of the magazine as are music and film.  Rolling Stone has, on a number of occasions, put people on the cover with controversial pasts.  There have been drug dealers, drug users and people who have been put on trial for murder.  Snoop Dog has been on the cover, despite the fact that he has been charged in relation to the shooting death Phillip Woldermarian.  Drug users like Whitney Houston have been on the cover, whilst admitted former drug dealers (among them: Jay-Z, 50 Cent, and 2pac) commonly featured on the cover.  Michael Jackson has also been on the cover, despite being accused of child molestation multiple times.  So why are people up in arms about Tsarnaev being on the cover?  Is it alright to commit crimes and be ‘celebrated’ so long as you can sing or rap?  Or are the ‘victims’ of drugs dealers not seen as important enough to be concerned about?  Are the victims of child molestation somehow less than the victims of the Boston Marathon Bombings?

 

Time magazine has featured Osama bin Laden on the cover of their publication and not a word of controversy was raised.

Time magazine has featured Osama bin Laden on the cover of their publication and not a word of controversy was raised.

Perhaps part of the issue is that Rolling Stone used an image of Tsarnaev that was flattering.  Tsarnaev does look like the picture of a modern teen that many might find attractive.  Are we so used to having our ‘terrorists’ demonized that we demand the media only show images that make people like Tsarnaev look like villains?  Do we need to see an unshaven face with scars or wounds with a hint of blood and unkempt hair in order to process them as villains?  The fact of the matter is, Tsarnaev was an attractive young man who, despite what perceived advantages he may have had, was pulled into a world that many don’t understand.  He is an everyman, or rather, everyteen.  Rolling Stone is a magazine which has a broad readership among young people, so young people are interested in stories like Tsarnaev’s.  They want to understand his context and his motivations.

 

 

An image taken from the streets of Mai Lai, a civilian village in Vietnam that was the setting for mass murder and rape committed by American soldiers.  If such an act were committed by a foreign military in America, it would be considered a barbaric act of terrorism.

An image taken from the streets of Mai Lai, a civilian village in Vietnam that was the setting for mass murder and rape committed by American soldiers. If such an act were committed by a foreign military in America, it would be considered a barbaric act of terrorism.

This is perhaps what is most unsettling for many.  Rolling Stone actually tries to understand Tsarnaev.  They do not simply wish to prosecute him, but they want to understand him.  The article makes some effort to put together his context and understand his motivations.  Whereas most people simply want to put him on trial, Rolling Stone is doing what the American government should have done after 9-11.  They are asking: Why?  Of course, the American government knows why ‘terrorists’ flew into the World Trade Center: American imperialism has planted seeds of aggression all over the world.  The problem is that the government makes so much money from its imperialistic efforts that the loss of several thousand people make little difference to them and is not motivation enough to curtail their oppressive imperialistic tendencies. The American government will continue to perpetuate such aggression so long as it is profitable and the people at the top don’t have to answer for it.  ‘Terrorists’ are often times members of groups that have been victimized by the American government, so it is not surprising that they might want to strike back.  But people seem uncomfortable with questioning the motives of ‘terrorists’.   Many are content to live in a bubble where they can believe they are innocent and embrace blind patriotism and simply refuse to admit that the government they are loyal to is actually more their enemy than are the ‘terrorists’.  People would rather demonize a ‘terrorist’ than understand them, because understanding often times humanizes and makes relatable what was once terrifying.  If we ask questions as to why ‘terrorists’ commit the acts of violence they do, we may find that we are complacent in crimes we do not want to acknowledge.  Most would rather the likes of Tsarnaev be demonized so that we can simply shake our heads at them and speak to the tragedy of the victims of acts of violence like the Boston Marathon Bombing.  Many don’t want to know how many civilians the American army has killed in Iraq since 2001.  Many don’t want to consider that on the day of the Boston Marathon Bombing, the total number of Iraqi civilians killed by American soldiers was greater than the death total resulting in the Boston Marathon Bombing.  Who are the terrorists?  It depends on your perspective.  For many, the uniform of the American solider is that of a terrorist.

 

 

The victims of what might fairly be called 'American terrorists'.  Whilst some may be upset at Rolling Stones inclusion of an image of Trasnaev, they should be more upset at the media's exclusion of images like these, which are authored by the American military.

The victims of what might fairly be called ‘American terrorists’. Whilst some may be upset at Rolling Stones inclusion of an image of Trasnaev, they should be more upset at the media’s exclusion of images like these, which are authored by the American military.

This is not to suggest that Tsarnaev is a hero by any means, but merely that he is a person with motivations that can be understood and that understanding these motivations is key to preventing future attacks.  The problem is that the government knows the answers to these questions and have already deemed that the cost is reasonable.  They do not care if terrorists are attacking Americans in response to American imperialism, because American imperialism is too profitable and the people profiting from it are not the ones in the crosshairs of the ‘terrorists’.  As to the controversy regarding Rolling Stone, there should be none.  Rolling Stone is a news magazine and Tsarnaev is as news worthy figure.  The only things Rolling Stone has done is not demonize Tsarnaev and ask questions about his context.  This is what is generally referred to as good reporting, but when the general population wants unthinking vengeance, they tend to get upset with instances of thoughtful, reasoned responses to tragedy because it demands they stop and consider their role in the events.  Rolling Stone should be congratulated on their approach, instead, the masses of American sheep are upset that they are not being spoon-fed mindless drivel and instead are being challenged to actually think and consider the context of this tragedy and the figures involved.

 

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

Speak Your Mind

*

css.php