A flattering picture of a shaggy Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of the latest issue of Rolling Stone, which some have compared to portraits of Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison, has sparked a raft of criticism throughout the region, from local officials who called the cover tasteless to merchants vowing to keep the issue off their shelves.
For Wendy Lampner, who wiped away tears as she mulled the devastation beside the finish line on Boylston Street Wednesday afternoon, it was hard to fathom why the magazine’s editors chose to put an almost sultry photo of the surviving suspect in the Marathon bombings on their cover, a prominent perch that for decades has featured rock stars and other celebrities.
“It’s disgusting,” said Lampner, 45, who visited the finish line like many other tourists before she left the city for her home in Ohio. “The image glorifies him. I had such a visceral reaction that it sends the wrong message, like he’s a role model, like he deserves to be celebrated. It’s a horrible decision.”
The outrage came also from friends of one badly wounded bombing victim and a police officer injured during a shootout with Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, who died during the confrontation with police in Watertown four days after the bombings. The twin blasts on April 15 left three people dead and more than 260 people injured.
“Your use of a provocative, borderline sympathetic image and headline of someone who has caused so much pain to our country is appalling, insensitive, and disgusting,” Katlyn Townsend wrote in a letter to Rolling Stone, which she published on a Facebook page honoring a close friend, Jeff Bauman, who lost both of his legs in the first blast.
MBTA Transit Police Officer Richard Donohue, who was shot in the confrontation with the Tsarnaevs, said in a statement posted on his department’s blog, “I cannot and do not condone the cover of the magazine, which is thoughtless at best.”
In a note posted above an online version of the magazine’s story which is titled “The Bomber: How a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam and became a monster,” Rolling Stone editors wrote that their cover fell within journalistic traditions and the magazine’s “long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day.”
They did not respond to questions about the photo or whether it was edited in any way to make Tsarnaev appear more hip.
“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,” they wrote.
Others noted that the same picture has appeared in many other publications, including on the front page of The New York Times.
“It’s hard to condemn someone using a picture everyone has seen a million times,” says Matt Sienkiewicz, a communications professor at Boston College. “It speaks to the power of context. I think it’s conceivable that some will interpret this as a way of Tsarnaev being seen as a tortured artist. That’s fair if only because of the Rolling Stone tradition.”
Many local officials, residents, and merchants said they thought Rolling Stone — however measured the story — sent the wrong message by making Tsarnaev appear glamorous.
In a letter to the magazine’s publisher, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said he thought the cover “rewards a terrorist with celebrity treatment. It is ill-conceived, at best, and re-affirms a terrible message that destruction gains fame for killers and their ‘causes.’”
Menino said he hoped not to feed into the magazine’s “obvious marketing strategy” by responding in anger. “The survivors of the Boston attacks deserve Rolling Stone cover stories, though I no longer feel Rolling Stone deserves them,” he said.
At a press conference in Dorchester, Governor Deval Patrick called the magazine’s cover “out of taste.”
The list of companies that said they wouldn’t sell the magazine grew throughout the day. By afternoon, CVS, Walgreens, Roche Bros., Tedeschi’s, Cumberland Farms, Stop & Shop, and Shaw’s said they would keep the issue off their shelves.
“As a company with deep roots in New England and a strong presence in Boston, we believe this is the right decision out of respect for the victims of the attack and their loved ones,” CVS officials said in a statement.
Criticism of Rolling Stone also came from the local radio station WBOS, which announced it would give concert tickets this Friday to any subscriber who drops off a copy of the magazine at their offices in Dorchester.
In addition, thousands of people wrote on Rolling Stone’s Facebook page, urging the magazine to scrap the issue.
The Rolling Stone story, which throughout refers to Tsarnaev by his nickname, Jahar, takes a deep look at the alleged bomber’s life.
Tsarnaev, who went to Cambridge Rindge and Latin before going on to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, was arraigned in federal court this month on charges he and his brother used weapons of mass destruction in attacking cheering crowds near the finish line of the Marathon. He could face the death penalty.
Among the people who came to visit the finish line Wednesday afternoon to pay their respects, Steven Toro said he was livid after seeing an image of the magazine.
“It’s not right at all,” said Toro, 24, of Lawrence. “They should make a new cover.”
His mother, Wanda DeLeon, called the cover “a slap in the face to the victims.
“It’s like he got the fame that he wanted,” said DeLeon, 52, who came with a friend to stand on what they consider sacred ground.