Rolling Stone Boston bomber suspect photo stirs online controversy; CVS, Walgreens drop the issue


Rolling Stone triggered outrage, disgust and threats of boycotts with a cover of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev that some readers said gave him a celebrity treatment and a glamorized look.

The cover, promoting a story about how Tsarnaev fell into radical Islam, flatly calls him a “monster.” But the mayor of Boston and some bombing victims said it was insensitive, and three national drugstore chains refused to carry the issue.

“They could have picked anybody else,” said Richard Donahue, the transit officer who authorities say was shot during a standoff with Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, days after the bombing.

“There’s a number of people they could have picked for a rock or entertainment magazine besides an alleged bomber. I hope it doesn’t glorify him and make it so other people will follow in his footsteps,” Donahue told TODAY on Thursday.

There were calls for boycotts on Twitter and Facebook, Walgreens, CVS and Rite-Aid announced that they would not carry the issue in their stores. Together, they have about 20,000 stores across the country.

“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,” said a statement from CVS, which has headquarters in Rhode Island, said.

Rite-Aid said from its official Twitter account: “Out of respect to everyone affected by the Boston Marathon bombing, Rite Aid has decided not to sell the latest issue of Rolling Stone.”

The cover was released online ahead of publication Friday. It shows Tsarnaev looking directly into the camera, curls of hair falling across his face. It teases a detailed article inside chronicling Tsarnaev’s life leading up to the Boston Marathon bombing.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino wrote a letter to Rolling Stone expressing his disappointment.

“It is ill-conceived, at best, and re-affirms a terrible message that destruction gains fame for killers and their ‘causes,’” he wrote. 

Rolling Stone released a statement standing by the cover and said its hearts went out to the victims.

“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,” the magazine said., the largest not-for-profit for teens and social change, created an online petition Wednesday afternoon asking the magazine not to publish the cover photo and issue an apology to victims and their families. In less than 24 hours the petition received nearly 5,000 signatures with celebrities, like Kelly Osborn, tweeting a link to the site, asking followers to sign. plans to deliver the petition to Rolling Stone.

“Obviously, Rolling Stone is using this controversial photo for publicity and sales. What they fail to realize is that it’s disgusting and completely insensitive to those affected by the horrible bombings in April,” the site said.

Some people online noted that the photo called to mind previous Rolling Stone covers of Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan, and said it glorified the accused killer. Others pointed out that the photo had also appeared in major news outlets, like The New York Times, in the days after Tsarnaev’s capture.

The Boston Globe said in an editorial that the magazine might have chosen a better image: “Tsarnaev looks less like a murderer than a shaggy troubadour in what appears to be an Armani Exchange T-shirt.” And it said the magazine is better at generating buzz than recognizing the sensitivity of the matter to the people of Boston.

“Still, readers shouldn’t assume that a cover story about a suspected evildoer represents an attempt to glamorize him,” the paper said. “This issue of Rolling Stone should be judged not by its cover, but on the information that it brings to the public record.”

The Tsarnaev brothers are accused of setting off two bombs near the marathon finish line on April 15. At his first public appearance since his arrest, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty to 30 charges brought against him by federal prosecutors. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed during a shootout with police.

Jen Regan, whose fiancé, Marc Fucarile, was injured in the attack and is still getting therapy in the hospital, called the cover disgusting.

“It sensationalizes Marc’s pain as well all the other victims and survivors,” she said. ”It is an insult to the families and people impacted that day.”

Others, like Northeastern University journalism professor and media analyst Dan Kennedy, argued that the cover choice was a smart editorial decision by Rolling Stone.

“I think it’s important to be responsible,” Kennedy said. “It's nice to say that we should keep our focus on the victims of this awful crime and not glamorize someone like Tsarnaev, and I agree with that, but at the same time I think that we all want to know what drove him to commit this terrible crime, and he’s interesting, and that’s the definition of news.”

He also noted the magazine's history of cover stories digging into high-profile news, such as its 1970 cover of Charles Manson.

“I suppose you could say this one was glammed up to an unusual degree, but I thought it really worked very well because it was an exercise in cognitive dissonance,” he said.

“You look at the type and it says, ‘The bomber and how he turned into a monster,’ then you look at the glammed up shot of him and at the word bomber, and you see a monster.”