Some Thoughts on the Rolling Stone Tsarnaev controversy

So I understand people’s concern (particularly victims and their relatives) that gracing a cover of an esteemed music magazine might seem like a glorification of him, but these are the two thoughts that have primarily concerned me throughout this controversy.

1) Rolling Stone is much more than a music magazine! They cover other serious political and social issues as well just like TIME or other news magazines that put war criminals or any newsworthy individual on their covers. Putting Dzhokhar on the cover doesn’t mean he’s a rockstar. It does mean Rolling Stone knows how to be provocative and the team believed selecting this story as their feature and cover was a good marketing move regardless of the mag’s misunderstood perception of niche reporting.

2) The idea that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev can’t be youthful, light-skinned, charismatic, have tousled hair or wear graphic tees. He has to be, I don’t know, brown, foreign-looking, bearded and deranged for him to be a legitimate terror suspect. Since he’s been identified as Muslim, Dzhokhar must naturally be a uniform caricature of everyone’s nightmare.

We seriously need to reflect upon the identities and perceptions we assume terrorists should have if we’re ever going to understand the phenomenon and what inspires these tragic acts of violence. I read the story (very fascinating, well written piece) and listened to an interview with the managing editor and believe that’s exactly what Rolling Stone is trying to do: help us understand how a kid who all his friends and colleagues thought was a normal kid (I mean the cover is one of his selfies) could turn into a bomber. It’s an unfortunate reality, but in my opinion, one we need to think about and discuss.

Nuanced investigative reporting, not stereotypical rhetoric is so hard to find in journalism. Sure, it may be somewhat insensitive and off-putting. I actually had to look twice at the picture to register that he wasn’t the long-lost member of One Direction. But I’m worried that because of this backlash, other media outlets will be reluctant to dig deep into complicated stories and ask tough questions just because not everyone is happy with the implications.

What do you think of Rolling Stone’s choice? Are boycotts justified or overreactions?

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