Rolling Stone on Tsarnaev: We must examine the complexities since he's in the same age group as many of our readers

As someone joked on Twitter: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is in his sixties?

Our hearts go out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, and our thoughts are always with them and their families. 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 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. –THE EDITORS

Boston Mayor Tom Menino released this earlier:


Using Tsarnaev’s teen-dream selfie instead of something less flattering was in terribly bad taste, but look — they call him a “monster” right there on the cover, which is why the “Jaharem” is so irritated with RS too. I haven’t read the cover story yet but I’m not seeing any outrage about it on social media. it appears to be a fairly standard “how did the homegrown jihadi become a jihadi?” investigative piece of the sort that the NYT and Boston Globe were running after he was captured. In fact, Erik Wemple notes that this very same photo appeared on page one of the Times back in early May without making a blip on the public radar. Why the ferocious pushback against Rolling Stone, then? Says Wemple:

It’s utterly inscrutable and unpredictable. Timing, presentation, mood, photo-cropping, differing perceptions of the role of these two publications — they all play a role in explaining why today we have a baseless explosion of public outrage and had very little reaction back in May.

“Role” is the key. This is a simplification since RS does do real journalism, but the Times is essentially an organ for reporting news and Rolling Stone — or at least the cover of Rolling Stone — is essentially an organ for manufacturing pop-culture icons. Even now, with the magazine projecting a fraction of the influence it used to, landing the cover is a major benediction of celebrity status. (Ahem.) The editors must have brain damage if they didn’t realize that placing a flattering self-taken photo of this degenerate into that cultural context wouldn’t rub people the wrong way, especially with the “Free Jahar” idiots running around insisting that someone this dreamy can’t possibly be guilty. On top of that, I think maybe RS is suffering today for its own, and the wider media’s, previous sins in being a bit too flirty with radical chic. I don’t think they’re trying to glorify Tsarnaev, but I also don’t blame anyone who’s not inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. How many thousand “root causes” apologias have you read over the past 10 years? How many stupid media tributes to transgression for transgression’s sake have you been forced to digest? If there’s an overreaction today, it may simply be an eruption of frustration from the cumulative effect of underreaction to earlier wrongs. Maybe this will make them, and other pubs, think twice about playing footsie with the more malignant elements of the counterculture going forward.