By now, many people across the country have heard that the cover photo on the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine is not that of a young rock star or Hollywood heartthrob.
Instead, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the younger of two brothers accused of orchestrating the Boston Marathon bombings in April, is featured in the spot usually reserved for popular entertainers and celebrities.
And though the outcry has not been as strong as in Massachusetts, where politicians, public figures and the families of the victims condemned the picture that accompanies the article by Janet Reitman, many Michiana residents also voiced the opinion that the cover was in poor taste.
One South Bend man, Chris Gardner, 65, described the cover photo as a “bad move” on the part of Rolling Stone.
“He’s a sick man, and it’s glamorizing him like he’s a star,” Gardner said of Tsarnaev. “The media likes to dwell on negative, dirty laundry stories.”
CVS and Walgreens have both announced that they will not stock the Aug. 1 issue in their stores nationwide. At least four other drug and grocery store chains have made similar decisions, although they are mostly located in New England. So far, no other area retailers have indicated that they won’t be selling the issue.
Not everyone in South Bend has a problem with the cover. Scott Cunningham, 57, said he thought the news of the Boston bombing was significant enough to warrant a cover story featuring one of the alleged bombers — but he’d still rather get his news from other sources.
“I disagree with many people who are offended by the cover. I thought it was newsworthy,” Cunningham said. “I’m not going to read it, but I wasn’t offended.”
Tsarnaev first appeared in court in Boston on July 10. He faces 30 separate charges — four of them for murder — in the bombing and shooting of a police officer who was killed while the suspect and his brother were allegedly attempting to flee the city. His brother was killed during the failed escape.
The photo that appears on Rolling Stone, which Tsarnaev took himself, has been used in newspapers before, but several journalism professors at Indiana University South Bend and Notre Dame agreed that the editors at Rolling Stone must have known the use of the photo in such a context would be controversial.
“They knew exactly what they were doing,” Jack Colwell, an adjunct associate professor at Notre Dame and South Bend Tribune contributor said. “They knew there was going to be controversy, they expected it and they wanted it.”
Alec Hosterman, a senior lecturer in Communication Arts at IUSB, explained that many magazines find that controversial content often brings in more readers (everyone reading this article has just proved that point.)
“Sometimes the draw is for the content itself, but other times the draw is just to find out more about the controversy,” Hosterman said. “Naturally, the more copies purchased, the more revenue is produced for the media outlet.”
Gary Sieber, also an adjunct instructor at Notre Dame, concurred with Hosterman, saying the decision to put such an image on the cover is likely tied to the fact that many magazines, including Rolling Stone, don’t have the economic or societal weight that they used to.
“They got an awful lot of publicity out of this,” Sieber said. “There are many (people) who are saying, ‘Rolling Stone? I’d forgotten about them.’ ”
And while Sieber said he understands why people are upset by the cover of Tsarnaev, he also noted that Rolling Stone has a long history of “edgy” covers. In 1970, the magazine featured a stylized image of notorious murderer Charles Manson to go along with an award-winning interview conducted while he was in prison.
Despite the large numbers of people who find the current cover offensive or tasteless, Colwell says Rolling Stone could end up benefiting from the controversy, as was the case with the Manson interview.
“They’ll probably end up selling more than they regularly do,” Colwell said.