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Guest Opinion by Mikel Kelly

Accused killer gets his picture on a Rolling Stone cover


Mikl KellyIf I could be supreme ruler of the world for just a day, my first official proclamation would be that everyone having a cow about the picture on the cover of the latest Rolling Stone magazine needs to take a pill.

I've been struggling with this controversy for a few days now, and all I can conclude is that the overblown criticism of the magazine and its photo is insane.

But first, maybe we should pause a minute and recap, in case you just emerged from a cave on a South Pacific island and don't know what I'm talking about. Here's how the Washington Post characterized it last week.

“The Rolling Stone cover featuring accused Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has sparked a massive upheaval,” wrote reporter Erik Wemple. “The case against the choice of photo stresses that it glorifies the accused terrorist and is insensitive to the victims of the bombings.”

In England, the Guardian put an especially poetic spin on it:

“With his smoky eyes and tousled hair, the subject of the latest Rolling Stone cover story could pass for any rising U.S. music star.”

Then the UK newspaper went on to find as many objections as it could, explaining that within hours Rolling Stone's Facebook page had drawn 9,000 comments, most of them negative.

One of those was from a fellow who said, "I think it's wrong to make celebrities out of these people. Why give the guy the cover of Rolling Stone?" More than 1,000 people gave that sentiment a thumbs-up.

"Jeff Bauman, who lost both legs, should be on cover," wrote J. Harper Philbin, More than 1,400 people liked that.

"I am ending my subscription,” wrote another subscriber. “Let's honor those who hurt innocent people. Who's next, George Zimmerman? Rolling Stone is a music magazine, not the Taliban Times.”

I often get stirred up by online commenters who are more than happy to lob grenades from their bunker (or their mom's basement), invariably combining nervy outspokenness with sublime stupidity. But all the ruckus isn't coming from know-nothings. Know-it-alls are also chiming in.

“Northeastern University criminologist Jack Levi told MyFoxBoston.com that the cover could send a dangerous message to others who might be minded to carry out violence,” the Guardian reported. “'If they want to become famous, kill somebody.'"

And then comes the topper. Retail outfits began announcing they would not sell this particular issue of the magazine in their stores.

“As a company with deep roots in New England and a strong presence in Boston,” harrumphed CVS, “we believe this is the right decision out of respect for the victims of the attack and their loved ones." And that's exactly when head started spinning around.

At what point in our history did we decide that a merchant selling a magazine or a book or a film agrees with everything it says?

Can we infer from this that CVS — or Safeway or WalMart or Fred Meyer — endorses every bit of content you can find on their shelves? Of course not.

This has been my world for the last 39 years, and we grapple with this stuff every week in community newspapers.

When we write a story about a killer or a child abuser — or even community do-gooders — and then put those stories on the front page of the paper, it does not mean we are promoting it as good or bad. We're just trying to tell you what's going on.

Especially obnoxious is the observation that Rolling Stone has glorified or romanticized this Boston punk. The picture is grainy and not especially flattering. They identify him with road-sign-size type: “THE BOMBER: How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster.”

Is that at all confusing?

This comment in the Guardian seemed to say it all. It quotes journalism teacher Dan Kennedy as saying the cover "works, because of cognitive dissonance. We see him looking rather angelic on the cover, and just about every picture we've seen of him he looks angelic. That apparently is how he looked."

I've been a Rolling Stone subscriber for years, and I find almost every other cover objectionable in some way — especially the cheesecake issues featuring scantily clad young women panting into the camera, which always prompts the other person who lives at our house to say, in a very sarcastic tone of voice, “Your MYOOOOOO-sic magazine is here.”

All I can say is, it's more than a music magazine — and I really would rather read about the Boston monster than a pouty airhead actress in bikini.

(Former editor of the Woodburn Independent, the Times newspapers and the Lake Oswego Review, Kelly is now chief of the central design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune, and he contributes a regular column.)



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