New Castle News

Mitchel Olszak

July 22, 2013

Mitchel Olszak: Rolling Stone cover flap is much ado about nothing

NEW CASTLE — Have you ever noticed how one silly incident can produce a series of similar nonsense?

Take the current dustup over the latest cover of Rolling Stone magazine. It features a photo of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The image is of a mellow-looking young man with a mop-top haircut who looks perfectly harmless.

The cover sparked public outrage from people who accused the magazine of presenting a sympathetic portrait of an accused terrorist and mass murderer. It’s charged that Rolling Stone — a publication that historically focuses on the popular music industry — was giving “rock star” status to a vicious criminal.

The reaction has prompted some merchants to refuse to display the magazine, while various advertisers vowed to boycott its pages. I’m not sure Rolling Stone cares, because these reactions suggest the critics aren’t very familiar with the magazine.

Yes, Rolling Stone does cater to the modern music crowd. But regular readers know it does much more than that. Its covers often have images of musical celebrities — but not always. Politicians and others have been known to make the grade.

Plus, Rolling Stone frequently features in-depth hard news stories that constitute serious journalism.

In recent years, it has reported extensively on the nation’s financial crisis and the way folks on Wall Street managed to manipulate the rules. Those articles are lots of things, but entertaining isn’t among them.

The same thing ought to be said for the article on Tsarnaev. Although I haven’t read it, I understand it’s an examination of how a young immigrant who seemed to embrace America was turned toward violent Islamic extremism.

Perhaps I am missing something, but I would think that’s the sort of information a lot of serious Americans would want to know about.

As for the claim the Rolling Stone cover glamorizes Tsarnaev and his actions, I suppose a superficial glance might produce that conclusion. But many news organizations have published this same photo since the Boston Marathon bombing without that type of reaction.

And wouldn’t it be hard to miss the big type under Tsarnaev’s face? It says “The Bomber.” That’s not the name of his band, and it hardly proclaims his innocence.

Yet as a result of the magazine cover, a Massachusetts state police officer is now in trouble. Sgt. Sean Murphy said he was so outraged by what Rolling Stone did that he decided to release to Boston Magazine photos of Tsarnaev taken at the time of his arrest.

Those images show a bloodied and disheveled Tsarnaev, quite different from what Rolling Stone offered.

Murphy didn’t have authority to release these photos, so he faces a possible suspension over the move. Meanwhile, questions have arisen over whether his actions could somehow endanger the prosecution of the accused bomber.

They won’t. The photos have nothing to do with guilt or innocence. The sergeant may have violated policy, but he did not endanger the government’s case.

And neither did the Rolling Stone do anything outside the norm. It’s not glamorizing or justifying terrorism, although it is using popular culture style to draw attention to its content.

But that’s not promotion of terrorism; that’s advertising. And it’s as American as you can get.

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Mitchel Olszak
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