An image of a young man with messy hair, wide eyes and a look of innocence about him on the cover of the August issue of Rolling Stone has created widespread controversy and prompted the publication to offer an explanation.
The face belongs to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a suspect in the bombing at the Boston marathon in April that killed three and injured more than 260 others.
If you didn’t know who he was, you’d think he was a guitar player in a boy band, not someone who pleaded not guilty last week to 30 counts associated with the bombing.
Rolling Stone issued a response to the controversy earlier today, but not an apology. The article, which was previously not available online, is now published on the site in its entirety, and an editor’s note appears above it.
“Our hearts go out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, and our thoughts and always with them and their families,” it begins.
The editors explain that it is important to examine the “complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens” because Tsarnaev is young and in the same age group as many of their readers.
“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 response comes after harsh reactions on social media from those who feel Tsarnaev looks like a rock star, and wrongly glorifies a man who is being tried on very serious charges.
“Kill an 8-year-old, land on the cover of Rolling Stone,” Brian Ries, senior editor at Newsweek tweeted.
Comedian Rob Delaney tweeted “@RollingStone which #teen sensation will grace your cover next?”
“Rolling Stone you should be ashamed,” Boston-based band Dropkick Murpheys tweeted. “How about one of the courageous victims on your cover instead of this loser scum bag!”
Even people who have supported Tsarnaev are upset with the cover, saying the headline – “The Bomber” – isn’t fair , nor is the text that accompanies the headline which calls him a “monster.”
Members of fangirl groups who think Tsarnaev is “hot” have staunchly defended his innocence.
One supportive fan tweeted “What kinda monsters put a 19yr old SUSPECT on their mag cover slandering his name for money?”
A Facebook page called Boycott Rolling Stone Magazine for their latest cover has garnered over 20,000 likes, and the hashtag #BoycottRollingStone is gaining steam on Twitter.
Rolling Stone magazine posted a preview for the story which includes five revelations that the magazine’s contributing editor Janet Reitman found while researching.
“Jahar never spoke about 9/11. Once, though, he let slip to a high school friend that he thought the terrorist attacks could be justified, and pointed to US policies towards Muslim countries and US drone strikes and other attacks as his rationale,” one of them reads.
Another was that his brother, Tamerlan, who died during a shootout with police after the bombing, told his mother that “he felt like two people were inside him.”
Another that religion was very important to Tsarnaev.
The preview says Reitman spent the past two months interviewing people close to Tsarnaev, including friends, teachers and neighbours.
While the profile looks intriguing, few people can get past the cover.