I mean it sincerely. I don’t understand this “controversy”.
The upcoming issue of Rolling Stone magazine features Boston marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its cover. The magazine arrives at news stands on Friday.
I’ll admit I have not read Rolling Stone since I was in college but that doesn’t seem to be an obstacle in this debate. The furor is not about the content of the article or even the editorial policies of the magazine. Those who are vocally outraged about this make no pretense that they have read the article. They object to the alleged bomber’s face appearing on the magazine’s cover.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said the cover glorifies Tsarnaev. Menino sent the following statement in a letter to Wenner Media head Jann Wenner, which publishes Rolling Stone:
“Your August 3 cover rewards a terrorist with celebrity treatment. It is ill-conceived, at best, and re-affirms a terrible message that destruction gains fame for killers and their ’causes.’…”
The Mayor goes on to say that the coverage would be better focused on the first responders, volunteers, victims and survivors.
Rolling Stone’s response to the criticism has been;
“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.”
I don’t know much about Mayor Menino. He gained some national attention a year ago by publicly opposing Chick-fil-A’s expansion in his city due to their support of evangelical groups which many consider to be extremist. I blogged at the time that, while I like the philosophy represented in this opinion, I disagreed that it was a proper role of government to restrict legal business operations based on any kind of issues-based litmus test. Once again, while I think his concerns come from a place of moral leadership, I disagree with his actions.
Here in Arizona, and, I suspect, anywhere there is a Fox News outlet. the media is hyping this “controversy” for all it is worth. Our local newspaper, The Arizona Republic(an), posted a poll on its website asking for reader comment. A few of those commenting expressed feelings similar to Mayor Menino’s. Some took the opportunity to vent their xenophobic and/or racist thoughts on all things they regard as Islamic. Of course many of the Republic’s readers would have shared their xenophobia and racism with equal passion in response to a poll about the weather or the Diamondbacks last home game.
I wholeheartedly support media coverage focused on the first responders, volunteers, survivors, victims and the loved ones they left behind. I noted in a blog post shortly after the bombing how moving I found the Boston Magazine cover of the marathoners’ running shoes. That said, when did media coverage of criminal or terrorist activity constitute “rewarding a terrorist with celebrity treatment”?
I did a quick search for examples I could think of off the top of my head. The first two that leapt to mind seemed me be similar to the case at hand.
I tried to limit the examples to subjects that, hopefully, we can all agree are criminals or terrorists.
Both Hitler and Khomeini not only had covers but were Time magazine’s “Man of the Year”.
Both Pol Pot and Joseph Stalin were each responsible for the deaths of millions.
I also limited the examples to publications with at least as much gravitas as Rolling Stone.
I could list dozens of people I would hope to never see on a magazine cover but I realize, in the kind of society I hope to live in, I have to accept the fact that sometimes people in the news are not people that I like. If the tone of the Rolling Stone article is anything along the lines of ‘feel sorry for the poor misunderstood activist following his religious beliefs’ I will be as justifiably outraged as anyone. But to suggest we should close our eyes and pretend that this person is not ‘newsworthy’ is absurd. In his circumstances I can understand the Mayor overlooking the legal niceties that Tsarnaev has not been tried or convicted yet. Should the media not cover the trial?
To paraphrase one of my favorite West Wing quotes; ‘the fact that it is not good news for you doesn’t mean it’s not news’.