'Rolling Stone' Boston bomber photo stirs debate; CVS drops the issue

Source: Rolling Stone | Facebook

Rolling Stone magazine sparked a heated social media debate today after releasing a cover image promoting an upcoming profile of alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

The Twitter and Facebook firestorm resulted in calls for boycotts, and drugstore chain CVS announcing that it would not carry the issue in its 7,000 stores nationwide.

"As a company with deep roots in New England and a strong presence in Boston, we believe this is the right decision out of respect for the victims of the attack and their loved ones," the statement said. CVS is headquartered in Woonsocket, R.I.

The cover, released online as a preview to Friday's edition with an in-depth article chronicling Tsarnaev's life leading up to the Boston Marathon bombing, features a "selfie"—or self-taken photo—by Tsarnaev with the teen's hair falling across his face.

Some online noted that the photo called to mind previous Rolling Stone covers of Jim Morrison or Bob Dylan and glorified the teenage suspected killer. Others pointed out that the photo had also appeared on major news sites like The New York Times in the days after Tsarnaev's capture.

"This is obviously a big story and there are a lot of people who are going to be interested in it, but in my mind it isn't deserving of the cover," said Duran Fernandez-O'Brien, who lives in Boston and joined the "Boycott Rolling Stone Magazine for their latest cover" Facebook page.

Tsarnaev is suspected of setting off two bombs at the Boston Marathon with his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, on April 15. At his first public appearance since his arrest, Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty to 30 charges brought against him by federal prosecutors in the U.S. District Court.

Fernandez-O'Brien echoed other online critics, voicing concern over whether the magazine is glorifying Tsarnaev and his actions by giving him so much attention.

"Obviously it's what people want to see," he said. "Definitely. But at the same time it creates a culture where people who may be on the fringe of thinking about doing something like that will then push forward and go through their ideas because they think this will make me famous: 'I will leave my mark history if I do something like this.' "

Instead of focusing on the bombers, the media should focus on the victims, Fernandez-O'Brien said.

MBTA officer Richard "Dic" Donohue, who was shot during a chaotic exchange of gunfire with the Tsarnaev brothers following the bombing, released a statement voicing his thoughts on the cover.

"My family and I were personally affected by these individuals' actions. I cannot and do not condone the cover of the magazine, which is thoughtless at best," he said. "I am confident that our Boston Strong community will remain intrepid and unshaken by the cover of this magazine."

Others, including journalism professor at Northeastern University and frequent media commentator Dan Kennedy, argue that the cover choice is not only not controversial, but a smart editorial decision on behalf of Rolling Stone.

"I think it's important to be responsible," he said. "It's nice to say that we should keep our focus on the victims of this awful crime and not glamorize someone like Tsarnaev, and I agree with that, but at the same time I think that we all want to know what drove him to commit this terrible crime, and he's interesting, and that's the definition of news."

Kennedy did agree that Tsarnaev looks glamorous on the over, but that every picture he has seen of the alleged bomber from the Boston Globe to The New York Times shows Tsarnaev in the same way.

He also noted the magazine's history of featuring high-profile news as feature and cover stories, such as its 1970 cover of Charles Manson.

"I suppose you could say this one was glammed up to an unusual degree, but I thought it really worked very well because it was an exercise in cognitive dissonance," he said.

"You look at the type and it says 'the bomber and how he turned into a monster,' then you look at the glammed-up shot of him and at the word 'bomber,' and you see a monster."

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Rolling Stone released a statement standing by its decision to publish the cover story, noting that its hearts go out to the victims.

"The cover story we are publishing this week falls within the traditions of journalism and Rolling Stone's longstanding commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day," the magazine added.

Tedeschi Foods, a New England-based grocery chain with 200 outlets, also announced Wednesday that it would not carry the issue of the magazine.

—By Tracy Jarrett, NBC News