Two New England-based companies said Wednesday they won’t be carrying copies of the newest issue of Rolling Stone, which bears a controversial cover featuring Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
On their Facebook pages, both CVS and Tedeschi Food Shops explained their decisions. ”As a company with deep roots in New England and a strong presence in Boston,” CVS writes, “we believe this is the right decision out of respect for the victims of the attack and their loved ones.” Meanwhile, Tedeschi wrote that it “supports the need to share the news with everyone, but cannot support actions that serve to glorify the evil actions of anyone.”
The controversial cover, which features a photo of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect, has sparked an online firestorm, with critics saying it glamorizes Tsarnaev by placing him in a space usually reserved for musicians or celebrities. A “Boycott Rolling Stone for their latest cover” Facebook page already has more than 70,000 “likes,” and everyone from Massachusetts officials to Donald Trump (“Only in America can a Jihadi thug who murdered women and children be nursed back to health & then get a @RollingStone cover”) have weighed in on the controversy.
Rolling Stone, meanwhile, is defending its decision: “the fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is young, and in the same age group as many of our readers,” it said in a statement, “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.”
It’s worth remembering that this is not the first time the same photo of Tsarnaev was featured by a publication. The New York Times ran the photo on its front page back in May–with little response–when it published a story that also profiled Tsnaraev. It’s also not the first time a magazine has featured young people accused of mass killings on its cover (Time once put the Columbine shooters on its cover). Did CVS and Tedeschi pull those newspapers and magazines from its shelves, too?
What’s interesting to me is how immediately the executives leading these two businesses made this decision, and what it says about how a social media firestorm can prompt leaders to act fast in the midst of controversy. The issue wasn’t even on newsstands yet when the backlash began Tuesday night, and the dateline of the Rolling Stone story online is Wednesday at 11 a.m. The Tedeschi and CVS Facebook posts appeared Wednesday morning and early afternoon.
In the heat of the moment, did they make the right call?
Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.