Photo of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev makes controversial Rolling Stone cover

The cover of Rolling Stone’s Aug. 1 edition features a photograph of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing in April. Many have responded angrily to the magazine’s treatment of Tsarnaev’s image:

Rolling Stone editors said in a statement that the story falls within the traditions of journalism and the magazine’s commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage.

“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,” the statement said.

The CVS pharmacy chain, based about 50 miles from Boston in Woonsocket, R.I., and a Rockland, Mass.-based convenience store chain, Tedeschi Food Shops, both said they will not carry the magazine.

“Tedeschi Food Shops supports the need to share the news with everyone, but cannot support actions that serve to glorify the evil actions of anyone,” the chain said on its Facebook page. “Music and terrorism don’t mix!”

One of the marathon runners, Lauren Gabler, who works in IT consulting in Washington and was running her fourth Boston Marathon this year, said she at first thought the Rolling Stone photo was of a model or rock star and was surprised when she realized it was Tsarnaev.

“The cover almost tricks you into what you’re looking at,” she said.

Associated Press

Opinion writer Erik Wemple argues that the cover image was the best the editors could have done, given the story:

*Presumably the protesters would have a tabloid treatment in which Rolling Stone would place horns on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Perhaps that would have made this nonsense go away.

*This is good journalism, as the photo depicts the same Dzhokhar Tsarnaev that The Post and the New York Times — and others — depicted in deeply reported pieces. That is, a regular, good guy with friends, interests and activities — a “joker,” even.

*Showing this alleged bomber in his full humanity makes him appear even more menacing.

*Some are saying that Rolling Stone is exploiting this image — this story — for commercial gain. Well, Rolling Stone is a magazine. It exploits all its stories for commercial gain, some more effectively than others.

Erik Wemple

Alexandra Petri offers other suggestions for Rolling Stone covers:

– The Eye of Sauron in a bathrobe

– Whomever J. Lo is performing for next

– Whitey Bulger with sleeves rolled up, looking wind-swept and approachable

– Stalin in suspenders leaning over the back of a chair

– Aileen Wuornos, on the red carpet, rocking Louboutins

– Ted Kaczynski, but someone fixed his hair finally

– Rasputin in a fun ironic onesie

– Genghis Khan goofing around in big chairs with the stars of “The Voice”

– Robespierre blowing a big bubble

– Instagram of some anthrax

Alexandra Petri

Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to charges including murder using a weapon of mass destruction. He and his family immigrated to the United States in 2002, as The Washington Post described in an extensive profile in April.

America, the golden door, had already welcomed two of his brothers when Anzor Tsarnaev crossed the ocean with his family in 2002. Anzor’s brother Ruslan, who had immigrated just a few years earlier, already had a law degree and was on his way to an executive job and a six-figure salary. And at first, Anzor, his wife, Zubeidat, and their two sons, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar, seemed as energetic and brimming with initiative as their relatives had been. Anzor, a mechanic, fixed up cars. His wife turned a cut-rate apartment in affluent Cambridge into an improvised salon, offering facials at attractive prices. The boys — who authorities believe are the Boston Marathon bombers, responsible for killing four people and injuring more than 250 — took to their new home with gusto. The older one, Tamerlan, was sociable, even showy, dressing sharply, honing his body to become an Olympic boxer. He married an American WASP, daughter of a well-to-do Rhode Island family.The younger boy, Dzhokhar, was almost instantly as American as they come: He fell for a blond beauty and won her over. He made the high school wrestling team and was popular and empathic enough to be named captain. He partied hard and studied when he had to.

But over the past four years, even as members of their extended family found their piece of the American dream, the Cambridge Tsarnaevs’ experience in their new land curdled. Money grew scarce, and the family went on welfare. Zubeidat was accused of stealing from a department store. Anzor’s business, never prosperous, faded.

When the mother found solace in a deepening religiosity, the father, icy to such devotion and ill with cancer, went home to Dagestan, a place that was never really home to start with.

And the boys underwent transformations so dramatic that some friends could barely recognize them: Tamerlan in his early 20s embraced a harsh, separatist brand of Islam and in a couple of years went from wishing his neighbor a merry Christmas to angrily attacking a Muslim grocer for advertising a Thanksgiving charity food collection. The change in Dzhokhar, now a college sophomore, became apparent only in the past few weeks, and even then seemed to be tacked on to his existing lifestyle rather than displacing it. Less than two weeks before the marathon, Dzhokhar, previously known to friends as a stoner always up for a beer and a blunt, told a college friend that he no longer cared about his classes, that religion and God were the only true things in life.

No manifesto accompanied the marathon bombings, and investigators are only now piecing together an accounting of the Tsarnaev brothers’ path to terror. But in interviews with relatives, friends, neighbors and business associates in four states and three countries, a portrait emerges of a family in a losing battle against its people’s troubled past, against its own internal dysfunction and discord, and against conflicting interpretations of its ancient faith.

Washington Post Staff

Read the Rolling Stone profile of Tsarnaev here.

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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