Blogs » Your Advocate: an editor's blog » If you are going to feature a terrorist, what else should the cover image be?


The furor raised by Rolling Stone's cover of the Boston bombing suspect is a familiar one to any longtime journalist.

The public outrage is particularly intense because the story is about terrorism, which touches the rawest of national nerves. However, most journalists have at some point heard a reader accuse them of glorifying x, y or z by writing about a controversial topic.

A thoughtful New Yorker column offers this response to the controversy: "Yet the vitriol and closed-mindedness of the Web response to the Rolling Stone cover, before anyone had the chance to read the article itself, is an example of two of the ugly public outcomes of terrorism: hostility toward free expression, and to the collection and examination of factual evidence; and a kind of culture-wide self-censorship encouraged by tragedy, in which certain responses are deemed correct and anything else is dismissed as tasteless or out of bounds. "

I'm not ready to praise or criticize Rolling Stone's decision to feature Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its cover, but I am bothered by some merchants' decision to pull the magazine out of their stores. Shouldn't they leave that buying decision to their customers? If they think the public can't make wise shopping decisions, perhaps they should pull Twinkies and Big Gulps off their shelves, too.

When I get some time, I plan to read the full Rolling Stone cover story, which I haven't done in a long time. If you wish to do the same, it's available online. The magazine prefaces the story with this explanation: "Our hearts go out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, and our thoughts are always with them and their families. 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 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."