- Posted July 19, 2013 by
Douglaston, New York
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The written word: Your personal essays
Rolling Stone is Right, the Backlash is Wrong
He went on, 'The photo Tsarnaev took of himself is one that millions of other people his age and my age do. ... It establishes a context for the story.'
- dsashin, CNN iReport producer
The above photograph is a picture I took of myself in college. I was bored one evening and my Facebook photo had gotten a little stale, so I decided to do something different and take a more artistic “selfie.” (Disclaimer: I don’t wish to infringe on copyright, so the logo used in my own Rolling Stone cover is a version I found on Wikipedia that is listed as being in the public domain.) This is something my generation does. Would the action of Rolling Stone using this exact picture on its cover to preface an in-depth profile of my life be a glamorization of me and the things I happen to stand for?
I’ve spent the last two days fuming over the backlash against the Dzokhar Tsarnaev cover photo on the latest issue of Rolling Stone. As someone who worked as a reporter during his high school years, and who has more than a few friends working in journalism today, the overwhelming negativity -- displayed on social media (especially the baffling hostility of tone) and by the media figures who’ve denounced the article, the cover, and the magazine in no uncertain terms -- has left an awful taste in my mouth. Thankfully, the editorial boards of many news outlets have taken the level-headed approach and noted that they too have used the photo featured on the Rolling Stone cover, and that it helps support the broader intent of the article.
I’m not numb to the pain that the people of Boston still feel in the wake of the Marathon Bombing. I can understand the motivations for such a response on the part of those who claim to harbor such disgust for the cover. Had the article come out years after the bombing, after Tsarnaev is tried, convicted, and sentenced, the response might not have been anywhere near as rancorous, but the impact of its revelations might not have been as profound either. This is still a raw issue for the people of Boston and for many other Americans, and rightfully so, but those who have been making their (often profanity-laden) objections known are either missing the objective of the article, or they simply don’t care.
The commentary among the conservative punditry has been enlightening. Sean Hannity calls the photo a “glam shot” and said the magazine was “honoring” Tsarnaev. I do agree with him on the ridiculousness of the protesters wanting to “Free Jahar,” and who call the bombings a “false flag” operation, but any sane American would share our view. Michelle Malkin said that Rolling Stone should change its name to “Tiger Beat for terrorists, criminals, and sociopaths,” instead choosing to openly mock the intent of the article. Furthermore, she says that the editors of Rolling Stone are “just as muddle-headed as ever about our war with Islam.” I’ll repeat that: WAR WITH ISLAM, instead of War on Terror. If there wasn’t a reason for skeptical Muslims to fear that the U.S. is in a war against their very religion, Michelle Malkin just gave them one, untrue though it may be. Suffice it to say I was floored, and I honestly don’t care if it was a slip-up on her part. We’ve seen this movie before. More idle talk about the “liberal media” and how they feel that so-called left-wing publications hate America and sympathize with terrorists.
This whole controversy serves to expose yet again an interesting double-standard among some political pundits. I listen to plenty of conservative talk, on both TV and on the radio, and their aversion to the media’s culture of political correctness and sensitivity is a widely shared sentiment (even in the wake of all that has happened with the Trayvon Martin case, they’ve stuck to their guns). However, when a Sufi Muslim imam wants to establish a community center in Lower Manhattan, or when a human-interest magazine publishes an in-depth profile of “The Bomber” with a photo that has been used countless times the world over (despite calling him a monster on the cover), these exact same people refer to such actions as “slaps in the face” and call for sensitivity and dignity.
In my view, the publication of the cover and the discord it has created is journalism in and of itself, as it seems to expose a raw nerve in the psyche of those most discontented with the story: a reactionary mindset that prefers to think that the best weapons against terrorism are guns, explosives, and CIA black sites. They scoff at the notion that we need to understand the psychologies, histories, and environments of terrorists, but people need to understand what might cause someone to fall so far in order to commit something so horrible. Intellectual pursuits in this war seem to matter very little to them. They don’t want to consider the idea that this is Rolling Stone’s effort in fighting the War on Terror. To me, their weapon is information that tries to go far deeper than what can be picked off by a drone strike in Pakistan. We can agree or disagree on whether that’s successful, but it’s great to see someone taking a different approach. We need deep, thoughtful examination every bit as much as we need military action.
Had this piece and cover photo been published by a more traditional “news” magazine, and not by Rolling Stone, we might not be having this conversation. Instead of trying to appreciate the context of the photo in relation to the article, far too many people have admonished the magazine for giving Tsarnaev the celebrity treatment. We need to be honest: is that really Rolling Stone’s fault because they put him on the cover, or is that our fault because of how we typically view Rolling Stone? This was a photo of someone doing something that many people in their 20s would do and have done...nothing more and nothing less. There’s nothing extraordinary about it, but the backlash has turned it into something extraordinary.
Unfortunately, it was in the worst possible way.