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The Rolling Stone Cover and the Manufacture of Outrage

How is this magazine’s cover any different from another magazine using Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to sell copies?

The image on the top left is the cover of the August issue of Rolling Stone, featuring Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The image on the top right is the cover of Rolling Stone from 1970, depicting Charles Manson.

Both covers seem in keeping with the magazine’s promise of delivering “music, album and artist news, movie reviews, political, economic and pop culture commentary, videos, photos, and more.”

However, the magazine has been targeted online with the hashtag #BoycottRollingStone for its current cover story entitled “The Bomber: How a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam and became a monster.” Some commercial chains have refused to sell the issue.

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino wrote a letter to the publisher saying “Your August 3 cover rewards a terrorist with celebrity treatment. It is ill-conceived, at best, and re-affirms a terrible message that destruction gains fame for killer and their “causes.”


“Our hearts go out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing,” Rolling Stone said in a statement. “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.”

So how is this magazine’s cover any different from another magazine using Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to sell copies? Perhaps this is because we associate a Rolling Stone cover with the teen heroes that often grace the magazine’s cover, and in this context, the magazine would appear to be treating Tsarnaev as some kind of hero, or “glamorizing terrorism” as one commenter put it. 

Calling Tsarnaev a “monster,” however, is hardly a glamorization, as, say, the treatment the magazine might give to Taylor Swift. Moreover, one look at the Charles Manson cover reveals how much in keeping the current issue is with the magazine’s self-described commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage. 

After all, what is lost in all of this manufactured outrage is a thoughtful and well-reported article, which we urge you to read here


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