Rolling Stone has never shied away from provocative covers: From a stylized image of Charles Manson to a topless Janet Jackson, the magazine has successfully riled the American public for decades. But its latest cover, featuring alleged Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, has elicited a new level of controversy.
The cover and a preview of the accompanying story, “Jahar’s World,” were released on Rolling Stone’s website last night. Outrage immediately spread across the social media sphere. In Boston, #BoycottRollingStone began trending on Twitter, and #RollingStone became a worldwide point of discussion. A Facebook post about the cover story has so far received nearly 15,000 comments, almost all of which are negative. Readers accused the magazine of everything from glorifying terrorism to insulting the memory of those who were killed or injured during the Boston attacks. Many also stated that they would be cancelling their Rolling Stone subscriptions.
Several stores have heeded the call to boycott the magazine—or, at least, the issue. CVS pharmacies, which won’t be selling the issue, wrote on its Facebook page, “As a company with deep roots in New England and a strong presence in Boston, we believe this is the right decision out of respect for the victims of the attack and their loved ones.” New England-based convenience store chain Tedeschi Food Shops, wrote, "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 … Music and terrorism don't mix!”
When asked for comment, a rep for Rolling Stone provided this statement from the editors: “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.”
The photo used by Rolling Stone was actually a self-portrait taken by Tsarnaev and posted online, and previously appeared on the cover of the May 5 edition of The New York Times to considerably less criticism. It's also worth noting that Rolling Stone's controversial Charles Manson cover story, which it published in 1970, resulted in a bestselling issue and won a National Magazine Award.
UPDATE: Massachusetts-based Stop & Shop is also opting not to carry the issue "due to the public response and our customers feedback," a spokeswoman said. It's unlikely that the magazine's bottom line will be affected by the boycotts, however; only 5 percent of Rolling Stone's total circulation is sold at retail.
The magazine does stand to get a boost in Web traffic, however. Three years ago, Rolling Stone missed a beat when it failed to immediately post its explosive takedown of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, leaving time for other sites to post pages from the story and get traffic gains at the magazine's expense. Lesson learned: With the Boston bomber story, Rolling Stone posted the story in full.