Rolling Stone Fluffed and Buffed

By Casey Bukro

Rolling Stone magazine turned Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev into a cover boy in a recent edition.

The public reaction was explosive. CNN reported that “outrage is percolating across social media” because of what some saw as the magazine’s glorification of an alleged terrorism suspect.

Rolling Stone editors did not see it that way, stating that “our hearts go out to the victims” of the bombing, but that its cover story “falls within the traditions of journalism” and the magazine’s commitment to “serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day.”

It’s not as if the magazine portrays Tsarnaev as a blameless victim. It’s story about him is titled: “The making of a monster.”

The magazine usually devotes space to rock stars and celebrities.

Handsome and young with long curly dark hair, Tsarnaev posted the picture of himself online. It has been published widely by media outlets.

Justifying its focus on Tsarnaev, Rolling Stones editors pointed out that he is in the same age group as many of the magazine’s readers, making it important to delve into how “a tragedy like this happens.”

That touched off what could be described as a war of Tsarnaev photos. Boston Magazine showed a bloodied Tsarnaev in photos taken by a Massachusetts State Police officer at the moment of the bombing suspects capture.

“This is the real Boston bomber,” the policeman told the magazine. “Not someone fluffed and buffed for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.”

The policeman was suspended for releasing the photos, which could be important evidence in Tsarnaev’s trial. Boston Magazine also could be challenged on the ethics of publishing the photos that are part of a continuing criminal investigation.

The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics asks journalists to “support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.” And they are urged to act independently, even when that appears contrary to strong public sentiment. Others believe the Rolling Stone violated the code’s caution against pandering to lurid curiosity.

Tsarnaev is innocent until proven guilty, and there are always more than two sides to the story. Comments in social media even reveal some sympathy for Tsarnaev.

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About cbukro

Casey Bukro was inducted into the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame in 2008 for outstanding contributions to Chicago journalism, after a 45 year career with the Chicago Tribune. Bukro retired from the Tribune in 2007 as overnight editor. He had pioneered in environmental reporting and in 1970 became the first full-time environment specialist at a major metropolitan newspaper in the United States and covered major developments on that beat for 30 years. He won the newspaper’s highest editorial award in 1967 for a series on Great Lakes pollution. The Society of Professional Journalists awarded Bukro its highest honor, the Wells Key, in 1983 for writing that organization’s first code of ethics. He is a past president of SPJ’s national ethics committee and a past president of the Chicago Headline Club. Bukro graduated with bachelor and master degrees from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. In 1998, he received the Northwestern University Alumni Association’s alumni service award for 17 years of volunteer service to the university. He has lectured in environmental journalism and journalism ethics at Northwestern, the University of Chicago, DePaul University, Loyola University Chicago, Columbia College, Columbia University and others. Before joining the Tribune staff, Bukro worked at the former City News Bureau of Chicago and the Janesville Gazette, Janesville, Wis.

2 thoughts on “Rolling Stone Fluffed and Buffed

  1. If Rolling Stone meant to shoot themselves in the foot, they should aim lower. They keep ending up hitting their groin. Have they fired the absent in place editor yet!

    1. Hi S. McGinnis. Thanks for your comment. I’ve waited for awhile to see how the Rolling Stone case shakes down, especially your comment on whether anyone at the publication was punished, replaced, corrected, etc. The answer seems to be no, which makes the whole thing even more astonishing. Must assume they have learned some kind of lesson, but hard to tell, other than apologizing for the story. As you probably know, Rolling Stone has been sued by the university president. That could lead to some developments or explanations, unless the case is settled silently.

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