x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Cover photo of Boston bomber sets off US controversy

But some observers described these reactions as misguided, and said the magazine's challenging of stereotypical notions of who can become terrorists, or what they look like, was well within the bounds of journalistic ethics.

New York // A photograph of the surviving Boston bombing suspect published on a magazine cover depicting him as a normal teen, and perhaps at odds with expectations of what a terrorist should look like, has set off a storm of debate in the United States.

On Thursday, a day after the Rolling Stone magazine hit news stands, a Massachusetts state police photographer tried, in his words, to counteract the magazine's "glamourising (of) the face of terror" by leaking images he had taken of a bloodied Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as he was arrested in April.

The officer, Sgt Sean Murphy, was relieved of his duties after giving the photos to Boston Magazine, which published the shots of a dazed Mr Tsarnaev at the conclusion of a four-day manhunt for him.

The pictures show Mr Tsarnaev emerging from his hiding place on a parked boat, covered in blood, the red laser dot of a police sniper rifle glowing on his forehead. Mr Tsarnaev, accused of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three and injured more than 260, appeared in court for the first time this month. He pled not guilty to all 30 federal charges in connection with the attacks. He and his elder brother, who died during a shoot-out with police, are alleged to have planted the bombs.

In a statement, Mr Murphy said that the magazine cover was an "insult" to law enforcement and the bombing's victims and amounted to an incentive for other would-be terrorists that they would become famous as well. "This guy is evil. This is the real Boston bomber," he said of his own pictures. "Not someone fluffed and buffed for the cover of Rolling Stone."

The outrage by Boston-area politicians and conservative commentators on social media was particularly vocal. Boston Mayor Thomas Merino released a public letter addressed to Rolling Stone's publisher, Jann Wenner, writing that the cover "rewards a terrorist with celebrity treatment".

Two national chain stores, Walgreens and CVS, announced that they would ban the issue from their shelves.

Other observers described these reactions as misguided, and said the magazine's challenging of stereotypical notions of who can become terrorists, or what they look like, was well within the bounds of journalistic ethics.

"By depicting a terrorist as sweet and handsome rather than ugly and terrifying, Rolling Stone has subverted our expectations and hinted at a larger truth … It asks: 'What did we expect to see in Tsarnaev? What did we hope to see?'" Mark Joseph Stern wrote in the online magazine Slate. "The answer, most likely, is a monster, a brutish dolt with outward manifestations of evil. What we get instead, however, is the most alarming sight of all: a boy who looks like someone we might know."

The photo of Mr Tsarnaev is accompanied by the headline: "The Bomber: How A Popular, Promising Student Was Failed By His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam And Became A Monster". The author of the story details her two months of reporting and interviews with the suspect's close friends and family, and tries to piece together what led the "normal American kid" down the path of radicalisation.

The cover photo, others noted, had been published on the cover of the New York Times, and Rolling Stone has put pictures of infamous criminals such as Charles Manson and the Columbine High School shooters on its cover before, which garnered little reaction.

The editors of Rolling Stone published an explanation for their decision, writing that their "hearts go out to the victims". But, they went on to write: "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."

 

tkhan@thenational.ae