Before I deliver what will surely be an unpopular opinion, let me note the following: The Boston Marathon bombings happened on my home turf. That day, I was sickened by the video replays, scenes of people without limbs and word that one of the victims was an 8-year-old boy. I was as full of satisfaction as everyone else a few nights later, when one of the bombers was hunted down and captured.
Several friends were at the marathon that day, and one family from our kids’ school community left the finish line a few minutes before the bombs exploded. Yeah, I was effected to the core.
Now I’m waking up to find a lot of outrage online because of the latest cover of Rolling Stone magazine, which features the face of Dzhokar Tsarnaev, the young monster who carried out the attack with his older brother. Much of the anger is over the way he looks: like a rock star or someone to be celebrated. One friend ran a picture of the cover next to another Rolling Stone cover featuring Jim Morrison to illustrate the point. Business Insider hissed that the magazine portrayed Tsarnaev as a “dreamy heartthrob.”
Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Here’s mine: People are making a bigger deal of this than it deserves.
Though Rolling Stone is primarily known for its essays on celebrities, it also has a history of covering current events, including crime and war. Charles Manson once graced the cover with the headline, “The Incredible Story of the Most Dangerous Man Alive.” The articles almost always involve a lot of investigative reporting and detail, although there’s a political bias to the writing, as well.
Tsarnaev does indeed look like a rock star on the cover. He’s got that long, black, curly hair and boyish face (he is, after all, still a kid, at least in my book). But the headline and summary make it clear that this is not an exposé on a dreamy heartthrob: “The Bomber: How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed By His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster.”
It’s natural for us to want the bad guys to be denied their media spotlight. After all, many times the bad guys crave the coverage. But when a kid like this tries to kill a bunch of people, it’s important to ask why. How does a young person turn into a monster?
No matter what we learn and what we do to steer kids in the right direction, we can’t prevent all of them from turning violent. But we can still try, and in the Boston case, it’s useful to look at the family history that produced two murderers.
That he looks like a rock star on the magazine cover is unfortunate. If the magazine used the surveillance photos or a picture of a bloody, wounded Tsarnaev, we probably wouldn’t have the outrage.
But in the bigger picture, I think the outrage is pain misdirected.
The messenger is delivering an unpopular story, and when that happens our first instinct is to shoot the messenger.