Rolling Stone's Tsarnaev Cover: What's Stirring Such Passion? : The Two-Way The magazine hasn't hit newsstands, but some say it glorifies alleged Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Rolling Stone's editor stands by the use of the photo to help tell the story of "an incredibly normal kid" who turned into "a monster."
NPR logo

Rolling Stone's Tsarnaev Cover: What's Stirring Such Passion?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Rolling Stone's Tsarnaev Cover: What's Stirring Such Passion?

Rolling Stone's Tsarnaev Cover: What's Stirring Such Passion?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Rolling Stone magazine is facing a torrent of criticism and calls for a boycott after it put a photo of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect on its cover. It's a close-up image of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one he had posted online himself. His tousled dark hair falls across his face. He's got a scruffy mustache and goatee. He's wearing a T-shirt with graffiti-like writing splashed across it. On casual glance, you might think, hmm, is that early Dylan, some new indie rock guy that's got Rolling Stone's attention? Well, reaction has been furious on the magazine's Facebook page.

(Reading) You glorified a monster, one wrote. Another: Never buying another issue. Shame on you. And another: Your reputation is in ashes.

Joining me to talk about the cover and defend Rolling Stone's reputation is managing editor Will Dana. Will, welcome to the program.

WILL DANA: Oh, thank you very much.

BLOCK: Why this picture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?

DANA: Well, I mean, this is a picture that's been seen a lot in the past couple of months. It was in the front page of The New York Times. It's been on any number of news broadcasts, you know, flashed up behind the anchors. So this is the picture everyone knows, that everyone's seen, and we wanted to tell the real story behind who this person was and how he came to perpetrate this sickening act of violence.

BLOCK: You did have a choice, though. You could have gone, say, with an image from surveillance camera footage. But instead, you used this. It looks like it's a selfie. It's flattering, he looks kind of dreamy.

DANA: Well, we thought it was the apt image because part of the - what the story is about is what an incredibly normal kid he seemed like to those who knew him best back in Cambridge - his fellow students and the teachers there. And we were trying to sort of draw this contrast between the person everyone thought they knew and the person he became.

BLOCK: You know, you mentioned that the same image had been on the front page of The New York Times - that was back in May. But is it a different thing for a magazine like yours to splash it on the cover, because your covers are typically movie stars, music stars. I mean, are you implicitly drawing an equivalence of stardom here, glorifying a criminal suspect?

DANA: You know, I disagree with that. I mean, I think that we are - the magazine is many things. You know, a lot of what we do in the magazine are very serious reporting on really important issues whether, you know, it's environmental and politics, you know, war and national security issues. I mean, these are the things that we've been writing about for years.

And, you know, we did not do this lightly, but we also felt this was an important story and an important way of addressing, you know, what is one of the biggest issues facing not only America but the world.

BLOCK: No question the Rolling Stone covers those issues that you mentioned, but it doesn't mean they end up on the cover. I mean, think about the profile you guys did of General Stanley McChrystal. It cost him his job as the commander in Afghanistan. He wasn't on the cover. Lady Gaga was on the cover.

DANA: Right. We can go and have every single one of these discussions, but I also think this is a person who is the same age as many of our readers who, to his peer group, seemed like one of them. And that's what we thought made the story so powerful and disturbing. And, you know, it's in no way to endorse or glorify what he did. I think the opposite is we're trying to understand it and to explain it.

BLOCK: Was any part of the conversation among editors there this is a provocative image, and it will be controversial, and it will sell? Controversy breeds sales.

DANA: Yeah. I would say that in terms about sales, it is absolutely impossible to predict what newsstands sales are going to be. And, you know, it's something you have to be mindful of, but at the same time, put out your mind on a case-by-case basis. And you've got to just, you know, we really go with our gut on these things, usually.

BLOCK: And would you do it again? Would you put this photograph of the bombing suspect on the cover?

DANA: Well, I mean it's impossible to...


DANA: answer that question. But, yeah, I mean, I am completely comfortable with the decision that we made. And this is in no way to minimize our feelings of sadness or sympathy for the victims.

BLOCK: OK. Will Dana, thanks for talking with us.

DANA: You bet.

BLOCK: Will Dana is managing editor of Rolling Stone magazine. And one more note, some major retail chains have thrown their weight behind the boycott of the magazine. CVS, Walgreens and Stop & Shop are among those saying they will not sell the current issue.


Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.