Discerning Rolling Stone

Guest Post by: Miles Hendrick, student

Throughout its history, Rolling Stone Magazine has dealt with public discernment on multiple occasions, often due to controversial images and articles. These controversial images and articles that draw negative feedback from the public often involve ethical issues, such as a cover photo that may be seen as racy or insensitive or an article that contains graphic or even false information.

BomberOne of the more recent public controversies Rolling Stone has faced has come from the magazine’s August cover and article featuring one of the Boston Bombers. The controversy caused by the August Rolling Stone issue demonstrates some major ethical questions in American culture and journalism. By simply covering terrorists are journalists glorifying and encouraging attacks on America?  Should journalists investigate and report on the lives of terrorists? Should there only be one way to investigate and portray a terrorist in the media?

The August 2013 cover of Rolling Stone featured Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the men responsible for the attack on Boston this past April. The cover and the article caused a public uproar and some stores even refused to sell the magazine because some believed that the magazine was glorifying a terrorist by making him look like a rock-star rather than a monster. This uproar can be explained when viewing American culture and the country’s recent history with terrorist attacks. People in America often have a predetermined idea of what a terrorist should look like and how the terrorist should be portrayed. Americans have become used to seeing publications such as Time or Newsweek portraying people who threaten America, such as Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden, as monsters that America must destroy. The cover of Dzhokhar Tzarnaev did not fit this portrayal.

This preconceived idea of how people who execute attacks on America should be portrayed in the media demonstrates the conflict between the Enlightenment view of truth and the pragmatists’ view of truth. The Enlightenment view of truth was based on a principle that facts were facts and the proper way to investigate stories was through the scientific method. In the case of Tzarnaev the facts were he was responsible for the deaths of three citizens and the injuries of hundreds. Some people just wanted these facts to be investigated and only wanted to hear one side of the story so that the American public could reason together and arrive at the shared truth that Tzarnaev was a monster. But the controversy arose when Rolling Stone decided that there was not just one method to investigating the story and therefore there was not just one side to the story. Rolling Stone decided to investigate Tzarnaev’s life before the bombing and explore how he was once a popular and promising student whose surroundings developed him into a danger to society.

I do not believe that Rolling Stone was wrong by investigating this side of Tzarnaev’s life. If the journalist discovered that Tzarnaev was once a young man filled with promise and popularity who eventually turned on society Rolling Stone should not be forced to focus only on his attack on society. I also believe that Rolling Stone had the right to use a personal photo of Tzarnaev because the article focused on Tzarnaev’s personal life, and not just his role in the bombing or the hunt leading to his to capture. Overall I feel Rolling Stone’s coverage of the issue was ethical and it did not deserve public scrutiny because the magazine was not glorifying Tzarnaev for his role in the Boston Marathon bombing, rather it was investigating a different side of the story.

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