June 24, 2018
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Rolling Stone cover photo shows monsters among us can be hard to spot

By Renee Ordway, Special to the BDN

Why at a time when we are crying for real truth in the media are we so terribly offended when we actually get it?

Clearly we are angry because Rolling Stone Magazine’s attempt to get us to face or at least understand the truth has been vilified and shunned.

The cover photo of 19-year-old accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has spawned so much self-righteous indignation that it has nearly knocked the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case into media obscurity.


Because the photograph shows Tsarnaev as a handsome, sultry young man, with big brown eyes and tousled curls.

The man in the photo doesn’t look like a monster at all.

The cover photo is part of an extensive investigative journalistic package written by Janet Reitman that explores Tsarnaev’s life and attempts to bring forth some information on how a popular, promising student fell into radical Islam and “became a monster.”

The photograph so disturbed one Massachusetts State Police officer, he released to the media, without permission of his superiors, the less becoming photographs of a bloodied Tsarnaev when he was arrested after hiding in a boat in a backyard in Watertown.

Those are the pictures we need to be seeing, people are arguing. Show him for the cowardly monster that he is.

That’s fine. It’s not harmful to see those.

But those images are not reflective of the Tsarnaev those who regularly interacted with him thought they knew.

That image is the one on the cover of the magazine.

Many are calling the magazine’s decision a mistake.

It wasn’t a mistake, it was the purpose.

Others are calling the decision brave.

I wouldn’t call it that either. It is what any good investigative media publication should be doing every day.

It’s not brave. It’s what we as consumers should expect from them.

The victims should have been on the cover, some argue. But that wasn’t what this particular story was about. This was a story meant to educate readers about the evolution of a seemingly normal boy into a mass killer.

It’s a story to help us understand how thoughtful, smart college students in Boston could have worked beside him, played soccer with him and dined with him without ever guessing the evil that lurked behind those big brown eyes.

The recognition of that is imperative in this new terror-filled world we live in.

Screaming about the injustice of it all, demanding that only the victims’ stories be told, bellowing that he should be hung and the country done with him, places all of us on a most menacing path to oblivion.

It’s a path we as a country can no longer afford to take.

I think most of us have come to understand that we can’t just tell our children to never walk away with the toothless, grimy man who approaches them at the playground and expect them to be safe.

We know that pedophiles can be handsome, charming men, reminiscent of dad or grandpa.

But that too has been a bit of an evolution. There is, I believe, a natural tendency to trust the good looking, smart and agreeable among us.

But we are learning, case by horrifying case, of the true nature of pedophilia in large part because of the education we have received from the media over the past two decades.

The same can be said about hate crimes and domestic abusers and serial killers.

The media has dug hard and deep and educated the public about the very “normal” folks who hurt and kill others.

We may not have liked how we had to learn those lessons, but we are better off for having learned them.

We may never have thought we would need to be so painfully educated on the reality of terrorism in our own backyards. We may have thought we’d recognize a terrorist if we met one.

That handsome, sultry young man on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine proves differently.

And that’s the real truth we should all be demanding from the media.

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

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