NEW YORK — Sultry eyes burn into the camera lens from behind tousled curls. A scruff of sexy beard and loose T-shirt are bathed in soft, yellow light.
The close-up of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of Rolling Stone to hit shelves Friday looks more like a young Bob Dylan or Jim Morrison than the 19-year-old who pleaded not guilty a little more than a week ago in the Boston Marathon bombing, his arm in a cast and his face swollen in court.
The same image of Tsarnaev was widely circulated and used by newspapers and magazines before, but in this context it took on new criticism and accusations that Rolling Stone turned the bombing defendant into something more appealing.
“I can’t think of another instance in which one has glamorized the image of an alleged terrorist. This is the image of a rock star. This is the image of someone who is admired, of someone who has a fan base, of someone we are critiquing as art,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a communications professor and the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
Public outrage was swift, including hard words from the Boston mayor, bombing survivors and the governor of Massachusetts. At least five retailers with strong New England ties — CVS, Tedeschi Food Stores and the grocery chain the Roche Bros. — said they would not sell the issue that features an in-depth look into how a charming, well-liked teen took a dark turn toward radical Islam. Stop & Shop and Walgreens followed suit.
Tsarnaev is not referred to as Tsarnaev in the article. The magazine uses his playful diminutive instead in a headline: “Jahar’s World.” With cover teasers for other stories on Willie Nelson, Jay-Z and Robin Thicke, it declares for the Tsarnaev story: “The Bomber. How a Popular, Promising Student was Failed by His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster.”
Rolling Stone did not address whether the photo was edited or filtered in any way in a brief statement offering condolences to bombing survivors and the loved ones of the dead.
“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,” the statement read.
That’s little consolation for James “Bim” Costello, 30, of Malden, Mass., who needed pig skin grafts on most of his right arm and right leg after the bombing. His body was pebbled with shrapnel, including nails he pulled out of his stomach. Three of his close friends lost legs that day and others suffered serious burns and shrapnel injuries.
“I think whoever wrote the article should have their legs blown off by someone,” struggle through treatment “and then see who they would choose to put on the cover.’’
Lauren Gabler had finished her fourth Boston Marathon and was two blocks from the finish line explosions that April day. At first she thought the Rolling Stone photo, released on the magazine’s website and Facebook page, was of a model or a rock star.
“All of a sudden you realize that’s the Boston bomber,” said Gabler, who lives in the Washington, D.C., area. “The cover almost tricks you into what you’re looking at. I haven’t read the article yet, and I know it will probably be quite in-depth, but my initial reaction is that the photo that’s being used almost makes him look like a good guy.”
Rolling Stone said the cover story was part of its “long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day.”
Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino dashed off to Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner accusing the magazine of offering Tsarnaev “celebrity treatment” and calling the cover “ill-conceived, at best,” in that it supports the “terrible message that destruction gains fame for killers and their ‘causes.’”
The letter goes on to call the cover an obvious marketing strategy and concludes: “The survivors of the Boston attacks deserve Rolling Stone cover stories, though I no longer feel that Rolling Stone deserves them.”