Steph Martin

Stephanie Martin, a writer and editor in Colorado, has two teenage daughters.

Boston—Amid intense criticism, Rolling Stone magazine attempted to defend its cover image of a youthful, innocent-looking Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the accused Boston Marathon bomber. Critics called the cover “insulting” and a “slap in the face” to Boston and the bombing victims. Several retailers, including CVS Pharmacies and 7-Eleven, announced they won’t carry that edition.

In response to the cover, Massachusetts State Police Sgt. Sean Murphy released unauthorized images of a bloody, injured Tsarnaev being captured. “This guy is evil,” said Murphy, who now faces discipline. “This is the real Boston bomber. Not someone fluffed and buffed for the cover of Rolling Stone.”

Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to the April 15 bombing, which killed three people and injured dozens more. He’s also accused of killing a police officer while on the run.

Rolling Stone defended the cover, saying, “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.”

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Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple agreed, saying Tsarnaev appeared to be a “well-balanced” member of society, and the story’s point is “to account for how he slid off the rails.” Wemple added, “He wasn’t an animal, at least to his peer group, for the longest time.”

New Yorker columnist Ian Crouch said the backlash shows how tragedy can lead to “close-mindedness” and “culture-wide self-censorship.”

But Ed Kelly, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, insisted that the cover gives the wrong message. “[Tsarnaev] gave up any innocence he had on April 15,” he said. “What he did to a city, a country, we’re never going to forgive him for it. We’re not going to cower from it. It disturbs us that our media chooses to celebrate it.”

Sources: cnn.com, nbcnews.com, rollingstone.com

Discussion Questions:

  • What’s your reaction to this cover image? How do you feel about the outcry it has caused? In your opinion, is the magazine celebrating and glamorizing Tsarnaev or just trying to figure him out? Explain.


  • Do we, as a society, have an obligation to attempt to understand what’s behind terrorism? What are the potential consequences of paying either too much or too little attention to the reasons behind these violent acts?


  • How do you feel about someone being labeled as “evil” or unforgivable because of an act he or she allegedly committed? Does a suspect such as Tsarnaev deserve any kind of benefit of the doubt or any gestures of forgiveness? Why or why not?


  • What do you think might have pushed Tsarnaev over the edge? Do you think there’s any chance he could be rehabilitated or come to see the error of his ways? Explain.


  • How does it feel to know that a young person who’d led a fairly normal life could allegedly commit such heinous acts? Does that tend to make you suspicious of what your friends and classmates might be capable of?


  • What effects does terrorism have on society as a whole and on individuals just trying to live their lives? Do you agree that it’s made us more intolerant and closed-minded? Why or why not?


  • How do you feel when your enemies garner attention because of or despite what they’ve done to you? Do you try to take revenge or spark a backlash against your enemies? Do you try to convince others to feel the same way about people you dislike? Explain.

Scripture links: 2 Chronicles 7:14; Psalm 9:3-6; Matthew 26:51-54; Luke 6:27-36; Luke 23:34; and James 3:13-18.

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