• author
    • David Lacy

      Columnist and iPinion co-founder
    • July 21, 2013 in Columnists

    Rolling Stone doesn’t lionize a terrorist; it offers unsettling reality


    Photo credit: Sean Murphy/Associated Press.

    In response to Rolling Stone‘s controversial cover photo and feature article, Sgt. Sean Murphy of the Massachusetts State Police released a photo of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, bullet-riddled, blood-crusted, and with a sniper “dot” trained on his forehead and declared, “This is the real Boston bomber. Not someone fluffed and buffed for the cover or Rolling Stone magazine.”

    As soon as Murphy’s photo release and comment hit the inter webs the public went ballistic. “Hell yeah! That’s what an Islamist piece of shit looks like,” blasted one commenter. Thousands of others followed suit. You can almost envision a collective American fist pump, and a testerone-fueled growl bellowing in unison: “Amer-icuh — Fuck yeah!”

    And honestly, I understand this impulse. I really do. I had it after 9/11. I had it after the subway bombings in London. Hell, I had it myself the very day they caught this evil son of a bitch in a suburb outside of Boston. I was ecstatic with how quickly law enforcement and a few heroic citizens brought this vile monster to his knees.

    My problem? Murphy’s photo is not what Tsarnaev looked like and the one on RS is. Oh sure, for a brief moment — just long enough for Murphy to take Tsarnaev’s gruesome surrender photo — the bomber was indeed a hollowed-out, limping bag of flesh. But RS wasn’t writing solely of that singular moment in the horrific chain of events; instead, journalist Janet Reitman was attempting to uncover “how a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam and became a monster.” Key words here:





    These terms are juxtaposed on the cover against what my iPinon colleague Debra DeAngelo describes as the “angelic face of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a morph of Jim Morrison and Eros.”

    You see, Murphy was 100 percent incorrect in his last statement; Tsarnaev was not “fluffed and buffed” for RS’ cover. In reality, that’s exactly what the “monster” looked like. He worked out regularly. He had piercing eyes, a baby face, and tousled hair. By all accounts he was social and charming, intelligent and quick to smile. The magazine photo was lifted from his Facebook account and had already been used by multiple mainstream news organizations before RS printed it. There was absolutely no “fluff”ing and buff”ing involved as Sgt. Murphy asserts.

    And as the editors of RS explain in the introduction, the article’s intent is “for us to examine the complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens.” Another key word we encounter here: “how” (this word also appears on the cover of the magazine.) And this exceptionally important question is not answered in the ephemeral moment of surrender captured in Murphy’s snapshot. Rather, it is best answered in the contradictory elements of Tsarnaev himself: the amiable and the evil, the charming and the disgusting, the angelic and the monstrous.

    A reasonable question you may have of me: If I truly shared Murphy’s and millions of other Americans’ ecstatic response to law enforcement’s speedy capture of Tsarnaev as I claimed above, why would I so vehemently defend RS’ decision? Why wouldn’t I simply join the chorus of calls for an RS boycott or demand they print a new edition with a photo more similar to Murphy’s version on the cover?

    Because, once again, it doesn’t answer the “how”, and it doesn’t offer us any clues as we, as a society, collectively scan the future for the next threat.

    The dynamics of war have changed. America’s enemies (whether they be school shooters, plane hijackers or bombers — whether they are amongst the mentally ill or the religiously deranged) don’t don crisp, easily-identifiable uniforms and line up on the opposite end of a battlefield.

    They sit in your 8 a.m. econ classes. They work out at Gold’s Gym. They party with your daughters.

    They smile sweetly for the yearbook.

    This particular one even smoked pot.

    They look a lot like your kids’ friends.

    Moving forward, it will be those who are willing to interrogate the deeply vexatious and degenerate parts of our societal shadows who arrive at the truth (even if the truth in some instances is merely the discovery of insanity). It won’t be the Sgt. Murphys, the magazine boycotters, or the easily offended who get us to arrive at this truth. It will be hard-hitting journalists like Reitman. It will be the psychologists, the criminologists, and all of those who make a living going places that others are too anxious to travel.

    Before you denounce something too quickly, why don’t you read the actual article? And just in case you’re going to stubbornly stand your ground and insist on not giving RS a single dime, we’ve provided a link to the article here for free. That way you can “stick it to ’em” at the same time you just maybe, possibly, perhaps learn a thing or two.

    And it’s important to learn. Because I can assure you of this: When I teach hundreds of young and impressionable college students daily, I often catch myself watching for subtle signs of danger in my classrooms — whether that danger stems from fundamentalist beliefs, abusive family lives, or mental health.

    But I have never kept my eye out for a bloodied student with a glowing dot on his forehead.


    • I just think let the psychologists do their jobs. The profiles have been around forever and we still have a hard time identifying with this type of person.I say the less publicity the better. They want their 5 minutes and whether they were coerced or chose this path for themselves, the less we read about them the better for the experts to figure out what went wrong. I would much rather focus on the goodness in life and leave the killers to themselves in prison/jail as they await their final verdict. I don’t read Rolling Stone so really have no interest in this article.

    • Also, we have so many things to worry about in the world. This guy is not high on my list.

      • David Lacy

      • July 21, 2013 at 12:55 pm
      • Reply

      Hi Madge! Hope you are well. Thanks for the comment stating your disinterest.

      • Hope you are well too David. I love your writing as you know this topic is just not my thing along with conspiracy theories (off topic). Would love to know how you are doing.

      • Jesse

      • July 21, 2013 at 1:28 pm
      • Reply

      Where’s the link. I appreciate the thought behind the article. As Debra said, Thing is, we Americans prefer soft. The only thing we hate more than exercise is thinking.” I think people would rather embrace the comfort of their own thought-beds, than get out and jog through the uncomfortable truths.

        • davidlacy

        • July 21, 2013 at 1:29 pm
        • Reply

        Hi Jesse! The link is highlighted green where it says “here.” Thanks for your reflective comment.

      • Kathleen Brotherton

      • March 23, 2014 at 4:31 pm
      • Reply

      Funny I happened upon this column today after raging about responsibility in journalism all day long. It’s so cliche but it echos in my head Jessep screaming from the stand “You can’t handle the truth!” We are a mess. We chase around the world inserting ourselves into cultures we don’t remotely understand and stick our heads up our collective rumps about what is going on here. That article was on point. Good for RS! RESPONSIBILITY IN JOURNALISM! TRUTH IS KING!

      • davidlacy

      • March 24, 2014 at 2:50 pm
      • Reply

      Thanks, Kathleen! And I completely, 100 percent agree!

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