NYT Columnist: Rolling Stone 'Committed An Act of Journalism' With Tsarnaev Cover

During a report on Wednesday's NBC Nightly News on the widely panned cover of Rolling Stone magazine featuring Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a sound bite was included of New York Times media columnist David Carr defending the offensive display: "I think that Rolling Stone committed an act of journalism in both publishing this photo and publishing the story that they did." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Throughout the segment, NBC correspondent John Yang described the near-universal condemnation of the cover, but led up to Carr's commentary by declaring: "Rolling Stone has a history of serious journalism, like the story that led to the resignation of U.S. Afghanistan commander, General Stanley McChrystal. In 1970, Charles Manson appeared on Rolling Stone's cover, and other news magazines have had controversial covers, including Hitler and Osama Bin Laden on the front of Time."

On Thursday's Today, advertising executive Donny Deutsch acknowledged the controversy, but then attempted to justify the terrorist's promotion: "The message they're trying to say to us is we need to look within. It scares us, it repulses us, but that's actually the importance of it. The fact that he could have looked like a kid on – and so it's not this distant terrorism, it's within us. And I think, journalistically, that's what they're trying to do....there's an important message in there."

Co-host Savannah Guthrie pushed back: "Yeah, but do you think that they just didn't get it? That that may have been their intent, but they didn't – they underestimated what the reaction would be?"

Deutsch proclaimed:

No. That was their intent, both from a marketing point of a view and a journalistic point of view. And as I said, this is a youth culture magazine, and what they're trying to say, the very thing we're outraged about, is the same nerve that's, "Wait a second, that looks like a kid that could have ended up a rock star. That's not somebody with a turban, that's a part of our youth culture." And that's the frightening part and that's what – we're having this discussion, and that's what's great about it.

Guthrie wondered: "Do you think the fact that this has stirred controversy is ultimately good for magazine sales?" Deutsch announced: "Of course it's good for magazine sales, but more importantly, it's good for the discussion that needs to continue."


Here is a portion of Yang's July 17 Nightly News report:

7:09PM ET

(...)

JOHN YANG: Tsarnaev used the picture for his Twitter profile, it's the same photo that illustrated a New York Times front page profile of him in May. The goal of any cover is to sell magazines, but some big retailers, like drugstore chains CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid, quickly said this issue won't be sold in their stores.

In a statement, Rolling Stone editors said their "hearts go out to the victims." They said the cover story "falls within the traditions of journalism" and the magazine's "commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage."

YANG: Rolling Stone has a history of serious journalism, like the story that led to the resignation of U.S. Afghanistan commander, General Stanley McChrystal. In 1970, Charles Manson appeared on Rolling Stone's cover, and other news magazines have had controversial covers, including Hitler and Osama Bin Laden on the front of Time.

DAVID CARR [NEW YORK TIMES]: I think that Rolling Stone committed an act of journalism in both publishing this photo and publishing the story that they did.

YANG: But the photo is generating strong reactions from so many. John Yang, NBC News, Chicago.   

Here is a full transcript of Guthrie's July 18 exchange with Deutsch on Today:

7:16AM ET

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: I want to bring in Donny Deutsch quickly about this. I mean, Rolling Stone, in the business of selling magazines. I don't think anyone has an issue with the content of the article itself, but there's something about this cover that really strikes a very emotional cord for so many people.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Rolling Stone Cover Controversy; Outrage And Boycotts Over Bombing Suspect's Image]

DONNY DEUTSCH: Look, everybody, all of us, obviously, certainly the police officer [Richard Donahue], we all have – our outrageous feeling about that is justified on every level, but the outrage of it is also set against the backdrop – the very reason they did it, he looks like any kid that would be on the cover of Rolling Stone. He – this is a kid who five years ago was a popular kid. The message they're trying to say to us is we need to look within. It scares us, it repulses us, but that's actually the importance of it. The fact that he could have looked like a kid on – and so it's not this distant terrorism, it's within us. And I think, journalistically, that's what they're trying to do. Does everybody have the right to be outraged? Of course we do. But there's an important message in there.

GUTHRIE: Yeah, but do you think that they just didn't get it? That that may have been their intent, but they didn't – they underestimated what the reaction would be?

DEUTSCH: No. That was their intent, both from a marketing point of a view and a journalistic point of view. And as I said, this is a youth culture magazine, and what they're trying to say, the very thing we're outraged about, is the same nerve that's, "Wait a second, that looks like a kid that could have ended up a rock star. That's not somebody with a turban, that's a part of our youth culture." And that's the frightening part and that's what – we're having this discussion, and that's what's great about it.

GUTHRIE: Very quickly, do you think the fact that this has stirred controversy is ultimately good for magazine sales?

DEUTSCH: Of course it's good for magazine sales, but more importantly, it's good for the discussion that needs to continue. It's easy for us to walk away from these things two months later, and we're not.

GUTHRIE: Donny Deutsch, thank you very much.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC