WashPost's Media Blogger Bemoans 'Tedious Outrage Machine' Upset with Rolling Stone's Tsarnaev Cover

July 17th, 2013 5:53 PM

Updated below: Wemple doubles down | Are you genuinely offended and angered by Rolling Stone magazine putting a glamour-style photograph of Boston bombing suspect Dzokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of its August 1 edition, plugging its corresponding cover story, "The Bomber," by promising readers a look at "How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster"?

You are? Well, you're certainly not alone, but Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple thinks you're just another cog in "our country's tedious outrage machine." From his July 17 blog post filed shortly before 11 a.m. and headlined, "To Rolling Stone detractors: Please":

Today the output of our country’s tedious outrage machine relates to the above Rolling Stone cover about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (also spelled Jahar). It glamorizes him. It turns him . . . actually, there’s no point in summarizing the objections. Why not just skim Twitter for 1.5 seconds and find multiple representative samples

Wemple then ran through a few tweets before explaining why he responds to the Rolling Stone stunt with a stifled yawn:


*Presumably the protesters would have a tabloid treatment in which Rolling Stone would place horns on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Perhaps that would have made this nonsense go away.

*This is good journalism, as the photo depicts the same Dzhokhar Tsarnaev that The Post and the New York Times — and others — depicted in deeply reported pieces. That is, a regular, good guy with friends, interests and activities — a “joker,” even.

*Showing this alleged bomber in his full humanity makes him appear even more menacing.

*Some are saying that Rolling Stone is exploiting this image — this story — for commercial gain. Well, Rolling Stone is a magazine. It exploits all its stories for commercial gain, some more effectively than others.

Of course, the outrage is real, is not ideologically centered, and appears to be spreading. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (D) -- no right-wing outrage machine-type he -- has expressed his displeasure, and national pharmacy chains CVS, Rite-Aid, and Walgreens have all pledged to pull the offensive Rolling Stone edition from their magazine aisles.

Update (18:15 EDT): In a subsequent blog post, Wemple noted Rolling Stone's defense of their cover and quoted their statement, before adding his reaction. Rolling Stone didn't go far enough, Wemple whined (emphasis mine):

Not bad. The Erik Wemple Blog, however, would have gone further, stating the photo in question jibes with the impression of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev that has emerged from countless interviews with friends and schoolmates who have spent a great deal of time with him. Thus, it’s an accurate and journalistically responsible portrayal of this young man. Publishing it thus represents the fulfillment of Rolling Stone’s obligation to its readers, and is no affront to the victims of this terrible bombing.

An "accurate and journalistically responsible portrayal" might also include a yearbook photograph of Tsarnaev or perhaps a photograph of him in transit from jail to the federal courthouse. It need not be the glamourous selfie that RS editors opted to go for and which calls to mind iconic cover photos like Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison.