The Rolling Stone Tsarnaev cover

If you give mass murderers what they want, you get more mass murders. That’s what the RS Tsarnaev cover did.

Now that my blood pressure is back WNL, let me see if I can calmly explain why I’d like to see Jann Wenner and “the editors of the Rolling Stone(who lack the, errr … stones … to sign their own names) spend their next seven incarnations as arthritic, castrated hamsters for devoting a cover to a glamour shot of a mass murderer.

1. People who commit mass murder do it partly for notoriety.
2. They barely care what’s said about them; they want their pictures on the proverbial “cover of the Rolling Stone.” The actual photo the Stone chose to run portrayed Tsanaev as a rock star.
3. The more mass murder achieves its goal, the more likely people are to commit it.
4. Therefore, the Rolling Stone cover encourages mass murder.
5. People who, for money or from professional pride, encourage mass murder are lower than the whale sh*t at the bottom of the ocean.

Assuming, just for the purposes of argument, that there’s something valuable in the reporting, what did the cover contribute to that value, other than publicity? But it contributed substantially to the incentive offered the next Tsarnaev.

And to the newsstand sales and advertising revenues of the magazine.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

39 thoughts on “The Rolling Stone Tsarnaev cover”

  1. I’m glad your BP is lower (you might find an MD to prescribe something for that, it actually works pretty well), but do actually have some real data to back up those assertions? As opposed to RS’s Statement that the next Tsarnaev looks just like you and me, which was the point of the cover?

    1. No, the point of the cover was to sell magazines at the cost of guaranteeing the next clown his moment of fame.

  2. Geeze, we actually agree on something. Except that I’m going to continue my policy of referring to that clown as “that clown”, rather than giving him even the increment of notoriety entailed by mentioning his name.

    1. I’m with Brett and Mark on this one. I’m going to shuck my rational judgment and use this as an excuse to go to the casino tonight.

  3. The most outrageous precedent to come to mind was the November 1970 cover of Esquire featuring a broadly smiling Lt. William Calley in his Class A uniform holding four small Vietnamese children, his Combat Infantry Badge just behind the head of the smallest child. This came to mind the instant the image of the Rolling Stone cover came onto the computer screen.

    Perhaps Esquire just did it to be smart-assed; the Rolling Stone cover may have a different motivation. A widely smiling Boston bomber holding a couple of tow-headed kids the same age as the one he murdered would be required today to produce the same effect produced by the Esquire cover, done while Calley was on trial for the My Lai massacre. This is not what the Rolling Stone cover seems to be aiming at.

    If, as John Beaty suggests, the Rolling Stone cover has an educational intent, the cover of Lt. Calley may have also suggested that atrocities can be committed by All-American appearing lads.

    You cannot recognize evil at a glance; moral monsters may be passing you in the aisle of the supermarket without giving you alarm. OK; I get that.

    Failure to consider all of the likely consequences of their actions, however, suggests that even if the editors had exactly the intent that John suggests, they will have something to answer for if an unstable potential killer sees that cover and starts to think, “That could be me!”

    I do not think that the Calley cover of Esquire started anyone in Army OCS at the Fort Benning School for Boys to begin thinking, “Hey! How come him and not me?”

  4. Tempest in a teapot. The editors found a striking image that they thought said, “This guy’s backstory may be more complicated than you might think”, and as storytellers they used it. They gave the Kleimanian theory that journalists are supposed to punish alleged murderers with ugly pictures the degree of deference that it deserved.

    1. No, the theory is that they’re supposed to not encourage the next murderer, by giving them no reason to suppose killing a lot of people would get their name and face out there. Ugly photos, pretty ones, they’re both notoriety.

      1. With or without Rolling Stone, it’s obvious that in a society with a free press,
        killing a lot of people will indeed attract news coverage; and if the killer
        is identified, then, heck yeah, it will “get their name and face out there”. Duh.
        If you don’t like it, don’t buy Rolling Stone. But I suspect that ads for alcohol,
        cigarettes, guns, and fast cars have a vastly greater impact on death rates.

        1. AFAIK, it’s a “self-shot.” That clown is posing and preening like he’s f-king Jim Morrison.

          Do you remember the name of the Virginia Tech killer? Do you know the name of the serial killer nurse who poisoned IV bags in 8 hospitals in New Jersey, killing at least 30+ people? With a little bit of morals over dollars, the media can be broadly persuaded to tamp down coverage of homicidal psychopaths’ rampage and quest for fame.

          This dude is a vile, despicable, murdering fuck-nut. There’s no reason to do his PR for him and surround him in a halo of fame, importance, and glossy good looks, widely disseminating his visage with the imprimatur of a mainstream magazine that pretends to be the arbiter of cool. Disgusting.

    2. “They gave the Kleimanian theory that journalists are supposed to punish alleged murderers with ugly pictures the degree of deference that it deserved.”

      Thank you. Mark Kleiman: Rolling Stone runs a story about how a seemingly nice young man goes off the deep end and (allegedly) perpetrates an appalling crime. With the story, they run a nice-looking picture of the seemingly nice young man, with a caption that calls him a monster. The picture is one that is broadly recognizable, as it has been widely disseminated for months, having run on the front page of the New York Times and elsewhere. Could you calmly explain what the fk you’re talking about? This is some of the sloppiest thinking I’ve ever seen, and I have to say that I’ve seen rather a lot around here.

      1. Yes, I’ve already explained it, and rather doubt that you don’t understand me. But just in case: that picture, in that location was exactly what the murderer hoped to get from his crime, and exactly what will provide the incentive for the next murderer. It’s wrong to provide that incentive. This has nothing to do with censorship; I don’t claim that RS shouldn’t be free to publish it. I just think it was a sh*tty thing to do.

        1. ” that picture, in that location was exactly what the murderer hoped to get from his crime”

          Is that what the story says? Do you have some other source?

          Or are you just making up your own facts to support your silly tantrum?

          The theme of “the nice-seeming kid who does awful things” is not something RS invented to piss off self-righteous college professors.

        2. “That picture, in that location was exactly what the murderer hoped to get from his crime,”
          Completely false. The murderer expected to get away with it – i.e., he would never be identified with the crime.
          You’re in a hole here, Mark. Stop digging.

        3. that picture, in that location was exactly what the murderer hoped to get from his crime,

          Sorry Mark, that’s a few cases of what lawyers would call “assuming facts not in evidence”.

          First: we don’t KNOW, precisely, what Dzokhar Tsarnaev “wanted”: so far, he hasn’t said anything for public consumption.
          Secondly: he couldn’t know who would publish what kind of photo of him, and where.
          Third: “doing it all for the notoriety” is, at best, a guess (see Point #1) – the Tsarnaev brothers may have had some extremist
          political/religious goal in mind: maybe not; maybe they DID just set off bombs to get their faces on magazines: we don;t know for sure,
          and since RS didn’t exactly do a puff piece (did you read the article, or just get outraged over the cover?), it’s not like it’s some
          sort of PR coup.

  5. While you’re at it, you want to get Netflix to stop renting “Natural Born Killers”?

    Seriously, I think the media has zero responsibility here. Both because your theory is actually completely unproven (there’s no reason to think that people would stop committing terrorism if the media stopped “glamorizing” terrorists), and because it isn’t the job of the media to prevent terrorism anyway. It IS, however, the job of the media to inform people, and in this case the story of an ordinary, kind of cool kid turning into a mad Islamic bomber is compelling and completely worth telling. Including with the picture.

    People spend way, way, WAY too much time getting their knickers in a twist about this or that allegedly unethical action by the media. Thankfully we have a First Amendment.

  6. Umm, Mark? – it’s not a “glamor shot.” There was no “shoot” set up by Rolling Stone or anyone else. It’s not someone else’s effort to glamorize him. It’s a pic he himself took – a selfie. It’s an image that he liked – he used it for his twitter feed.

    I think the RS cover asks a provocative and important question: how could a kid with this image of himself be such a monster? This is not a loner who shaved his head or dressed in black or went around scowling and snarling at people. He was easy-going, well-liked, even sexy. His very existence upsets all that we think we know about human nature.

    1. i would add to that analysis the fact that this is the same photo that the new york times used on its front page shortly after the attack. by mr. kleiman’s logic that means the new york times also support mass murder. looking back at the archives i note that mr. kleiman made no mention of the use of that photo at the time is appeared there. i am forced to conclude that mr. kleiman is either engaged in very selective criticism or has not thought through what he’s suggesting.

      1. Apparently you two have no concept of the cultural significance of the cover of Rolling Stone. Every pissed-off yahoo in the Boston area gets it– they weren’t upset about the NYT picture, for instance– but not you two clever guys. Let me know when the Times has pictures of Green Day splashed across it’s entire front page because there’s a new album out.

  7. PS- there’s no indication that the Tsarnaevs were looking for notoriety. To the contrary, the evidence is that they thought they would get away with it.

    1. And a PS from me. I don’t think that Mark Kleiman is a thorough-going idiot; in fact, I think he’s really smart. But sometimes he lets a sort of inner idiot shine through, as he does here. If you, Mark, or anyone else, haven’t read Matt Taibbi’s commentary on the Rolling Stone cover controversy (such as it is), I think you ought to, here:

      1. Ah, I see you actually linked to the Matt Taibbi article, which you don’t bother to engage. You say “Assuming, just for the purposes of argument, that there’s something valuable in the reporting, what did the cover contribute to that value, other than publicity? But it contributed substantially to the incentive offered the next Tsarnaev. And to the newsstand sales and advertising revenues of the magazine.”

        Matt actually answers your question about what the cover contributes, so you might want to go read his comments again. You offer no argument for your assertion that the cover contributes to the incentive offered the next Tsarnaev, probably because you have none. And to your last point, I should hope that the editors and publishers of every magazine would try to maximize their sales and revenues. They’re all in danger of going bust, depriving their poor children of food and shelter. You think magazines shouldn’t try to sell copies?

        1. Taibbi’s apologia is utter crap. So what if RS does a lot of serious news? That’s not what’s on the cover photo week after week after week after week, and the cover photo is what people are complaining about.

          1. Matt Taibbi:

            “But the jarringly non-threatening image of Tsarnaev is exactly the point of the whole story. If any of those who are up in arms about this cover had read Janet’s piece, they would see that the lesson of this story is that there are no warning signs for terrorism, that even nice, polite, sweet-looking young kids can end up packing pressure-cookers full of shrapnel and tossing them into crowds of strangers.

            Thus the cover picture is not intended to glamorize Tsarnaev. Just the opposite, I believe it’s supposed to frighten. It’s Tsarnaev’s very normalcy and niceness that is the most monstrous and terrifying thing about him. The story Janet wrote about the modern terrorist is that you can’t see him coming. He’s not walking down the street with a scary beard and a red X through his face. He looks just like any other kid.”

            I think some people need to get to work untwisting their ridiculous knickers.

          2. Speaking of ridiculous twists… the “you can’t know nothing about who’s going to be a terrorist” angle is crap. His brother was the leader, and there were lots of signs that he was a powder keg. There’s no way Joker does anything like this without him. And — guess what– that means if you stop Tamerlane you stop the plot. So it’s even harmful on that level. Imagine the next kid who thinks he might stop a school shooting, but thinks that there’s no way to predict violence. This is a really sweet combination of being destructive and not being true.
            I get that it’s cool to be a contrarian (“oooh, all you squares think that the bad guys wear black hats and twirl mustaches”), but all they’re really doing is getting in the news by being douchey.

  8. Clearly it’s an object of veneration for some people but it seems unlikely that many wannabe Islamist terrorists worship Rolling Stone.

      1. /thread-winner.

        Seriously, toasters nailed it.

        Jan Wenner should be ashamed, if he’s even capable of that.

    1. Dorettas you are quite correct with this:

      … it seems unlikely that many wannabe Islamist terrorists worship Rolling Stone.

      Agreed. Islamist terrorists overarching desire is to kill as many infidels as they can.
      That’s what they are about. If they could blow up Rolling Stone headquarters they would.
      Their rewards are all in the afterlife:

      Quran (4:74): “Let those fight in the way of Allah who sell the life of this world for the other. Whoso fighteth in the way of Allah, be he slain or be he victorious, on him We shall bestow a vast reward.”

      So you are correct they don’t give a happy shit about being on the cover of Rolling Stone. On the other hand I think your perspective is wrong. It’s not about him or them. It is about us. And many of us do give a shit about seeing this Muslim chimpanzee, who blew off the legs of our fellow Americans at a footrace no less, on the cover of the Rolling Stone. I don’t have much an intellectual defense for why that cover strikes me as depraved and tasteless. But it bothers me. It pisses me off. There is something fundamentally emotionally wrong about it. It is an invasion of decency. The word “shameful” comes to mind…

      And as far as Hershel’s quote from Taibi:

      …they would see that the lesson of this story is that there are no warning signs for terrorism…

      Oh please. That’s just after-the-fact apologetic bullshit. Matt is over-generalizing a special case to the nth power. There often are warning signs. As proof consider the Chechnya part of Chechnya and Chong. The older brother laid down plenty of tracks that he was on the road to Allah idolatry. In point of fact: Our security apparatus blew it when they took him off the watch list.

  9. 1. Politicians like notoriety.
    2. They often hire photographers and press secretaries to hype their notoriety.
    3. Killing innocent people may not be a goal — just collateral damage — but our politicians seem to rack up some pretty impressive number nonetheless.
    4. Most of our press not only publishes their pictures, but actively editorializes in favor of the actions that bring our politicians notoriety.
    5. Presidents don’t get paid all that much compared to some other mass or serial killers, but they do seem to take some professional pride in what they do.

    Look, Tsarnaev did something unacceptable, but most of us seem to not sweat things too much when we doing such things to others far away, yet find themselves standing close enough to someone we accuse of terrorism to end up as “collateral damage.” One is reminded of the fact that suicide bombers are the poor man’s F-16. Given suicide was not the objective here, I’d say pressure cooker bombs are the poor man’s drone. I have a colleague who seems to start every conversation he has about Obama with “baby killer,” which I find a bit over the top — but that doesn’t make it any less true. And in the great American tradition, he’s just more efficient at it than the last guy, and the next guy — or gal, considering Hilary is planning a run — will be even more efficient at such things, if perhaps no pickier than about discriminating the good from the bad than a deerhunter — or some rather less efficient fellows with exploding kitchenware.

  10. You diss whale poop quite unfairly. Unlike that of fish, it floats. And provides a vital service: “By consuming prey at depth and defecating iron-rich liquid faeces into the photic zone, sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) instead stimulate new primary production and carbon export to the deep ocean.” Lavery et al in the Proceedings of the Royal Society.

    1. James, you write well, you think clearly, and you know a lot of stuff.

      But what in the world, in your entire lifetime of education and experience, caused that bit of obscure knowledge to have been implanted in your brain?

      …or did you simply read Mark’s comment and think “I wonder what Google knows about whale poop?”

  11. If we are on to whale poop, I think we can declare this topic beaten into submission, and I will take responsibility for what I suspect everybody has been thinking, the song that makes the venue at issue “proverbial” (M. Kleiman): Dr Hook – “Cover Of The Rolling Stone” (Live from BBC show 1980), Listen up.

    1. Recall the RS cover with a characature of Hook and the band eblazoned with the caption, “What’s Their Names Made It”.
      My point being that Rolling Stone is capable of using the cover to editorialize by illustration. The photo is OK but they could have juctopposed it to another shot to show the monstrosity the story is examining.
      In the art field I constantly come up against a misunderstanding most people have. People think a photo is reality. It isn’t. A photogragh is an artistic construct, made and selected to comminicate an idea.
      An illustration that misrepresents a news story is the same as a misleading headline.

  12. There’s something to talk about here but has nothing to do with facts or logic, it seems to me.

    Mark’s assumptions/logic seem to me entirely unsupportable, created to justify some very deep feelings, not the other way around b

    Clearly there are some very deep feelings involved. Feelings so profound to the people having them that they can’t believe everyone else isn’t having them too.

    I am one of the people who doesn’t share them. I don’t believe I’m any more inclined to support mass murder than Mark or anyone else around here.

    If your feelings about this are so overwhelming that you can’t accept that, you might want to spend some time thinking about why that is.

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