Rolling Stone and Glass Houses

It is everywhere you look at the moment, the August edition Rolling Stone cover. I first saw it on Facebook prefaced by a comment from someone completely appalled by the implied “rock star treatment” of Dzharkhar Tsarnaev, one of the suspected Boston bombers. My initial shock shut my brain down and I had to step away from the computer.

I did not want to think about what it meant.

At the gym as I was working out on the crossramp some of the overhead televisions were tuned into a few different news channels and the image was once again put before me. I did not read the closed captioning or plug in my headphones, but I could see the facial expressions of the news casters and the people they interviewed. It churned my stomach.

Once at home before my computer, again there were comments on Facebook and Twitter about it. I even wondered if Rolling Stone was simply making a sensational ploy to up readership through controversy. I would not be surprised if that thought came up when the decision was being made to run with the story. Someone had to know the effect it would have on the public.

Then I read this article from The Huffington Post and I started to think about what it means to journalistic integrity to report on relevant topics. The fact that this is the cover of Rolling Stone smacks us in the face as an insult to the seriousness of the issue because we perceive the magazine to be exclusively an arts and entertainment magazine, therefore anything on their cover is an endorsement for what is pictured there.

But is that fair?

We see the image, the magazine title and the bold declaration “The Bomber” and stop there in shock and outrage. However, the subtext reads “how a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam, and became a monster.” Those are questions worth asking, and worth answering.

The more I think about it the more important I believe it is to understand. Not to absolve him of his guilt, if he is indeed guilty (remember it has not yet been proven in a court of law). I believe a person is responsible for his or her own actions, and should be held accountable for them. What I also believe is that the circumstances and relationships in a person’s life can influence the choices they make. Some decisions are easier to make by the way we see the world, even if those decisions go against the law.

It is important to get at and understand those influences if we want to improve the conditions of life and prevent human violence. Taking away access to objects of violence does not prevent violence. Weapons do not forge themselves and they certainly do not act on their own volition. Violence is an action taken by humans, either in impassioned response or with deliberate purpose. To stop violence we must understand the motivation behind it and only then can we truly take steps to avoid it by addressing the real issue, the human issue.

I sincerely hope that the Rolling Stone coverage does make a concerted effort to get at what was behind the choice. I am afraid that the fact that it is perceived as purely an entertainment magazine will prevent many from looking beyond that, as it almost did for me. Remember the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

So does it matter if it’s a publication like Rolling Stone or Psychology Today asking the questions and getting the answers? What publication would make it more palatable for you?

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