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Rolling Stone’s long history of putting killers on covers

Jul 17, 2013

Rolling Stone magazine – the last bastion of the old-school glossy magazines, and one of the most storied (formerly) counter-culture magazines to make it corporate – has put Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the front cover.

Does he have a new single out? No. Is he promoting a movie? No. Is he sort of dreamy? Well, yeah. Did he kill a whole bunch of people at the behest of his brother? Yeah. Will it sell magazines? Probably. Should we be surprised? Well, no.

Rolling Stone has a short but memorable history of putting murderers on covers, including Charles Manson and OJ Simpson (to be fair, he was on the cover before he murdered his ex-wife and her boyfriend). The fact is: Rolling Stone is a business. They have to sell magazines in a world where selling physical magazines happens less and less. The fact is, putting one of the most recognizable faces of the year on the cover will sell more copies. That, amigos, is just the way it is.

Was it the morally right thing to do? No, but someone has to keep the lights on at Rolling Stone and gosh-be-darned Lena Dunham was already on the cover this year. You can’t be shocked at a magazine inviting controversy to sell a few more papers: their choice of image might smack of Jim Morrison but we live in a very weird time for physical magazine to exist. Dzhokhar on the cover will likely incite conversation about the bombing and about the media’s role in deifying the malleable budding extremist.

So, was it wrong? Most likely. Will it sell, ballpark figure, 1000-3000 physical copies more than it would if it was someone else on the cover? Probably. But no one should be surprised. The fact is, whether you like it or not, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of a magazine is just another sign of a dying print medium.

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Images: Rolling Stone

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