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Sherman Says: The ‘Rolling Stone’ agenda is full of misplaced sympathy

HAMBURG — The Aug. 1, 2013, edition of “Rolling Stone” magazine will go down in history as one of the most polarizing publications of all time. Its nearly life-sized cover photo of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev begs for sympathy it won’t find here.

Contributing Editor Janet Reitman’s article was crafted to explain to us how a young man could become an alleged killer. She apparently wanted readers to feel sorry for him and offers numerous examples of how his family and community “failed” him, as well as why we are all to blame.

She goes to great lengths to glamorize his short stint as a wrestler and shamelessly describes his sale and use of marijuana in some of the most carefree and accepting words ever printed. That may be the norm in Cambridge, Mass., but it is not how successful young men and women succeed.

“To make money, he dealt pot. One friend from his dorm says he always had big Tupperware® containers of weed in his fridge,” Reitman wrote.

The picture she painted showed Tsarnaev as a lazy, sulking young man who was fair game for any cause that would inspire him to seek the hero worship that comes from martyrdom. Her story documented the lives of his parents, one hardship at a time. Poverty, food stamps and other forms of public assistance were commonplace.

His is hardly a unique tale. More often than not, these stories have a tragic ending. But some end as successes that inspire others to press ahead, instead of giving up. But Tsarnaev gave up. His father worked as a mechanic for $10 an hour. His mother, who denied her sons were involved in the bombings, is described by a friend as warm, talkative and very glamorous. The same friend said Tsarnaev “looked like an angel.”

The author’s quotes were chosen carefully, from a collection of positive comments offered by classmates, friends and a coach. Reitman was also able to preserve others’ cute nicknames for the bombing suspect, including “Jo-Jo,” “Jahar” and “Jizz.”

A coach who was quoted in the article stated that Tsarnaev was a good kid. “And apparently, he’s also a monster.”

That conflict in the suspect’s personality is similar to reaction to the use of the cover photo and the article itself. Personally, I feel the cover glamorizes the public image of a man who is accused of an act that resulted in the deaths of three people and the wounding of 264 others. One police officer was killed in the ensuing manhunt.

Tsarnaev does not deserve the Hollywood treatment the magazine afforded him last week. His police mug shot would have been more appropriate for the cover. Its design fits the magazine’s primary focus on music and entertainment, yet no one was entertained, on April 15 in Boston.

The same photo was published alongside newspaper stories, but articles are a far cry from a glossy periodical’s cover that headlined Willie Nelson, Jay-Z and Robin Thicke, in addition to “The Bomber. How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster.”

Thankfully, our democracy allows for freedom of the press, as well as freedom of expression. Here is what the magazine’s management had to say:

“The cover story we are publishing this week falls within the traditions of journalism and “Rolling Stone’s” long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day. The fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is young and in the same age group as many of our readers makes it all the more important for us to examine the complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens.”

The magazine has created a great divide between generations and those of differing political and social viewpoints. It is a gap as wide as the debate surrounding the Vietnam War, more than four decades ago. If this criminal is found guilty, Tsarnaev’s sentence should include a lifetime without sympathy.

David Sherman is the managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at

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