“On the Cover of the Rolling Stone”

The latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine features a picture of Boston bombing suspect Jahar Tsarnaev on its cover. The backlash on social media and everywhere else has been overwhelmingly negative. As distasteful as the decision to put this boy on the cover is, I find the calls for as boycott and/or closure of the magazine to be even more distasteful. Here is a novel idea: if you don’t like the latest cover of Rolling Stone, don’t buy it! But to refuse to carry the magazine, like drugstore giant CVS and mini-mart monster Tedeschi Foods, or to call for its overall demise, is a clear violation of the First Amendment. When we begin to censure magazines because we do not like what they print or the people they put on their covers we are engaging in the most undemocratic, un-American activity of all: censorship.

I find it curious, but not surprising, that most of the anti-Rolling Stone rhetoric is coming from the far right. The very group that claims to be patriotic is actually the least patriotic of all. It’s one thing to condemn the magazine for its decision, but quite another to attempt to force that magazine into submission for printing what makes most people uncomfortable. I have not read the article, so I cannot comment on its journalistic merit at this time, but the overall anti-Rolling Stone rhetoric is disturbing. In the comments section of a number of online news stories about the piece one can read just how dangerous the rhetoric has become. Some of the talk is constructive and sensible, like Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick’s remarks, but others are downright scary, like the man who sees this as some sort of liberal conspiracy to push a homosexual agenda in the United States. I have no idea what that man is talking about, but I will also defend his right to say what he says.

I find Rolling Stone’s decision to put Tsarnaev on its cover extremely disturbing, but I will defend the magazine’s right to do just that. When we begin traveling down a path that leads to a place where censorship is acceptable, we leave behind the chief tenet of our democracy. A society that does not allow for free speech is not a free society, pure and simple. Part of living in a free and open society involves being offended from time to time. This week the cover of Rolling Stone has offended me, but that won’t keep me from defending its right to be offensive.

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3 thoughts on ““On the Cover of the Rolling Stone”

  1. I’m not surprised that such criticism is coming from the far right. Remember that this is the group that, on the one hand, thinks it should be illegal to burn the American flag (a symbolic act of protest which ironically secures our right to be “Americans” as stated under the Bill of Rights) and, on the other hand, believes we should be able to carry assault rifles without background checks (a literal and lethal method of unrestricted and lawless violence).

    Here is the only place I might disagree with you: stores like CVS are no more arbiters of American rights or morality than the Food Network or Walmart was with regards Paula Deen. They are businesses, pure and simple. Certainly there was more at stake for a Food Network and its association with Deen, and I’m not unhappy they dropped her; but, I’m not convinced that was an ethical decision for them. And, while I’d love to believe that J.C. Penny stayed with Ellen DeGeneres because they felt a moral obligation to stand up against those 1 million homophobic “moms,” the truth of capitalism suggests they were convinced that ultimately Ellen would be “good business.” So, while I think we certainly do need to hold business accountable to ethical practices (like anti-censorship), it’s the American people who dictate whether ethics is ultimately a winning proposition. The far right has increasingly made a habit of being on the wrong side of this equation.

    I personally am interested in reading the article. While I actually don’t have a problem with seeing him on a cover per se (he’s on every TV screen across the country), I completely understand the problematic symbolism of him being on the cover of a magazine whose covers glamorize rock stars. I’ll read it, though, because, as an educator (and an American), I feel obligated to examine both the beautiful and the ugly, to address conflict, and to never stop asking questions.

  2. Ummm…I don’t think the First Amendment means what you think it means. Go read it maybe. It applies to government “prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech…” See there, it’s about the making of laws, not a private citizen or a business exercising their own judgement in wether they sell or do not sell a magazine.

    • I actually think I understand it pretty well, Bill. I am also really bothered by the action Rolling Stone took, like you are, but I was defending their right to do it. My concern over CVS is that corporations are powerful and can engage in a cultural warfare that will determine where and how we are engaged as citizens. Therefore I was attacking capitalism. But by your tone I’m sure you know all of this already since you seem to think you’ve figured me out.

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