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.