NEW YORK — Sultry eyes burn into the camera lens from behind tousled curls. A scruff of sexy beard and loose T-shirt are bathed in soft, yellow light.
The close-up of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of Rolling Stone to hit shelves Friday looks more like a young Bob Dylan or Jim Morrison than the 19-year-old who pleaded not guilty a little more than a week ago in the Boston Marathon bombing, his arm in a cast and his face swollen in court.
Has the magazine, with its roundly condemned cover, offered the world its first rock star of an alleged Islamic terrorist?
“I can't think of another instance in which one has glamorized the image of an alleged terrorist,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a communications professor and the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
Public outrage was swift. At least five retailers said they would not sell the issue.
With cover teasers for other stories on Willie Nelson, Jay-Z and Robin Thicke, it declares for the Tsarnaev story: “The Bomber. How a Popular, Promising Student was Failed by His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster.”
Rolling Stone did not address whether the photo was edited or filtered in any way in a brief statement offering condolences to bombing survivors and the loved ones of the dead.
“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 statement said.
Rolling Stone said the cover story was part of its “long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day.” Putting criminals and alleged criminals on the covers of major magazines is justified if they are major news figures, said Samir Husni, a journalism professor who heads the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi. Twitter commenters condemned the magazine. Many cursed. Others expressed sadness and still more vowed never to read or purchase the magazine again.
Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino spoke for them in a letter he dashed off to Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner accusing the magazine of offering Tsarnaev “celebrity treatment” and calling the cover “ill-conceived, at best,” in that it supports the “terrible message that destruction gains fame for killers and their 'causes.”'