The cover subject on the August issue of the popular U.S. music and pop culture magazine "Rolling Stone" looks at the camera with placid brown eyes, dark tousled curls framing his face.
Carefully trimmed beard stubble surrounds his full lips. His T-shirt has a whimsical, abstract print and his right arm is slightly raised, suggesting a casual pose.
He could easily be a rock musician or Hollywood sex symbol, "Rolling Stone's" usual cover subjects.
But he's Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old Chechen-American who has been charged with detonating two bombs at the Boston Marathon on April 15, killing three people and wounding more than 260.
It's a sharp departure from how Tsarnaev is usually depicted in the U.S. media, as America's worst nightmare: a homegrown terrorist.
"Rolling Stone's" August cover featuring Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (click to enlarge)
The magazine's cover headline, in large black letters, reads: "The Bomber." In smaller type, it says, "How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster."
'Shame On The Staff At Rolling Stone'
Almost immediately after it went online, the cover image went viral, eliciting shocked and furious reactions from thousands of people who accused the magazine of trying to make a suspected terrorist appear sexy and alluring.
"Rolling Stone's" Facebook page
has been flooded with enraged comments and expletive-filled messages, many from longtime subscribers saying they have canceled their subscription or regular readers vowing never to buy another issue.
"Been a subscriber since 1982 -- cancelling tonight. I am beyond words...."
"Why would you put this [expletive deleted] on your cover? Is that a joke? That's disgusting to use this face on the cover of a music/entertainment magazine."
"What a slap in the face to the great city of Boston and the Marathon Bombing victims. How...dare you put a mass murderer on the cover of your magazine, like making bombs in a pressure cooker and plant[ing] them in a public place to harm thousands of people is a 'rock star' thing to do. Never again will I ever buy a copy of Rolling Stone."
"Subscription CANCELLED...F*** YOU GUYS!"
One commenter wrote, "Shame on the staff at Rolling Stone" and listed the names and ages of the three victims who died in the bombings.
The Twittersphere has also been inundated:
"What a heinously tone deaf @RollingStone cover with the Boston Marathon bomber on its cover. Horrible."
"Being on cover of Rolling Stone use to be for musicians & movie stars. I find Dzhokhar Tsarnaev looking like a rock star on it offensive."
Touching A Raw Nerve
The issue is on newsstands but the Tsarnaev article is not posted as free content on its website. The magazine's editors describe the article
by contributing editor Janet Reitman as "a deeply reported account of the life and times of Boston bomber Jahar Tsarnaev."
It says Reitman spent the last two months interviewing dozens of Tsarnaev's friends, classmates, teachers, police officers, and neighbors and has written "a riveting and heartbreaking account of how a charming kid with a bright future became a monster."
The public's unhappiness has begun to resonate with businesses. Two nationwide retailers, CVS and Walgreens pharmacies, have announced they won't carry the issue, as has a New England-based chain of convenience stores.
This isn't the first time the rumpled-looking photo of Tsarnaev has been printed in the press. And while "Rolling Stone" primarily covers music and pop culture, it also has a reputation for serious, award-winning journalism
on a wide range of subjects, from foreign policy to the environment.
But the combination of Tsarnaev's innocent-looking photo under the iconic "Rolling Stone" banner -- a name that automatically imparts celebrity cache -- has clearly touched a nerve in a country still waiting for justice in the case.
Hours after the controversy erupted, "Rolling Stone" published a response on its Facebook page:
"Our hearts go out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, and our thoughts are always with them and their families. 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 EDITORS"