Rolling Stone's decision to put a handsome-looking photo of Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover has turned everyone into a media critic -- not necessarily in a good way.
Massachusetts politicians have denounced the magazine. Drugstores such as CVS and Walgreens and other retailers have refused to carry the issue, a troubling move. Thousands of people have gone online to urge the magazine to reconsider its cover choice.
Most of the outrage focuses on the cover image, a self-taken photo in which Tsarnaev looks like a ... rock star.
"The choice of Tsarnaev's selfie for the cover does nothing to clear matters up and everything to muddy the parsing of his meaning in the public square," writes Ty Burr in a column for the Boston Globe. "The subhead dutifully calls him a monster, but there's nothing that visually contravenes the notion that he's a star. Given the human suffering he's alleged to have caused, the irresponsibility takes one's breath away."
But why? Osama bin Laden's image was all over after the September 11 attacks, including a not unflattering photo on the cover of Time magazine.
Or is it that Rolling Stone generally puts rock stars on its cover and is thus seen to be affording Dzhokhar rock star status? Folks who have delved into Rolling Stone history reveal that the magazine had Charles Manson on its cover in 1970. Surely, the magazine was not endorsing his rampage.
Besides, the photo has to be put in context.
"The image on the cover is paired with the headline, 'The Bomber: How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed By His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster,'" Peter Scheer writes on Truthdig. "That doesn't sound very glamorous."
Of course, fringe media commentators are engaging in their own outrageous spin.
"Extremists are trying to recruit young people for jihad, that is just a known fact," said Steve Doocy on "Fox and Friends." "And this could give jihad another recruiting tool. Seventy-two virgins? That's interesting to some. But the cover of the Rolling Stone? That's delicious."
A troubling aspect here is that few people seem to have read the story. The piece by Janet Reitman, a contributing editor to Rolling Stone, is far from complimentary to the Tsarnaev brothers and adds previously unknown details to their sordid tale, such as the fact that the brothers' mom confided to a friend that Tamerlan suffered from serious mental issues.
But the more disturbing element here is how people want to insulate themselves against bad news, especially if it hits too close to home. We are living in a culture of denial.
The denunciations of Rolling Stone reveal something worrying about us.
Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of The Progressive and co-editor of the Progressive Media Project, is the author of "Islam" Means Peace: Understanding the Muslim Principle of Nonviolence Today (Praeger).