SOUTHERN UTAH — It was a question forever memorialized by children’s poet Shel Silverstein and 1970s one-hit-wonder Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show: What does it take to get on the cover of the Rolling Stone?
In its August 3 issue, the magazine has answered that question in a way that has left many people outraged and scratching their heads. The cover features a glamorous photograph of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The cover story is titled, “The Bomber: How a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam and became a monster.”
The photograph on the cover is “very offensive,” said St. George resident Sheryl Kitchen, 50, who was nearing the finish line in Boston as the bomb went off on April 15. Every time a controversy like this happens, she said, it brings back all of the memories and emotions of that day.
Kitchen said that it is the cover itself, rather than the biographical sketch of Tsarnaev in the cover story, that is her real concern. “We all know how much a picture plays on the emotions,” she said.
Boston Mayor Tom Menino said in a letter to Rolling Stone’s publisher that the cover was “ill-conceived, at best” and that it “re-affirms a terrible message that destruction gains fame for killers.”
Now, following the directives of their corporate headquarters – or in some cases of independent grocers that of their wholesale distributor, Associated Food Stores – many retailers in Southern Utah and around the country are keeping the issue off their shelves.
Albertsons, Lin’s Fresh Market, and Walgreens were among those stores that will not be carrying the issue. Local managers at these locations declined to comment, saying only that they were following the direction of their corporate offices.
Other retailers in the area have received no direction from corporate offices to withhold the issue. These include Barnes and Noble, Smith’s, and Target. The management of the Barnes and Noble at Red Cliffs Mall said only that the location always carries the magazine and had never received directions from the company to pull this issue.
Harmons Neighborhood Grocer corporate offices in Salt Lake County did not respond to calls.
Kitchen said that stores’ decision whether or not to carry the issue will affect her shopping preferences. “That’s how strongly I feel about it,” she said.
“That’s American to me, that they’re fighting against it,” Kitchen said of the stores that are boycotting the issue. She said that if she were a local store manager or franchise owner who was directed by company headquarters to keep copies of the issue on the shelves, she would still do whatever was in her power to keep them off.
Kitchen said that the cover shows a side of Tsarnaev that gives the wrong impression to the public. “The picture does not portray him in the light that we saw him in,” she said.
Massachusetts State Police Sgt. Sean Murphy reacted to the cover by leaking a series of photographs from the night of Tsarnaev’s arrest to Boston Magazine, saying that they depict the face of the “real Boston bomber.”
“The survivors of the Boston attacks deserve Rolling Stone cover stories,” Menino said, “although I no longer feel that Rolling Stone deserves them.”
But some retailers defended Rolling Stone’s claim that the cover story “falls within the traditions of journalism.”
“It is understandable that some people may strongly oppose the content of a particular title or magazine and choose not to purchase it; we respect their opinions,” Barnes and Noble posted on its Facebook page. “In return, we ask that our customers respect our responsibility to offer a selection of reading materials as diverse as the society in which we live.”
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