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The Face of Terror | Police and Rolling Stone Paint Two Different Pictures

By Jules Ebe on July 20th 2013

If you were online at all this week, you may have seen or heard the controversy over Rolling Stones recent cover, featuring a social network selfie of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, known to his friends and teachers as Jahar, and the rest of the world as the Boston Bomber.


Some believe that the cover glamorizes Tsarnaev, depicting him as a rock ‘n roll outlaw rather than a terrorist. With several deaths and hundreds with serious injures, critics state that the magazine’s decision to allow the “cover [to be] dropped into Boston was hurtful to their memories and their families.”


Sgt. Sean Murphy, a tactical photographer with the Massachusetts State Police, is furious with the magazine and he made sure we all knew why. This week, Murphy decided to protest in the form of an exclusive release of tactical photographs of Tsarnaev’s capture leaked to Boston magazine.

I hope that the people who see these images will know that this was real. It was as real as it gets.




And it only got more real when the sergeant was relieved of duty late Thursday evening, when his computer, badge, and gun were removed from his home. What disciplinary action will take place has not been released and a status hearing is pending to determine his role during an internal police investigation.

“Photography is very simple, it’s very basic. It brings us back to the cave. An image like this on the cover of Rolling Stone, we see it instantly as being wrong,” Murphy shares. “What Rolling Stone did was wrong. This guy is evil. This is the real Boston bomber. Not someone fluffed and buffed for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.”

Murphy is not alone. Boston Mayor Tom Menino and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, struck fast, accusing the magazine of offering Tsarnaev “celebrity treatment”.

So eye for an eye – or in this case, photo for a photo.


Rolling Stone defended its decision to run the cover, stating that it “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.”

Should this Matter?

Terrorism, domestic or foreign, is a sensitive issue. Does this make the portrait of a young man an attack against the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing?


The Rolling Stone cover accompanied a feature written by journalist Janet Reitman. Centered around “Suspect #2”, the article grapples with the question that many of us ask – why? In the article she writes,

He was charming kid with a bright future. But no one saw the pain he was hiding or the monster he would become.

When I purchased my own copy of the controversial Rolling Stone, I was able to chat with the newsstand worker.

We’ve been asked to take it down, but we’ve decided not to. This is news, and it is not our job to decide what news people are allowed to read.

Retailer Backlash

It looks like several retailers vow to not sell the volume in their stores. “CVS/pharmacy has decided not to sell the current issue of Rolling Stone featuring a cover photo of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect,” the Rhode Island-based pharmacy chain said in a statement. “As a company with deep roots in New England and a strong presence in Boston, we believe this is the right decision out of respect for the victims of the attack and their loved ones.”

Other chains include Rite-Aid, Walgreens, and local supermarkets. But I doubt they boycotted the Newsweek cover “The Children of Bid Laden” or Time‘s “Face of Buddhist Terror”.

And guess what – The New York Times had already used the same image on the cover of their May 5 issue. Rolling Stone used an existing photo for their cover, one already used by other media organizations.


This is not the first time a cover has been under fire. Both Time and Life magazines have been known to feature high profile cases by slapping a portrait on the cover with eye-grabbing titles. Remember O.J. Simpson and the Unabomber?

My Two Cents

No matter where you stand, I believe in journalistic integrity and I am against censorship. Freedom is costly and we should not allow terrorism of any kind rob us of that, no matter where we live.

I personally feel that both Rolling Stone magazine and Sgt. Sean Murphy had the right to publish the images they did and will have to face the backlash from their actions. Both sets of images go deeper than accusing a religion or ideology. It looks at a human being and asks what broke?

What are your thoughts on the two sets of images released this week?

Until Next Time . . .

~ Jules

[via CNN, Rolling Stone, Boston magazine]

Credits: Photographs by Massachusetts Police Sgt. Sean Murphy unless otherwise stated.


is a Southern California based Conceptual Artist and Photographer. Her work has been featured in several print publications and selections can be seen in local gallery exhibitions. Connect with her on Facebook and Google+.


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  1. Stephanie

    In this whole story – I feel most for the officer who was relieved of duty. Just because he posted real time photos does not make him any less of a great officer.

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  2. Duskrider

    One question though: how is this “moment of fame” ever going to benefit him? Not like he’s going to be doing the talk show circuit anytime soon.

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  3. Sachin

    So why did he become the Boston Bomber?

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  4. Christina Bramlett

    Its not about censorship, its about common decency and the media’s tendency to sensationalize every morsel of information, including the monsters who commit acts of evil of others. Mainstream media can’t wait to find that riveting detail of why this poor tortured soul committed heinous acts and then attempt to excuse his behavior into “its not really ALL HIS fault”. No really…IT IS ALL HIS FAULT. The reaction to Rolling Stones decision is good ole American capitalism, not censorship. If someone really wants a copy, they can go elsewhere to buy it.

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  5. stilespj

    Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Is Rolling Stone so desperate to sell their rag that they would to stoop to this level of sensationalism?

    Just because you have a right to do something doesn’t mean that you should. I hope that this comes back to bite them in their financial butt!!!

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  6. Adam

    Rolling Stone seem to have done the right thing in terms of viral-style free advertising. But little or no respect from me. Making him look cool is a good way to cause a stir, but shows that Rolling Stone are just in it for the money and have perhaps lost their soul. Harsh words? Perhaps. Attention seekers making a buck at the expense of dead victims. Rolling Stone, whoever cleared this idea was on the money, but what an insensitive thing to do. Stick to Rock ‘n Roll RS Magazine.

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  7. Caleigh

    Rolling Stones could have run a cover with a photo of the brave victims or of the courages Police Officers and other emergency responders who put their lives on the line that day and every day and still kept 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.” There are far more deserving persons who should have been on the cover. He should not be given his 15 mins of fame.

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  8. Jim

    He does not deserve the cover, covers are usually reserved for celebrities, not spineless murderers. I don’t think it’s a issue of weather the public knowing .

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  9. Aaron Best

    I think the police officer had the right to release the images, and shouldn’t of been punished for it. several people released gory pictures of the victims, why can’t the officer release his pictures of the offender? I agree that it shouldn’t be censored, as it is news, and the public have the right to know.

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  10. Jeff

    I think it would have been good for Rolling Stone to publish a variety of photos. I don’t know what they put on the inside, but that would be very telling.

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