Not Cool Rolling Stone: A Teacher’s Response

Rolling Stone Senior Editor Christian Hoard needs to go back to class, and get some class.

The picture used for the cover of the July 17, 2013 Rolling Stone Magazine was an unashamed bit of marketing. It showed the best side of a young man who terrorized Boston, and points well beyond. I’m not one for censorship, at all. The use of the alluring photo of the alleged bomber was a questionable choice, however.  I feel for everyone affected by the bombing, which is everyone, but particularly those still in rehabilitation and mourning, who have to endure Rolling Stone’s miscalculation. Sergeant Sean Murphy, a Massachusetts State Police tactical photographer, must have felt the same and released the not-so-glamorous photo of the alleged bomber we have now. It’s quite a contrast to the Rolling Stone cover.

Out of all the photos available of the alleged April 15 bomber, this was the most rock-star worthy, one I had seen on the internet prior to the cover and cringed at as fan sites were popping up around it. If I could spend 5 minutes on Google and be aware of the great potential this photo would have to inspire support for the bomber, surely Rolling Stone editors could have as well. They make the point that the article was published after months of investigative research, so they had months to pick the photo and consider its impact. Chances are we won’t hear what really happened when the photo was selected, and what salivating went on when it was discovered.

Worse, it’s the cover of Rolling Stone, which elicits the aura of Shel Silverstein’s catchy lyrics: “We take all kinds of pills, that give us all kind of thrills but the thrill we’ve never known/Is the thrill that’ll get you when you get your picture on the cover of The Rolling Stone.” Don’t deny Rolling Stone that you’ve capitalized on that aura. It’s a magazine of rock stars, but the current cover does not depict a rock star.

Rolling Stone senior editor Christian Hoard was so unashamed of the photo, he shared an unintelligent response which he had to excuse via his equally unintelligent Twitter feed. Rolling Stone editors don’t see the harm in trying to make the kid look normal. They’re scratching their heads wondering what the big deal is. I wonder if their PR department has explained it to them yet.

The big deal is people were killed and terrorized. A bit of American life was killed, a bit of future terror has had a path paved for it, and you found the best picture of the kid you could find to show him looking like a modern day Jim Morrison. That’s going beyond the face of normal. I don’t want to engender malice toward Rolling Stone editors, there’s too much of that already in the world. Let’s be united, however, around the simple act of not sensationalizing violence, or not being the news but rather  reporting it.

The article, written by journalist Janet Reitman, provided a thorough rendering of the life circumstances around the alleged bombers and their family. It is informative, but drawn-out and uninspired. They went journalistic in a publication that is more commercial, with an editor that is not so editorial. This whole piece is about getting the picture on the cover. It’s about marketing, as in bad marketing is good marketing.  If it weren’t about that, then Christian Hoard’s response to the photo fury would have been more informed and sensitive. Some vague defense of ‘the magazine is for young people, the alleged bomber is a young person,’ is cropping up. I don’t get it. Most young people have far greater depth of understanding than Hoard is demonstrating.

I wonder where Christian Hoard was on 9/11 (I wonder where he was at all this year, a year of too many acts of attention-seeking violence). On 9/11 I was a young Social Studies teacher charged with guiding my students to understand the world around them. When the first plane hit I was directed by my out-of-breath administrator to bring my students down the hall to the one classroom which had a television in it. We witnessed the second plane hitting the tower. One very uninformed 12-year-old girl yelled out “Cool!” when the building erupted into a cloud of black smoke. She needed me the most, to explain it was not cool, that thousands of people had likely just lost their lives. Today, we are growing even more sensitive to increased images of heinous crimes around us, which are becoming all too common, recognizing that the attention will engender future violence. In school, we teach tolerance and hope to prevent future violence.

I haven’t directly mentioned the suspect’s name, because I just don’t want to give it more attention. What I want is to encourage others to understand that in school teachers talk about these matters knowing the young people in their care, understanding their home lives and community needs. Teachers strive to tolerance and hope for a better future, regardless of what someone looks like and by drawing on lessons learned from the past. Teachers live with violence and try to prevent it. I hope Rolling Stone has learned a lesson and does not show off alleged terrorists with their best side, because the kid who yells out “Cool!” may just see it and think it is.



Filed under Topics in Education

4 responses to “Not Cool Rolling Stone: A Teacher’s Response

  1. It is frightening to think of the impact that a glamorous Rolling Stone cover could have on a student. I applaud Rolling Stone for publishing an important article but they did not make proper use of their power as a cultural icon.

  2. Johnb407

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