Rolling Stone Controversy Helps U.S. Narrowly Avoid Racial Dialogue

rolling stone cover helps us narrowly avoid racial dialogue
Image courtesy of RollingStone.com

NEW YORK — News and images of the Aug. 1 cover of Rolling Stone magazine, featuring alleged Boston Marathon bomber Jahar Tsarnaev, has shifted America’s collective attention from the racially-charged outcomes of  the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and the charges dropped against his killer, George Zimmerman. Release of the controversial cover image helped the country divert attention from finally having a nuanced, democratic discussion about racial relations.

Criticism of the cover, a self-taken picture of the younger Tsarnaev with the words “The Bomber: How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by his Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster,”  is aimed at the magazine’s treatment of Tsarnaev as a “rock star.” The image teases a revealing article by Janet Reitman about the young man’s concerning home life and his spiral into self-justified terrorism, which naysayers feel affords the suspect a level of celebrity that flies in the face of the destruction that happened April 15. Sensitivity is high in the wake of Boston’s recovery and the pending trial.

The timing of the cover comes at a time where racial relations in the U.S. are at a low point. In particular, the Zimmerman verdict sowed dissent among African-Americans, minorities and conservative whites, with the acquittal seen as a failure of the U.S. justice system to protect blacks against institutionalized and societal racism in favor of whites. The discomfort was seen on social media sites, in nationwide protests, and water-cooler conversations.

Diary of a Genial Black Man can reveal that the cover’s timing is not mere coincidence; benefactors from Koch Industries, Inc. have made several donations to Wenner Media (owner of Rolling Stone) in excess of $200,000 in the past two months, according to one source. The most recent patronage came Monday with a delivery of a burlap sack decorated with a dollar sign to Wenner Media’s New York office. A Wenner inside source affirms that the original Aug. 1 cover story, “Catching Up With the Allman Brothers,” was shelved Monday as the Tsarnaev cover and article were fast-tracked to make the deadline.

Editor-in-Chief Jann Wenner defended the polarizing image, saying that it was in line with “the history of the publication in delivering current events and political issues.” He did not comment on accusations of connections with Koch Industries.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was critical of the longtime music magazine’s latest grab for attention. His address to the NAACP Tuesday in opposition of the “Stand Your Ground” laws that led to Zimmerman’s acquittal included a plea for changes in the country’s views of racial discrimination seen in profiling and negativity. Holder was not pleased with the Tsarnaev Rolling Stone news, calling the image “contentious and violating the presumption of innocence,”  the timing “suspect” and “a desperate, last-ditch effort for relevance.”

Tsarnaev is not the first repugnant person in the public’s conscience to grace the cover of Rolling Stone; Charles Manson was the cover image for a June 1970 prison interview, and actress Cameron Diaz was embellished in see-through clothing on an August 1996 cover.

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