Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

The Rolling Stone Cover and the 'New Ideological Threat'

The cover of Rolling Stone (8/13), featuring a self-portrait of Dzhokhar Tsaernav taken weeks before the Boston bombing, has fueled a strong backlash. Discussing the cover, Fox News' Lisa Daftari (7/18/13) said:

In the aftermath of 9/11, if you look back over a decade ago, this country had an awakening, an understanding, that we have a new ideological threat that is on our soil. People became aware. But we've since gone very far from that, almost gone too far from that. We are almost becoming overcompensating, for fear of being Islamophobic. Political correctness is leading us to put a terrorist on the cover of a national magazine like this.

In the same segment, Fox's Trace Gallagher said, "The question many are asking is why the magazine is making him look like a teen heartthrob instead of a terrorist and alleged killer?"

That question raises another: How do you make someone look like "a terrorist and alleged killer"?

Gallagher's suggestion that he should look more like a "terrorist," brings to mind racial profiling, a form of which the Week magazine (5/2/13FAIR TV5/3/13) was accused of after their cover featured a controversial drawing of the Tsarnaev brothers. The Week darkened their skin and played up stereotypical ethnic features, prompting Gawker  (5/2/13) to wryly note, "If the terrorists won't do us the courtesy of being brown, no matter–we'll just make them brown, instead."

But clearly, for the scare-mongers the "new ideological threat" is not just terrorism, but Islam itself, a view that casts all Muslims as suspect (Extra!, 8/13).

Invoking "ideological threats" to create fear, an "awakening" in Daftari's words, like the Red Scares of old, Islam has become the new issue right-wingers and other hawks rally around. It's an effective organizing tool.

The Rolling Stone cover flies in the face the preferred stereotype. In age, race, and affect, Tsarnaev doesn't fit the image we have been trained to expect. Thus the cover draws unwanted attention to this Islamophobic expectation.

"It's Tsarnaev's very normalcy and niceness that is the most monstrous and terrifying thing about him," Rolling Stone writer (and Boston native) Matt Taibbi (7/19/13), says:

The story [Rolling Stone journalist] Janet [Reitman] wrote about the modern terrorist is that you can't see him coming. He's not walking down the street with a scary beard and a red X through his face. He looks just like any other kid.

When the Rolling Stones cover photo was originally published by the New York Times in May (5/5/13), Nathan Jurgenson, a writer for the tech-sociology blog Cyborgology (4/6/13), said, "The bomber selfie forces us to confront that violence doesn't always come from an other."

But fear mongers are up in arms, since the cover and the accompanying article exploring how Tsarnaev went from being "just like any other kid" to becoming an alleged mass murderer bucks their formula. To them, there is no use delving into his peaceful past to learn what turned him into a brutal killer. Where Rolling Stone saw a compelling story, Fox saw a threat to its ideology.

However, considering the thousands of innocent lives lost and the billions our country has spent trying to "make the world safe for democracy," shouldn't we be interested in how someone was radicalized to the point of violence? That was the real, stated goal of Rolling Stone's investigation. Getting to shake the tenets of traditionalist politics in the process was just an added bonus.


© 2021 Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)

Emily Masters

Emily Masters is a student at the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College and a staff contributor for the Indypendent.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Right-Wing Extremist Boebert to Guide Policy on House GOP Leadership Team

"This is the Republican Party after a catastrophic midterm underperformance," said one Democratic strategist.

Julia Conley ·


House Committee to Investigate Alito Leak, Right-Wing Lobbying at Supreme Court

"It's clear that some of these justices are simply incapable of behaving ethically or putting the law before politics, and the court is unwilling or unable to police itself," said one court watchdog.

Julia Conley ·


Fetterman Taps Person Who Literally Wrote the Book on Killing Senate Filibuster as Chief of Staff

"It will be invaluable to have a veteran of the Senate and a veteran of state politics in these key positions as we serve the people of Pennsylvania," said the Senator-elect about two key hires for his new staff.

Jon Queally ·


Climate Activists Tell Macron to Stop Using Trade Rules to Thwart Clean Energy

"Governments should be empowered to fight climate change and support the clean energy transition without fear of being undermined by antiquated trade rules," said one advocate.

Kenny Stancil ·


Biden Urged to Sign Executive Order Guaranteeing Rail Workers Paid Sick Leave

After the president brokered a compulsory contract without a single paid day off for illness, one labor advocate implored him to "put up or shut up about how you really want them to have sick leave!"

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo