Oops, You Keep Doing It Again

0717_rolling-stone-tsarnaev-620x842By now most folks have figured out that featuring a Jim Morrison-esque photo of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a bad idea.  Everyone, it seems, except the editors of Rolling Stone who have turned a tone-deaf ear to both a Twitter storm  and a group of 75,000 Facebook users who are calling for a boycott of this month’s issue.  Not to mention the growing list of retail chains that has refused to carry the issue.

And yet, this publication that applauds itself as being in tune with all things contemporary still doesn’t get it.  And doesn’t seem to WANT to get it.  I give you Exhibit A, the statement they released yesterday at the height of the conflagration around the cover:

“Our hearts go out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, and our thoughts are always with them and their families. The cover story we are publishing this week 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. The fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is young, and in the same age group as many of our readers, makes it all the more important for us to examine the complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens.”

First of all, as a crisis manager I have to tell them that “hearts and thoughts” sentiment is so cliché that NO ONE believes you’re feeling a thing in either your heart or your mind.  Expressing emotion is a good thing.  But verbalizing it with a phrase that’s as hollow as “I feel your pain” does not help your cause.

Second, this is not about “traditions of journalism”.  It’s about glamorizing a self-styled terrorist and positioning him as some kind of rock star.  This is about eyeballs and selling magazines.  All noble goals, except when you step over the line to shameless exploitation.

One of my crisis gurus, Jonathan Bernstein, called for an email barrage to the editor, demanding the cover be changed.  I’ll be sending my email to rseditors@rollingstone.com to do just that.  I urge you to join me.  We’re all out to make a buck, but how about we realize when we’ve gone too far in that pursuit and need to exhibit a little real humanity (not to mention humility)?

 

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