LOS ANGELES, California – U.S. magazine Rolling Stone on Wednesday defended a cover story on Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, which triggered criticism that it was “glamorizing terrorism” and calls to boycott the publication.
At least two national chain stores announced they would not be selling the latest issue of the magazine, known for interviews with rock stars and others.
The cover picture – showing a goateed Tsarnaev, 19, staring sadly at the camera, his tousled brown curls falling gently into his eyes – was likened to a famous Rolling Stone cover portrait of the late singer Jim Morrison of “The Doors,” who died in unclear circumstances in 1971.
The accompanying Rolling Stones article, titled “The Bomber,” was described by the magazine as a “deeply reported account of the life and times” of Tsarnaev.
The 12-page story is based on interviews with dozens of sources that “deliver a riveting and heartbreaking account of how a charming kid with a bright future became a monster,” it said.
Versions of the Tsarnaev photo have previously been reproduced by others, but Rolling Stone’s use of the image has irked many in a country still shocked by the carnage caused by the pressure cooker bombs detonated at this year’s Boston Marathon.
Tsarnaev faces a 30-count indictment – including 17 counts punishable by death – for his role in the April 15 twin blasts at the city’s marathon that killed three people and wounded more than 260.
Thousands took to Rolling Stone’s Facebook page Wednesday.
“Why give the guy the cover of Rolling Stone?” wrote one identified as Shawn Anthony, who said it was wrong to make a celebrity out of Tsarnaev. “Don’t make martyrs out of these people.”
“Oh look, Rolling Stone magazine is glamorizing terrorism. Awesome,” posted Adrienne Graham. “I will NOT be buying this issue, or any future issues.”
Rolling Stone defended the story. “Our hearts go out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, and our thoughts are always with them and their families,” the magazine said in a statement.
“The cover story … falls within the traditions of journalism and Rolling Stone’s long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the world’s most important political and cultural issues of the day,” it added.
But critics said Rolling Stone should have featured the young boy who perished in the explosions, which are also blamed on Tsarnaev’s older brother Tamerlan, who was killed in a shootout with police several days later.
“Maybe a pic of the little 8 year old boy that was killed by this piece of garbage would have made a better cover,” wrote Tom Guerra. “Cancel my subscription to your publication.”
The comparison to the iconic Morrison magazine cover was pointed out by others.
“New Rolling Stone cover turns the Boston bomber into Jim Morrison,” tweeted Judd Legum of the ThinkProgress political blog, along with side-by-side snapshots of the two covers.
Boston punk band Dropkick Murphys tweeted: “Rolling Stone you should be ashamed. How about one of the courageous victims on your cover instead of this loser scum bag!”
National U.S. drug store chain CVS announced on its Twitter feed that it was boycotting the issue “out of respect for the victims and their loved ones.”
A second U.S. drug store chain, Walgreens, with more than 8,000 stores in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, also announced on Twitter it would keep the issue off its shelves: “Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Walgreens will not be selling this issue of Rolling Stone magazine.”
Boston-area supermarket chain Roche Bros wrote on the microbogging site: “When we learned of the cover for the current issue of Rolling Stone, we chose not to offer that product for sale in our stores.”
Earlier this month, Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty to all charges against him in U.S. federal court.