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Rolling Stone Drops A Bomb: Is The Boston Bomber Cover Marketing Genius Or Sickening PR Stunt?

Headline Media's Deborah Danan shares her take on whether the new Rolling Stone cover of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is marketing brilliance or death by disputation.

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Boston Bomber On The New Rolling Stone Cover

Rolling Stone magazine has apparently become the Taliban Times. At least that's what one outraged commenter claimed when news broke that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev – aka the Boston Bomber – would feature on the cover of the magazine's August 3 issue.

The photo was taken by Tsarnaev himself and in it he looks more like a rockstar than a terrorist. Some newspapers have compared the Tsarnaev portrait – replete with Cupid-esque mouth, mournful brown eyes, and a chiseled jaw framed by lush brown locks – to the image of Jim Morrison that graced Rolling Stone's cover back in 1981.

The picture, accompanied by the article's teaser promising "a riveting and heartbreaking account of how a charming kid with a bright future became a monster" has sparked furious reactions all over the web. The Twittersphere has been set alight with people lambasting Rolling Stone for stooping so low as to glorify the man accused of killing three and injuring more than 260.

One commenter wrote on the magazine's Facebook page: "Very un-American. F**k you Rolling Stone. I thought it was supposed to be an honor to be on your cover?" While another quipped, "What do you expect from a commie rag?"

Moral outrage aside, the question is, was Rolling Stone's controversial decision a stroke of marketing genius or was it death by disputation?

Not surprisingly, this isn't the first time that murderers have adorned magazine covers. Let's look at some precedents. Life magazine (now conjoined with TIME) ran the image of notorious mass murderer Charles Manson on its December 19 1969 cover. Photos of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the perpetrators of the Columbine massacre of 1999, featured on the covers of all major outlets – including TIME's, which ran the image alongside the headline, "The monsters next door." TIME magazine also named none other than Hitler as its "Man Of The Year" in 1938.

There seems to be no limits as to what is permissible in the name of selling more papers. The fact of the matter is, not 24 hours after news of Rolling Stone's cover was released more than 30 major outlets have published stories about the controversy sparking hundreds of thousands of social media comments – many from people threatening to cut their subscription.

One comment on Rolling Stone's Facebook feed fumed, 'This cover makes him look like some kind of cool rock god... it's horrible. Why give the guy the cover of Rolling Stone?.... Don't make martyrs out of these people.' Meantime, another commenter responded with "Haven't you ever heard? Don't judge a book by its cover. No sane person thinks this guy is a rock star."

So does the image of a murderer – especially when juxtaposed with that keyword "Monster" - repel or compel people?

Probably a little of both. But of course, it doesn't really matter. As the old adage goes, "There is no such thing as bad publicity."

Morally abhorrent or not, the face of a murderer festooning magazine covers guarantees a spike in interest. And there's still two weeks before the magazine goes to press!

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