On the cover of the Rolling Stone

by YES! Staff

There he is, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, leaning against the wall, his moppish hair atussle, with his anime eyes and a scruffy suggestion of a beard, looking a little like a young Jim Morrison or Donovan, maybe a forgotten Jonas Brother, on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

You won’t find it at CVS or Walgreen’s, neither of which will carry this month’s issue — CVS is headquartered in New England, not far from where Tsarnaev’s bombs took out whole chunks of the Boston Marathon, and Walgreen’s is always eager to show that it cares at least as much as its closest competitor does.

There’s a reason that mayors are also not newspaper editors. They tend to bury the lede.

This action alone guarantees that the August issue of Rolling Stone will be among the most-read periodicals of the year, which in itself could be considered justification for running the cover story, which attempted to make sense of the young  man’s actions that resulted in three deaths and hundreds of gruesome injuries. But the story isn’t important for the shock value of its front. “Jahar’s World: The Making of a Monster” is the most in-depth look at the life of this kid we’ve seen so far.

Janet Reitman’s profile, which delves into his early home life and plumbs sources like his high school coach and college friends, tries to make sense of something that flies in the face of logic and decency: how a seemingly normal American kid, steeped in the popular culture and mores of his adopted homeland, brought himself to bomb one of this country’s most cherished traditions.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino called the magazine out for giving the homegrown terrorist “celebrity treatment.” But if Tsarnaev, whose friends called him “Jahar,” is not a celebrity, then who is?

His actions certainly should not be glorified —the Rolling Stone piece in no way does that — but Tsarnaev is certainly the man of the hour. His is a story that needs to be told.

Mayor Menino also said that RS should have instead focused in the individual acts of heroism in the wake of the bombings. He’s right that many inspiring stories came out of the explosions, but those have been well documented. And there’s a reason that mayors are also not newspaper editors. They tend to bury the lede.

Reitman’s story is pure investigative journalism, over the course of two months she found a document trail, located key sources, filled in the blanks of the timeline with police reports and witness statements.

It attempts to answer the question on everyone’s mind from the minute this story came through: Who did this, and why?

Unfortunately, Reitman’s piece does little to assuage the trauma we all felt that day. The portrait she draws is one of a regular American kid who got a few bad breaks and felt the need to lash out. We still don’t truly understand the “why” of it. But through Reitman’s first draft of this particular chapter in American history, we are closer than we were before.

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