‘Hate First, Think Later’ Is a Dangerous Philosophy

OTCIcons_FINAL7Rail against the Rolling Stone cover if you’d like, but have you actually read the story?

The magazine made the entire controversial piece available online after the brouhaha that entailed a swift and condemning response from seemingly everyone with an Internet connection.

While CVS, Tedeschi’s, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Stop & Shop, Shaws, Market Basket and even Walmart refused to sell the magazine, individuals spoke out  with timeline-clogging fervor.

But when country singer Brad Paisley tweets (and 4,500 of his followers retweet):

“I have to say, the Rolling Stone Magazine cover with the bomber is in poor taste. We shouldn’t make rock stars out of murderers.”

Are we to believe that he ever considered the value of the 12-page story that Janet Reitman spent months reporting and writing, getting exclusive access to intimate sources who watched the evolution of “Jahar,” the alleged surviving Boston Marathon bomber whose Americanized nickname was invented in part by Peter Payack, Jahar’s high school wrestling teacher who’s featured in the piece.

Further, what are we to make of the insinuation that anyone who’s face graces the cover of Rolling Stone is automatically a rock star, or being treated as such? They called him a “monster,” right there on the cover in 40-point font.

Sure, there have been many rockers  featured in that space, but they were stars well before the presses ever started rolling. And don’t forget that Rolling Stone has its roots in covering counterculture movements. Jann Wenner, co-founder of the publication and present-day editor-in-cheif, wrote in the first edition in 1967 that Rolling Stone wasn’t just about music, “but about the things and attitudes that music embraces.” In the following years, it would gain a reputation for its political coverage, including becoming the first outlet for much of Hunter S. Thompson’s political reporting, including his magnum opus, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

MBTA Officer Richard “Dic” Donohue, who was injured in a shootout with the Tsarnaevs, said the cover image was “thoughtless at best.” But surely Wenner and the rest of the editors at Rolling Stone put as much thought into this as probably any edition in the past 45 years. In a letter to Wenner, Boston Mayor Tom Menino references Rolling Stone‘s “obvious marketing strategy,” referring, presumably, to the train of thought that the shock factor would help sell magazines. That must have been some part of the discussion, but it was also unquestionably the most important story in the publication; even if it hadn’t been so thoroughly and mindfully reported, it shouldn’t have had much trouble trumping “On the bus with Willie Nelson,” “Jay-Z’s ‘Magna Carta’ stumble,” and “Robin Thicke: Pretty fly for a white guy.”

Other news outlets have come to Rolling Stone‘s defense, including an editorial in the New York Times.

Singling out one magazine issue for shunning is over the top, especially since the photo has already appeared in a lot of prominent places, including the front page of this newspaper, without an outcry, The Times wrote.

Slate called it “smart, unnerving journalism.”

They are not ‘glorifying’ anyone. Whatever ‘glory’ this cover brings is more in line with infamy than celebrity; after all, the text of the cover describes him as ‘the bomber’ and ‘a monster.’

Nevertheless, it enraged Sgt. Sean Murphy, a tactical photographer for Massachusetts Stage Police who spent 25 years on the force, to release images, as he said, of “the real Boston bomber. Not someone fluffed and buffed for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.” Murphy has been suspended because of his actions.

Through everything, one obvious takeaway seems to be a reminder to think before you act. When you make a hate-filled comment about Rolling Stone without even glancing at the story, aren’t you espousing the hate-first-think-later attitude Jahar did?

One of the many chilling details that comes out in Reitman’s piece is that Jahar reportedly spent two straight days crying in his hospital bed after the attack. Maybe he finally took some time to think about what he was doing.

It’s OK to hate Jahar, but it’s also OK to learn “How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster,” as is stated plainly on the much-maligned cover.

Marc Randazza, a first-amendment lawyer, said it harshly on his blog.

Putting someone on the cover of Rolling Stone doesn’t mean you’re honoring them. Flipping out about it, in a downright Bush-ian anti-intellectual nature is not only comically stupid, but contributes to a dumbing-down of journalism – a profession that is already on intellectual life support.

So, go ahead. Give a well-reported story a read.

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