When a Thousand Words Trump a Picture

By Paul Lombino

Rolling Stone cover

Sgt. Sean Murphy is waiting to see whether he will keep his job with the Massachusetts State Police. Murphy is the veteran trooper who was so outraged by the cover of the August 1 Rolling Stone that he took it upon himself to release evidence photos of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the alleged surviving Boston Marathon bomber. Murphy’s lawyer told the Boston Herald that his client distributed the photos with “the purest of motives.”


Murphy wasn’t alone in his misguided fury. Claiming the Rolling Stone headshot glamorized the 19-year-old Tsarnaev, many retail stores reacted by boycotting the magazine’s sale without considering the article’s content. I’d be surprised if any of them read a word before making their decision.

No Glamor

I just finished reading the Rolling Stone profile. The article is a sober investigation of the death of the American Dream for one immigrant family. The story is told not with sympathy for Jahar, as he’s referred to in the piece, but with a stark reality that bad things are happening in this soul’s life and tragedy is just around the corner. The reporter of “Jahar’s World,” Janet Reitman, breaks ground with her research and leaves the broader question of “why” to future journalists.

Reitman’s storyline underscores Jahar’s warped misinterpretation of the American ideal — the freedom to make mistakes that don’t violate law — under the influence of his older dominant brother who seemingly became more radicalized each day. The following excerpt speaks of the Tsarnaev Family’s plummeting sense of desperation.

According to a transcript from UMass Dartmouth … Jahar was failing many of his classes his sophomore year. He was reportedly more than $20,000 in debt to the university. Also weighing on him was the fact that his family’s welfare benefits had been cut in November 2012, and in January, [his older brother] Tamerlan and his wife reportedly lost the Section 8 housing subsidy that had enabled them to afford their apartment, leaving them with the prospect of a move.

Early promise followed by rapid descent. It’s an archetypal tale that’s been told many times before and in many ways. If you haven’t read the RS cover story, I can assure you that Jahar Tsarnaev does not come across as a glamorous figure. Rather, he’s portrayed as a talented, yet vulnerable young man whose mind somehow became so broken that the result was mass murder and pointless destruction.

It’s not always true that a picture tells a thousand words. Sometimes it’s the other way around. This is one such case. Having read the article, I can now look at that cover and say to Rolling Stone editors, “good choice.”


1 Comment

Filed under Photo selection

One response to “When a Thousand Words Trump a Picture

  1. Good insights, Paul. All too often, people comment on a book or movie, without bothering to read it. It’s a sad phenomenon. I especially see this in New York-Washington circles, whereby friends at cocktail parties pontificate quite forcefully about a book, when they’ve really only skimmed the NYT Book Review summary of it. I remember having a heated argument with a right-wing evangelical about “The DaVinci Code.” During the course of the argument, it suddenly became apparent to me that she had neither seen the movie nor read the book. But she had heard it condemned on Fox News!

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