Featured, The World at Large

Three Months Later: Handling Tragedy Tactfully

I remember the marathon like it was just yesterday.  I was standing on Mile 21, fanny pack and all, and I got a text.  Bombs at the finish line—u ok?  I remember the panic as I ran to find my sister at Lower, not knowing what had happened or what would happen next.  I remember the aghast terror and sadness on my four roommates’ faces as they returned home, their mission of 26.2 miles unfinished.  I remember the boyish face plastered on the TV that Friday morning as I watched the news through bleary, sleepy eyes—the face of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the suspect on the run who shut down a whole city.

It’s the same face that’s plastered on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine this coming month, shaggy-haired and unshaven, a regular John Mayer lookalike.

I’m sorry, society, but what the actual hell?Screen Shot 2013-07-17 at 4.08.21 PM

Let me start by saying that I’m pretty excited to read Rolling Stone’s feature on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  The story has been in the works for months, and they’ve collected interviews from the people closest to the suspect, many of whom have never spoken out before.  I can’t help but be interested, and to be honest, I always have been.  When I found out Tsarnaev was my age and had gone to high school seven miles from me, I couldn’t help but wonder about the boy.  I consumed what information I could find with gusto.

Arguably, the article on Tsarnaev could be one of Rolling Stone’s most important, and some might contend that a story of this magnitude warrants a front-cover billing.  But remember—as if we could forget—that this young man is responsible for the death of four innocents, the injuries of hundreds and the terror of an entire city (if not the nation).  A kid with that kind of blood on his hands doesn’t deserve the rock-star treatment.

I felt the same way when I found out recently that a “Boston Strong” movie is in the works, coming next year to a theater near you.  In my mind, the appropriate time to put out such a movie or magazine cover would be never-ever-ever, but in any case, it’s too soon.  The bombing happened three months ago.  Nobody needs a reminder of how it happened, because everybody has already lived it—especially those closest to the tragedy.

Imagine you’re Martin Richard’s father.  You’re Krystle Campbell’s brother, Lingzi Lu’s best friend, Sean Collier’s fellow officer.  Or imagine you were injured or came close to danger.  You go to the grocery store, and as you stop to pick up the newest issue of Us Weekly you stare into the smug mug of the kid whose act of terror took your loved one’s life or your legs or cut your run short.  Or you go to the movies, and before the feature starts you’re forced to sit through a dramatic, action-packed trailer that you’ve already seen—because it already happened to you.

That’s not okay.  Nobody should have to go through that after surviving such an emotionally trying time.  And in a world where the media treated these situations with a touch of sensitivity, nobody would.

My high school journalism teacher once said that in order to be a successful journalist, you must know your audience.  Rolling Stone, this is your audience speaking.  There’s a line between charmingly controversial and unconscionably insensitive, and you’ve crossed it by plastering the face of a terrorist on your front cover as if he’s a celebrity.  We’re not impressed, and we’re not buying it.

Boston may be strong, but the wounds from Marathon Monday are still fresh.  We are recovering, but for many, this is far from over.  Though it’s important never to forget the tragedies that unfolded in Boston last April, glamorizing it on the silver screen or the page of a magazine in order to turn a profit is an insult to those who were affected.


  1. Amen. Great article. And so, completely right on.

  2. I agree totally. Well said and you clearly have better judgement than most in journalism today. We need more of you!

  3. Pingback: Shame in Charlottesville: Jackie’s Assault Against the American Public | The Rock at Boston College | @therockatbc

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