Fighting free expression with free expression, an officer with the Massachusetts State Police who, like many Americans, was upset with Rolling Stone magazine's new cover treatment of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, has published a series of photos in Boston Magazine that he believes more accurately represent Tsarnaev's actions and character. Massachusetts State Police Sergeant Sean Murphy said he took the photos, some of which depict a wounded and bleeding Tsarnaev, during the nearly week-long manhunt for the bombing suspects in April.
Most of the images are of police and other law enforcement agencies scouring the Boston area for the suspects. But there are three arresting and graphic images of a bloodied Tsarnaev emerging from the boat in which he hid from authorities in a final stand-off. The first two images show a laser sight squarely in the middle of Tsarnaev's forehead as he raises his arms in apparent surrender, before slumping over the side of the boat. The entire series of 14 images were posted on the website of Boston Magazine on Thursday afternoon under the headline "The Real Face of Terror."
Murphy explained his motivations for publishing the images to Boston Magazine, which quoted him, in part, as follows:
"As a professional law-enforcement officer of 25 years, I believe that the image that was portrayed by Rolling Stone magazine was an insult to any person who has ever worn a uniform of any color or any police organization or military branch, and the family members who have ever lost a loved one serving in the line of duty. The truth is that glamorizing the face of terror is not just insulting to the family members of those killed in the line of duty, it also could be an incentive to those who may be unstable to do something to get their face on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine...
Photography is very simple, it’s very basic. It brings us back to the cave. An image like this on the cover of Rolling Stone, we see it instantly as being wrong. What Rolling Stone did was wrong. This guy is evil. This is the real Boston bomber. Not someone fluffed and buffed for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.”
WARNING: The images, especially those of the wounded Tsarnaev, are extremely graphic and may be disturbing to some readers, and some appear in tweets below. For those interested in viewing them, head on over to Boston Magazine. A number of journalists and news junkies have taken to Twitter to post reactions to the fresh set of images, some applauding the officer and Boston Magazine for publishing them, others continuing to shame Rolling Stone, and still others quipping sarcastically about the entire controversy.
These photos of Tsarnaev emerging from the boat are…wow http://t.co/dZPtrNBbNo— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) July 18, 2013
Upset at the sensational cover photo of Tsarnaev in Rolling Stone, officer posts more sensational photos of Tsarnaev. http://t.co/L03cj7EZKX— Raccoon Nonsense (@itsdrenthe) July 18, 2013
It's worth noting that despite Murphy's strong feelings of wrongdoing by Rolling Stone, the magazine did not take the image used on the cover of its August issue. The image in question was rather a self-portrait of Tsarnaev, which had been previously published in similar fashion on the front page of The New York Times in May, without the massive online backlash that greeted Rolling Stone's new cover when it was unveiled earlier this week. The Rolling Stone cover did, however, crop the image of Tsarneav closer than the Times, and surrounded it with other taglines for stories about musicians.
A number of major US convenience stores and pharmacies have announced they won't be carrying the issue, including CVS, Rite-Aid, and 7-Eleven. Rolling Stone defended its decision to publish the cover image, issuing a statement that reads in part: "The cover story we are publishing this week falls within the traditions of journalism and Rolling Stone's long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day."
But by that same measure, it's also important to point out that Rolling Stone, more-so than other newsmagazines such as Time and Life, usually features pop icons on its cover, and does not regularly publish cover images of accused killers. Still, whatever one makes of the Rolling Stone cover treatment of Tsarnaev — whether you are more in line with Sergeant Murphy or Rolling Stone's editors' thinking — it's clear that the cover has sparked an intense and thoughtful debate about how news media covers and should cover crimes of international import.
Update: Boston Magazine editor John Wolfson tweets that the photographer, Massachusetts State Police Sergeant Sean Murphy, has been relieved of duty. Wolfson says that Murphy's gun, badge and computer have been seized, and that he will face a police hearing next week.