The dwindling number of people still reading Rolling Stone knows that just as MTV no longer is a music station, this is not just a music magazine. Nevertheless, the magazine's covers are almost always rock and pop stars, and sometimes movie and TV actors. In recent months, that list has included glamorizing shots of Jay-Z, Rihanna, Bruno Mars and Justin Bieber (who's now "Hot, Ready, Legal").
But nearly every issue also carries political commentary from fiercely frothing leftist writers like Matt Taibbi. When the editors decided to put Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover, they knew they were courting controversy. They must have known they were chasing notoriety by insulting people who lost relatives or their own limbs in Dzhokhar's terrorist attack.
What must have been the reaction of the parents who lost 8-year-old Martin Richard?
The victims and their families surely choked when the magazine responded to the furor by claiming, "Our hearts go out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, our thoughts are always with them and their families." What arrogant nonsense.
Boston's liberal Democrat mayor, Tom Menino, delivered a scathing rebuke in a letter to publisher Jann Wenner. "The survivors of the Boston attacks deserve Rolling Stone cover stories, though I no longer feel that Rolling Stone deserves them."
Rolling Stone claimed the cover story would showcase everything writer Janet Reitman found by spending "two months interviewing dozens of sources -- childhood and high school friends, teachers, neighbors and law enforcement agents, many of whom spoke for the first time about the case -- to deliver a riveting and heartbreaking account of how a charming kid with a bright future became a monster."
And then they put his picture, James Dean-like, on the cover. They claimed this kind of reporting is part of their journalistic tradition. It isn't.
Their tradition has not included regular covers with newsmakers or notorious bombers. When their journalism on Afghanistan abruptly ended the career of Gen. Stanley McChrystal in 2010, the cover displayed Lady Gaga nearly nude, her body covered only by a thong bikini and two machine guns.
Some tried to defend Rolling Stone by noting that several news organizations had used the same picture of Tsarnaev, including the front page of The New York Times. But Rolling Stone occupies a special zone in the popular culture, where top musicians hope and pray to know they've "made it" by making the cover.