American Manhunt: What Netflix’s Boston Marathon Bombing Doc is leaving out

Dramatizing events in a real case for a documentary audience is nothing new, nor is there anything inherently sinister about it. I only wish that on his mission to create the most definitive and accurate version of the Boston Marathon bombing and manhunt that American Manhunt instead opted for something less flashy and misleading.

The controversial cover of Rolling Stone

American Manhunt his narration ends shortly after Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is taken into custody before transitioning into the traditional documentary text “Here is what happened besides everyone involved”. One thing left out of this timeframe is a controversial magazine cover that led to some interesting conversations and reflections on how the media should cover mass murderers and terrorists.

In the August 2013 issue of Rolling Stone, the magazine’s cover story was about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, his upbringing and how he was influenced by his brother towards religious extremism and violence. The story itself was well received, but many criticized Tsarnaev’s appearance on the cover. Critics argued that the photograph, taken by Tsarnaev himself, portrayed the mass murderer in too sympathetic a light and that he resembled a movie star more than a criminal. Check below if you agree to this.

Some retailers, such as CVS and BJ’s Wholesale Club, announced they would not carry the issue, which did little to help it become one of the best-selling single issues of any magazine that year. Rolling Stone‘s editorial team issued a note defending the cover story, saying it “falls within the traditions of journalism and Rolling Stone‘s longstanding commitment to serious and thoughtful reporting on the major political and cultural issues of our time.”

However, that statement doesn’t completely contradict the problem most people had with it: the image. It might not be so obvious 10 years later, but magazine covers used to be synonymous with fame and popularity. The cover of Rolling Stone in particular, was reserved for only the biggest stars that pop culture has to offer. But at the same time Rolling Stone delivered (and still delivers) a bit of high-quality hard news journalism on occasion. It was understandably difficult for the average news consumer to combine the typical “boring” and stuffy hard news feature with the perceived honor of a magazine cover.

Figuring out how to draw people’s attention to violent crime stories while remaining objective and non-exploitative is a challenge that all media outlets grapple with to this day. Luckily, apart from the occasional dramatized hiccup, American Manhunt: The Boston Marathon Bombing handles it quite well.


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