The Mediated Public Sphere-Covers and Controversy

The Bomber

Look at the above image. That is one of the Boston bombers, a man who killed and wounded hundreds of innocent bystanders. Now he graces the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine. As we have seen, the world today is a very different one from that of 5 years ago, further different from 10 years and unidentical to that of 30 years ago, and society has changed and adapted throughout. We have seen governments come and go, economies and stock markets rising and collapsing, however one thing hasn’t disappeared, regardless of how liberal or ruthless a society may be, and that is the public sphere. As this blogger discovered, the “public sphere is separate from the state, official economy and is open and egalitarian” (Turnbull, BCM110 Lecture 5), this meaning that the public sphere is neither controlled nor enforced by the state and is it not financed by the economy, rather it is members of the public who gather and discuss issues and affairs of the day. But just what and who are part of this public sphere? Nowadays it can be a large and diverse proportion of society discussing relevant affairs and topics that affect them in one way or from. We have seen this large and diverse proportion of society debate over many issues, one of the loudest and most controversial is the August 1st 2013 publication of Rolling Stone Magazine which had Boston Bombing terrorist Dzhokhar Tsamaev on the cover.

Rolling Stone, a “popular-media” magazine, has a long and distinguished history of glamorising the personalities that grace it’s covers, from singers to politicians to actors, their has been a wide array of men and women who have graced the cover, and deservedly so. However when a terrorist who is responsible for numerous deaths and injuries to innocent citizens glamorously graces a magazine cover, it is no surprise that there is immense public anger. I personally saw the cover without prior knowledge of the public anger, and I too felt very angry, if not worried, as it promotes sympathy and attention to a worthless criminal. The mediated public sphere, that is the public sphere represented through the media, was alive and vocal, with it being massively debatable on social media, TV journalism and news articles. Below is a short segment which appeared on Fox News show Hannity, titled “Glorifying Terrorism” in which host Sean Hannity discussed public outcry and backlash against the cover. Talking with Fox contributor Michelle Malkin, Hannity states how the American people are “questioning why the editors are honouring a monster” and asking Malkin if it was “the same magazine that attacked General McChrystal, but yet he (Tsarnaev) gets the star treatment here”. Whether or not you’re a fan or not of Fox and Mr. Hannity, he does raise the very issue and questions of the American people, and he is informed and knows of their puzzlement through his connection to the public sphere, which he raises by using his influence in the mediated public sphere.

Rolling Stone defended itself, stating the story only meant to be an example of the magazines commitment to “serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day.” Many complained directly to the magazine, stating it gave the terrorist rock star treatment and creating sympathy for a man who believed in his actions. The trouble with such a controversial event such as the Boston bombing, is that in a public sphere that now includes a voices from all cultures, beliefs and nations, using an array of technology to voice their opinion from social media to talk shows, is that we hear of voices calling out for Tsarnaev release and sympathy for him, which I believe is wrong and only feeds scum like him to believe they have support and fans. The mediated public sphere presents society as sight and sound into current issues, as well as allowing them a voice through social media and email, however it too can expose terrorists to sympathy and at the same time, ridicule and criticise a mother who may decide to quit her job and care for her family, all of this comes with the exposure and ability to present issues to the public through a medium, that being the media,

Stay Classy UOW,

Todd Steele


Turnbull, S 2014, Media Mythbusting-Big Brother is watching you, PowerPoint slides distributed in BCM110 Lecture at University of Wollongong, on 1st April 2014

Michelle Malkin on Public Outrage over Rollong Stone Boston Bomber cover-Sean Hannity-7-17-13 (video recording) right sightings YouTube channel, USA

photos:controversial magazine covers, 2014, CNN online edition,



  1. Love the Anchorman sign off.

    A very interesting text to use. I didn’t know Rolling Stone did this, it certainly damages thier reputation, to me anyway. Also strange that they seemingly took a sympathetic light to his story, rather than throwing him to the dogs, as any mass murder deserves.

    Great article!

  2. That’s a pretty dreadful image. Without reading into RollingStone’s justification to much I believe all the image is doing is giving the terrorist attack a face and publicising it even more which I gather would be exactly what the terrorists set out to achieve. Top article!

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