Rolling Stone’s Bomber Issue and 13 More Controversial Magazine Covers

Rolling Stone magazine’s decision to use this particular image of 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev– where he looks almost like Jim Morrison with thick, shaggy hair — set off a firestorm of controversy, otherwise known as buzz. The magazine is no stranger to provocative cover choices – and for good reason. While retailers have loudly trumpeted the fact that they’re refusing to stock the issue because of what they’re calling the magazine’s perceived insensitivity and “glamorization” of an alleged murderer, people are talking, as they say. Here’s a look back at some other magazine covers that incensed readers, inflamed passions, and pressed buttons.


  • Rolling Stone, 2013 1 of 14

    Rolling Stone magazine's decision to feature this image of Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhohkar Tsarnaev on the cover caused outrage online and and prompted retailers like CVS and grocery chain Tedeschi Food Shops to ban the issue. The complaint is that the magazine is glamorizing and glorifying the accused killer. The "Boycott Rolling Stone For Their Latest Cover" Facebook page has more than 161,000 likes as of this writing. 

    Image Courtesy Rolling Stone Magazine

  • Time, 2012 2 of 14

    Critics of this cover about attachment parenting claimed the photograph sexualized breast-feeding and was just plain gross.

    Image courtesy of Time

  • Vanity Fair, 1991 3 of 14

    The cover that started the pregnancy pic trend. Demi Moore was seven months pregnant with her daughter Scout when she sat for Annie Leibovitz. Some critics called it obscene and grotesque. 

    Image courtesy of Vanity Fair

  • The Atlantic, 2012 4 of 14

    Something about this cover reminds me of that 1987 Diane Keaton movie Baby Boom. Yes, we have been talking about this subject for ages and you know what?  It's still as relevant and button-pushing as ever. 

    Image courtesy of The Atlantic. 

  • Entertainment Weekly, 2003 5 of 14

    When Natalie Maines told the audience at a Dixie Chicks concert in London that they did not support the war in Iraq, the backlash back home was something fierce. Radio boycotted the band's music. They received death threats and hate mail. Two months later the trio appeared on this Entertaiment Weekly cover "wearing" the insults that were hurled at them.

    The ladies also created an award-winning 2006 documentary, Shut Up and Sing, about the year following their comments and the chaos that ensued.

    Image courtesy of Entertainment Weekly

  • The New Yorker, 2008 6 of 14

    When this illustration of the Obamas hit the stands -- the intention was to mock the misconceptions of the couple -- both Democrats and Republicans called it offensive.  

    Image courtesy of The New Yorker. 

  • Time, 1997 7 of 14

    A lot has changed since Ellen DeGeneres came out on the cover of Time magazine 16 years ago. For one thing, advertisers like JC Penney decided not to air commercials during her TV show after the announcement. Today, she is the face of the brand. 

    Image courtesy of Time

  • Vogue, 2008 8 of 14

    This is a pretty odd paring. When the fashion bible put LeBron James and Gisele together some called it racially insensitive and critiqued the basketball star's "gorilla-like" teeth-baring pose, drawing comparisons to King Kong.

    Image courtesy of Vogue

  • Rolling Stone, 1980 9 of 14

    Annie Leibovitz took this photo of John and Yoko at their apartment in New York City five hours before John was shot in front of their building. The cover was the magazine's tribute to the singer. 

  • Time, 1966 10 of 14

    The backlash came swift on this one. The magazine received 3,500 letters from outraged readers -- the most in the publication's history. 

    Image courtesy of Time

  • Rolling Stone, 1993 11 of 14

    Remember this one? Patrick Demerchelier took this photo of Janet Jackson, her breasts covered by then boyfriend Rene Elizondo's hands. The article was timed for her sexually charged new album, Janet, which featured songs like "You Want This," and "Be A Good Boy."

    Image courtesy of Rolling Stone.

  • Esquire, 1968 12 of 14

    The cover image was in reference to Muhammad Ali's refusal to be drafted into the US Army. The arrows are depicting him as martyred St. Sebastian. 

    Image courtesy of Esquire

  • Time, 2013 13 of 14

    In March, Time magazine ran split covers of these two same sex couples. The men are domestic partners in California, and the women are married with two children. Time editor Rick Stengel said at the time, "We had a long debate in our offices about this week's cover images... Some thought they were sensationalist and too in-your-face. Others felt the images were beautiful and symbolized the love that is at the heart of the idea of marriage. I agree with the latter, and I hope you do too."

    Images courtesy of Time

  • New York Magazine, 2008 14 of 14

    No stranger to scandals, Lindsay Lohan allowed photographer Bert Stern to recreate his final photo shoot with Marilyn Monroe. Lohan viewed the shoot as a performance. Critics pointed to the comparison between the troubled young Lohan and the Hollywood icon, who died of an overdose six weeks after the original photos were taken.

    Image courtesy of New York Magazine

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