American Manhunt: What Netflix’s Boston Marathon Bombing Document Leaves Out

Dramatizing events in a real-life case for documentary audiences is nothing new, and there’s nothing inherently sinister about it. I just wish that, in its mission to create the most definitive and accurate version possible of the Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent manhunt, American manhunt opted for something less flashy and misleading instead.

Rolling Stone’s controversial cover

American manhunt ends its story shortly after Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s arrest before blending into the traditional documentary text “this is what happened next to everyone involved”. One thing that has been left out in this period is a controversial magazine cover that has led to some interesting conversations and thoughts about 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 into religious extremism and violence. The story itself was well received, but many took issue with Tsarnaev’s appearance on the cover. Critics argued that the photograph, taken by Tsarnaev himself, portrayed the mass murderer in an overly sympathetic light and that he looked more like a movie star than a criminal. Take a look below to see if you agree.

Some retailers like CVS and BJ’s Wholesale Club announced that they would not publish the issue, which did little to prevent it from becoming one of the best-selling issues of a magazine this year- there. rolling stoneThe editorial team of issued a memo defending the cover story saying it “stands in 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 time.

This statement, however, doesn’t fully address the problem most people had with it: the image. It might not be so obvious 10 years later, but magazine covers were once synonymous with fame and popularity. The cover of rolling stone in particular was reserved for the biggest stars of pop culture. At the same time, however, rolling stone also provided (and still provides) some high quality news journalism. It was understandably difficult for the average consumer to reconcile the combination of a typically “boring” and stilted news article with the perceived honor of a magazine cover.

Figuring out how to get people’s attention to stories involving violent crime while remaining objective and non-exploitative is a challenge facing all media to this day. Thankfully, except for the occasional dramatized hiccup, American Manhunt: The Boston Marathon Bombing copes with it quite well.


Leave a Comment