Typically, retailers who sell magazines don't get into the roles of publishers, trying to decide what content they should and should not distribute. But quite a few major chains this week—including CVS (NYSE:CVS), Walgreens (NYSE:WAG), Rite Aid (NYSE:RAD), KMart (NASDAQ:SHLD) and 7-Eleven—found themselves in exactly that role when Rolling Stone did a cover story about Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Shortly after word of the cover story leaked, chain after chain issued statements that they would not offer that issue for sale, "out of respect" for people who had been impacted by the murders.
Most of the statements used similar phrasing. This is what CVS had to say: "CVS pharmacy has decided not to sell the current issue of Rolling Stone featuring a cover photo of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect. As a company with deep roots in New England and a strong presence in Boston, we believe this is the right decision out of respect for the victims of the attack and their loved ones."
Given that the bans were mostly announced before the magazine had published its cover story about Tsarnaev, the bans were most likely designed to avoid anger from those impacted, some of whom would react negatively to any coverage of the suspect. In this case, the story appears to be a traditional profile of a major figure in a huge news story, a story that neither vilifies nor glories the profile subject. (OK, I guess it vilifies him a little, given that the cover language said "he became a monster." Not one of the more editorially neutral characterizations possible.)
The image used on the cover was actually photographed by the subject himself, most likely one of the first—if not <i>the</i> first—major magazine cover shots that was a cellphone selfie. Some criticized the shot as making the suspect look like a rock star, but it's hard to reconcile that comment with the photo itself, which is unadorned.
That all said, the raw emotions involved in this case—especially in the Boston area—are such that rational and objective analysis will take a backseat to lingering fury and outrage. Given that there is likely minimal economic impact from those chains opting to not sell one issue of one magazine—and a potentially serious backlash if they chose to display the cover—this retail call is likely the correct, albeit regrettable, one.
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