No one photograph captures the totality of any one human being. Fucking duh.
A Massachusetts state cop has, apparently without authorization, released images that he took of the capture of the accused Boston Marathon bombing participant Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in order to make a political point while blasting Rolling Stone for allegedly having tried to make a political point. (The image above is the image that has gone the most viral.)
“As a professional law-enforcement officer of 25 years, I believe that the image [of Tsarnaev] that was portrayed by Rolling Stone magazine was an insult to any person who has every worn a uniform of any color or any police organization or military branch, and the family members who have ever lost a loved one serving in the line of duty,” Massachusetts State Police Sgt. Sean Murphy huffed and puffed when he gave the images to Boston Magazine, continuing, “The truth is that glamorizing the face of terror is not just insulting to the family members of those killed in the line of duty, it also could be an incentive to those who may be unstable to do something to get their face on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.”
I get it that Murphy has a personal and political interest in protecting the authoritarian, law-and-order, “good”-guys-vs.-“bad”-guys, violence-loving, white-male patriarchy of which he is part and parcel, but it was unprofessional (and, hell, for all that I know, also illegal) for Murphy, on his own, to release the images to the media out of his own personal and political passions, and BBC News reports that Murphy apparently has been relieved of duty for having released the images without authorization.
Murphy is allowed his wingnutty opinions, but, when it comes to whether or not D. Tsarnaev’s attorneys can argue whether or not he can get a fair trial, a fucking Rolling Stone cover probably won’t factor into that argument, but a state cop’s having released photos of Tsarnaev and having called Tsarnaev “evil” and “the real Boston bomber” certainly could. So Murphy’s actions seem to me to be reckless at best, especially if he is interested in actual justice, as he apparently claims he is.
Yes, in his right-wing rant that the apparently right-wing Boston Magazine published, the leaker Murphy also proclaimed: “Photography is very simple, it’s very basic. It brings us back to the cave. An image like this on the cover of Rolling Stone, we [who, exactly, is “we”?] see it instantly as being wrong. What Rolling Stone did was wrong. This guy is evil. This is the real Boston bomber. Not someone fluffed and buffed for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.”
While I agree that “photography is very simple,” that is the fucking problem. Murphy, apparently without any self-awareness of this, is guilty of the flip side of what he accuses Rolling Stone of having done.
I agree that one emo-looking image of D. Tsarnaev on the cover of Rolling Stone certainly doesn’t tell the whole story about the young man, but neither does one image (or even several images) of a sniper’s red-laser dot on Tsarnaev’s forehead tell the whole story about him.
Each of us is a complex human being who cannot be summed up in one fucking photograph.
And neither can even someone like D. Tsarnaev tidily and neatly be summed up in the single word “evil,” as Murphy so helpfully has done for us, and, of course, the difference between people like Murphy — authoritarian, self-righteous, patriarchy-promoting-and-protecting, hypocritically-violent-themselves types — and the rest of us is that while Murphy would deny that he contains any evil within himself at all, the rest of us acknowledge that we do.
And it’s those who deny that they have any evil within themselves at all who, in my book, are the most dangerous of all, which is perhaps why our plutocratic overlords love to have these sociopathic types in the U.S. military and in U.S. law enforcement (and, let’s face it, most of the time “our” laws apply only to us commoners, and not to our plutocratic overlords).
Update: Via Slate.com, this is a clarification of what has happened with Sgt. Sean Murphy:
Though he’s been relieved of duty, Murphy has not been fired. The status of his duty is to be reviewed next week. Two lieutenants in an unmarked cruiser and a sergeant in a marked cruiser arrived at Murphy’s home about 7:40 [last night] and, during about 20 minutes at his home, took the following: his gun, badge, ammunition, handcuffs, baton, bulletproof vest, cameras, police ID, license to fire arms, pepper spray, cellphone and computer. Murphy was also ordered not to speak to the press or discuss the capture of Tsarnaev with anyone else.
My guess is that he’ll get a slap on the wrist. At the bare minimum, in my book, he no longer should be allowed to photograph police activity.
Also, the Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi wrote a good piece defending Rolling Stone. Sure, you might say, of course he’s going to defend his employer, but nonetheless, he makes some good points, such as these:
… I think, on the whole, the people leveling these criticisms must not read the magazine, which is understandable. It would be beyond unreasonable to expect everyone in the country to be regularly familiar with the articles in Rolling Stone. On the other hand, pretty much everyone has heard of Rolling Stone, which is where the problem lay, in this gap between the popular image of the magazine and the reality of its reporting.
If indeed we were just a celebrity/gossip mag that covered nothing but rock stars and pop-culture icons, and we decided to boost sales and dabble in hard news by way of putting a Jim Morrison-esque depiction of a mass murderer on our cover, that really would suck and we would deserve all of this criticism.
But Rolling Stone has actually been in the hard news/investigative reporting business since its inception, from Hunter S. Thompson to Carl Bernstein to Bill Greider back in the day to Tim Dickinson, Michael Hastings, Mark Boal, Janet Reitman and myself in recent years.
One could even go so far as to say that in recent years, when investigative journalism has been so dramatically de-emphasized at the major newspapers and at the big television news networks, Rolling Stone’s role as a source of hard-news reporting has been magnified. In other words, we’re more than ever a hard news outlet in a business where long-form reporting is becoming more scarce. …
If the Rolling Stone editors had brought Tsarnaev in to its offices near Rockefeller center, wined and dined him, and then posed him for that Jim Morrison shot, then yes, that would be reprehensible.
But that’s not what the magazine did. They used an existing photo, one already used by other organizations. The New York Times, in fact, used exactly the same photo on the cover of their May 5 issue.
But there was no backlash against the Times, because everyone knows the Times is a news organization. Not everyone knows that about Rolling Stone. So that’s your entire controversy right there – it’s OK for the Times, not OK for Rolling Stone, because many people out there understandably do not know that Rolling Stone is also a hard-news publication. …
[Regarding] the idea that the cover photo showed Tsarnaev to be too nice-looking, too much like a sweet little boy[,] I can understand why this might upset some people. But the jarringly non-threatening image of Tsarnaev is exactly the point of the whole story. If any of those who are up in arms about this cover had read Janet’s piece, they would see that the lesson of this story is that there are no warning signs for terrorism, that even nice, polite, sweet-looking young kids can end up packing pressure-cookers full of shrapnel and tossing them into crowds of strangers.
Thus the cover picture is not intended to glamorize Tsarnaev. Just the opposite, I believe it’s supposed to frighten. …
I recommend Taibbi’s piece in its entirety.
It was clear to me immediately that Rolling Stone had repurposed an existing image of Tsarnaev for its cover. I have to wonder if Sean Murphy is so stupid as to not have realized that, or if he realized that but intentionally wanted to mislead others in his personal crusade against Rolling Stone, which his own words — his description of the image of Tsarnaev that RS used as “someone fluffed and buffed for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine” — suggest.