NonFoods Talk: The First Amendment

Seth_MendelsonObviously, I am a big believer in the First Amendment.

Freedom of the press is a basic right and one that, I believe, serves as a perfect counter balance to government excess and extremism from all points of the political spectrum.

That said, I think the decision by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine to put Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of the Aug. 1 issue is a mistake and I understand why several retailers, including CVS and Walgreens, have made the decision to remove the issue from their shelves.

Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan are accused of planting two bombs that killed three people and wounded about 250 others during the running of the Boston Marathon in April. Tamerlan was killed in a shootout with police in the days after the bombing.

Like others, I have no problem with the article profiling Tsarnaev. I even welcome it because it gives a look inside the mind of the accused killer. What has me, and others, ticked is the cover photo, which features him in a designer shirt, looking quite the bit like a rock star.

There is no need for society to make this guy into a hero. He is accused of killing people and wounding—some quite severely—hundreds of others. His goal was to cause death and panic and general mayhem in a setting where many innocent people had felt safe and secure.

Placing him on the cover of the magazine may, in some twisted way, give others an idea that they will be glorified if they do something similar to what he is accused. It opens the door to their 15 minutes of fame and that can lead down an ugly path for some.

So while freedom of the press is very important, it is also within retailers rights to make the decision to remove the title from their magazine sections. At the same time, this should not open the door for wholesale censorship of publications and books. A case-by-case review of sensitive issues is fine, but the bar must be set very high to eliminate a title from the mix. It must be done only with the interest of the public in mind. 

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