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Essay: Right-Wing Media, Adam Carolla and the Myth of the “Coexist” Sticker

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Coexist The story spread like wildfire throughout last weekend, not long after the shootout between the two accused Boston Marathon bombers and police in the area. Sometime Friday morning, a picture emerged, taken from a screen capture of a local news report from WHDH in Boston, of several police officers standing near a car with one of those “Coexist” stickers, which features the symbols of various world religions, including Islam.

I believe David Burge of the blog Iowahawk tweeted the picture first and it quickly went viral in conservative circles, along with the notion that this was the car hijacked by the bombers after their shootout at MIT.

The driver, it was inferred, was some stupid liberal who’s too much of a starry-eyed hippie to notice how inherently evil Islam is- and he sure did learn his lesson. A twist on the old “a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged” trope, if you will.

Established right-wing media jumped on board, quickly. Mark Steyn penned a column for National Review,  titled “The ‘Co-exist’ Bombers.” The Daily Caller was on the story right away, as were the New York Post, PJ Media, the Washington Times, Jihad Watch, and about a thousand conservative Twitter users. Sarah Palin, it should go without saying, tweeted about it.

And then, Wednesday night, Adam Carolla* went on The O’Reilly Factor and joked about the Coexist sticker, with the video of the segment appearing once again on most of the aforementioned sites. Talking about the story on TV, which I don’t believe anyone had before, really made the story spread:

Here at last was a story that showed just how clueless liberals are, that they’re completely unprepared to address the evils of the jihad menace. When will those naive, dirty hippies ever learn, that the answer to violence by Muslims isn’t coexistence, but.. something else. Complete shunning, or perhaps all-out war.

Too bad it’s completely untrue, as I was I believe the first to point out in a blog post last Saturday. 

The car in the picture with the “coexist” sticker is a sedan- a Mazda, according to Jalopnik, in its detailed takedown- while the car hijacked by the two brothers was a Mercedes SUV, a fact that’s been clearly established since the day it happened. ABC News showed footage later that day of the actual hijacked car, which was much larger, had its back windows shot out, and did not have the “coexist” sticker. The younger brother was driving a second car, a Honda, for part of the evening in question, but the car was his own, according to ABC, and was never hijacked. The license plate on the car in the picture also does not match the one of the Honda police said they were looking for. The “hijacked car had a coexist sticker” hypothesis is simply not true.

There’s no reason to believe the car in the picture has any connection to the two brothers- for one thing, by the time the police would have been standing next to it, the car had already been at the center of a lengthy firefight that included guns and bombs, but the car with the sticker has no visible bullet holes and appears undamaged.

Whose car is it, with the sticker? I have no idea. WHDH’s news director did not respond to a request for comment, but the picture was taken at about 2:19 a.m. Friday, which was right around the time the mysterious “naked man” was arrested in full view of live TV cameras. I’m guessing the screen cap was taken in connection with that; after all, contemporaneous tweets refer to an arrest, while neither brother was arrested on camera.

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*You may have noticed in the last few years, Adam Carolla has become quite a right-winger. 

For the first 15 years or so of his career- and I was an unabashed fan for a long time- I’d say Carolla’s politics fit into the Howard Stern/”South Park” category I’ve long called “horny libertarianism.” It’s a philosophy that is pretty prevalent in the comedy world, in favor above all of free speech and expression, and opposed to anyone standing in the way of that, whether it’s political correctness, feminists or the religious right. 

Carolla’s turn towards a more vocal conservatism has come both with the rise of Obama, and with his move into the podcasting world. It’s a medium that’s very much conducive to Carolla’s talents- he can rant for any length of time he chooses, curse as much as he wants, and be his own boss. The freedom that comes with podcasting has been very lucrative for him as well, although it has led to a few controversial moments. Carolla has also, it appears, fallen into the common trap of comedians in which he’s gotten a little too rich and famous to still pull off the aggrieved-everyman schtick. 

 I have no problem with Carolla expressing political views with which I disagree; that’s his right, although I confess I’m not as regular a listener of his show as I once was. He can appear for a weekly segment on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News show, just like Dennis Miller, another comic who had a late-career conversion to conservatism. He can say or do whatever he wants. 

 But when you join the conservative media, having to peddle a whole lot of B.S. is something that comes with the territory. And the “Coexist sticker” story is a lesson in that. 

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The “coexist” sticker not being real is only one of the problematic aspects of this story. Start with the person whose car was hijacked. This man, who has remained anonymous, has been unfairly vilified as a naive milquetoast weakling, based on a sticker that wasn’t really on his car. In reality, he’s been through a hellish, near-death ordeal, and is actually legitimately a hero- his actions, including leaving his cell phone in the car, led directly to the capture of the second bomber.

There’s also the cruel and insulting implication, through all of this, that the people of Boston- a great city that has shown amazing strength after suffering a tremendous tragedy- are a bunch of fifth-columnists who secretly sympathize with terrorism.

Even further, let’s look at what the spreading of this story says about the political right today. It’s now apparently a conservative belief that coexistence is a bad thing, and that it’s self-evident that two Muslims committing a terror attack means that all Muslims, everywhere, should be treated as suspect. That’s a pretty radical, indefensible position if you ask me. I happen to think interfaith coexistence is more necessary after events like the Boston bombing, as opposed to less.

In that National Review column- which, like every story linked above, has not been corrected or amended- Mark Steyn noted that “one would not expect [the driver] to conclude, as the gays of Amsterdam and the Jews of Toulouse and the Christians of Egypt have bleakly done, that if it weren’t for that Islamic crescent you wouldn’t need a bumper sticker at all.” Aside from the entire premise of the column being based on an untruth, Steyn is implying that if it weren’t for Muslims, all peoples of the world would get along and there would be no wars. Which is shockingly, blatantly ahistorical and false.

Is Steyn implying that one religion is responsible for all of the wars in the world? Because Mel Gibson has very similar views. 

No, it’s not the first time the conservative media has coalesced around a piece of information that turned out to be egregiously untrue. But I expect the “coexist sticker” to remain an article of faith on the right for a long time- it was even mentioned by Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr Thursday, days after the debunking. Don’t be surprised if it comes up in email forwards from your Republican uncle for years to come.

 

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2 Comments

  1. What difference does it make? The sticker belongs to a naive liberal nonetheless. If that had been the hijacked car all it would have proven was irony. The naivete of that bumper sticker needs no further proof.

    Nick
  2. It’s sad what passes for news on Fox. The sticker was a total non-story that says very little other than the amount of hatred and Islamophobia that plagues most Neo-con talking heads.

    What’s even more sad is that there are some very intelligent scholars and thinkers on the conservative side of the spectrum who can add much to the dialog if Fox would just get rid of some of their hosts and guests. Instead we just get a steady stream of rabid neo-cons who say the most absurd things. No wonder Democrats have won the last two elections. For the last decade people have turned on the TV and all they hear from Republicans are constant comparisons to Obama being the next Hitler and moronic commentary like this decal incident.

    Irada Arts