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As Journalists Lose Jobs, Right-Wing Social Media Accounts Mockingly Say "Learn to Code"... Again.
For people who claim not to be "NPCs," these guys sure do seem to love their little catchphrases, don't they?
Hello, readers! Parker here. Let’s jump right in today.
In the news:
G/O Media is shutting down its women’s culture website, Jezebel, after failing to find a buyer. (via Will Sommer of the Washington Post)
Vice will be “winding down” some of its shows that “have reached the end of their production cycle and have not been renewed with distributors as of yet.” (via Max Tani of Semafor)
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On that note:
The “Learn to Code” trope returns. *Sigh*
As news of the layoffs happening at Vice and G/O media spread, right-wing accounts on social media offered up their usual canned response to journalists losing their jobs: “learn to code.”
If you’re unfamiliar with the phrase, “learn to code” is something that goes back more than five years and is based on a right-wing myth.
See, back in late-2018/early-2019, conservatives began deploying this as a way to laugh at laid off journalists. Their argument was, as Republican writer Jeff Blehar wrote, “mere turnabout for all the times when [mainstream media]’ers said the same to, e.g., coal miners or blue-collar types when their jobs disappeared.
Similarly, Donald Trump Jr. defended the bit of career grave-dancing under the justification that “many of those same journalists [who lost jobs] thought it was amusing that laid-off Blue Collar workers were told to ‘learn to code’ when they lost their jobs.”
And right-wing pundit Erick Erickson wrote that in 2016, “millennial reporters at various online outlets suggested that blue collar coal miners ‘learn to code’ as the Obama Administration hatched plans to close coal mines. More than one outlet suggested as much with the New York Times even going so far as to profile one group that taught unemployed rust belt workers to code.” Erickson chuckled, saying, “What’s good for the goose … isn’t working so well for the gander.”
Those comments came in response to Twitter recognizing a 4chan campaign to tweet “learn to code” at laid-off journalists as a form of coordinated harassment. And, to be clear, it absolutely was coordinated harassment. The flaw in Blehar, Trump, and Erickson’s claims is that there’s no evidence that any significant number of journalists ever smugly told coal miners to “learn to code.” It just didn’t happen.1
I wrote about this back in 2019 for Media Matters. Researching that piece, I had assumed that surely some of the examples being cited by the right were valid. I was wrong. Erickson’s “with the New York Times even going so far as to profile one group that taught unemployed rust belt workers to code” comment gave me a place to start.
Yes, the Times did publish a thoroughly reported feature2 about jobs drying up in Appalachia, job training groups, and government funding initiatives to keep an oft-overlooked portion of the country afloat. It was not, by any stretch of the imagination, some sort of “Haha, just learn to code, losers!” type of piece written by “Millennials.” That particular story, which, again, was reported with extraordinary empathy, was written by someone born in the 1960s. In other words, a baby boomer wrote it.
A 2018 Times op-ed titled, “The Coders of Kentucky,”3 was written by a member of the silent generation, born in 1940, and highlighted bipartisan economic revitalization plans. The piece empathetically focused on the plight workers in industries on the decline for one reason or another. In the case of coal mining, the rise in renewable energy has steadily reduced coal demand in recent decades. Still no smug “millennials” here.
As I wrote in that Media Matters piece, “The closest thing to a smug ‘learn to code’ response to miners losing jobs came from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who actually dismissed out-of-work miners as being unable or unwilling to code. Bloomberg, born in 1942, is definitely not a millennial.”
Occasionally, some on the right would point to articles that were more generally pro-coding as evidence that journalists were delighting in the idea of blue-collar workers getting laid off. That’s not at all the same thing. As I wrote:
This isn’t to say that there haven’t been articles urging various groups to learn how to code. A 2013 post published on Forbes’ community page suggested that women should learn the skill. People have made a case for including coding classes in K-12 public education, for businesspeople to give it a shot, and for designers to get in on the action. A 2014 interactive BuzzFeed piece by Katie Notopoulos listed various articles handing out this bit of advice broadly. Interestingly enough, none of them were in the oh, you just got laid off -- deal with it and learn to code vein.
Why do they do this? Self-victimization, self-justification, and so on.
This is something that happens a lot. In the case of “learn to code,” the people saying it certainly know that it’s cruel to mock people losing their jobs, but they need to find something that soothes their guilt. If they can go, “Ah-ha! I’m not being a mean person, I’m just giving them a taste of their own medicine!” it allows them to say and do whatever they want, justified or not.
This is happening a lot right now with the loudest opponents of “cancel culture” who can’t help but delight in seeing people they disagree with get “canceled.” There’s a lot of, “You know, I’m not a fan of cancel culture, but these are the new rules that you made!” type of justification for their wild inconsistency and hypocrisy. But as I’ve written before, “cancel culture” is not something that originated on or was primarily a tool of the left. “Canceling” people, in the current sense, is something that knows no political point of view. That’s why you don’t see a lot of supposed “free speech absolutists” who’ve spent years throwing fits about campus politics and “self-censorship” standing up against authoritarian efforts to crack down on pro-Palestinian protests and student groups. They justify their hypocrisy just fine by telling themselves little lies about how their political opponents are the ones who started it all.
That’s it for me today. Hope everyone out there is doing alright!
I hedged here to include the words “any significant number of” in that sentence because, hey, for all I know, there were some small number of people who call themselves journalists who did that. As I explain immediately after this, however, the examples that Erickson and others cited did not do that.
Please take the time to read this piece. The link should get you around the Times’ paywall, and you can see firsthand that it doesn’t match the right-wing framing of Erickson and others.
Again, this is a gift link. Please read it, and you’ll find a distinct lack of smugness anywhere in the text.