Biden Urges Coal Miners to Embrace Coding

Chris Cillizza is a former television pundit and political reporter. Beginning in 2005, he blogged about elections for The Washington Post, focusing on lightning-fast political analysis. In 2017, he joined CNN as an on-air commentator, writer, and all-around politics explainer. His superficial punditry, boldly incorrect predictions, and arbitrarily numbered lists earned him many detractors on both the right and the left, and CNN laid him off in 2022.

I hate to pile on since the man no longer speaks and writes on behalf of a large mainstream media outlet. (He is currently writing for Substack.) But on Wednesday, he made a claim on X—where he has 600,000 followers—that is completely, and instructively, wrong.

Our story begins with Cillizza observing—accurately—that there’s something mean-spirited about rejoicing in another person’s economic misfortune. Specifically, the Los Angeles Times recently laid off 20 percent of the newsroom, a reflection of the difficult times for many journalistic outlets. Conservatives perceive the media as an incredibly hostile enemy, and many on the right are positively giddy at the prospect of journalists facing unemployment.

The media industry does, in fact, have a lot of problems—including, in some cases, biases against nonliberal perspectives that create blind spots—but many individual reporters and editors and entire newsrooms are doing important work. That work often involves shining a spotlight on local issues; calling attention to waste, fraud, and abuse; and investigating corrupt government figures. As the Washington Examiner‘s Tim Carney put it, no one is better served by shrinking newspapers than “crooked or inept politicians.” And in any case, even if the media landscape is frequently toxic, it’s cruel to gratuitously champion firings.

One X user responded to Cillizza with a statement of zero sympathy” because many journalists had applauded layoffs when the victims were unvaccinated and out-competed blue-collar workers. This X user claimed that journalists had derisively advised these workers to obtain new skills—i.e., “learn to code.”

Cillizza responded: “It just didn’t happen. And, again, no journalist said ‘learn to code.’ And neither did Biden.”

Set aside whether the first part is true. The second part is obviously, patently false.

At a 2019 campaign rally in New Hampshire, then-candidate Joe Biden described the possibility of coal miners transitioning to more environmentally friendly labor. “Anybody who can go down 3,000 feet in a mine can sure as hell learn to program as well,” he said. His remarks were reported by The Washington Post‘s David Weigel and The Hill, the latter making note of the job-retraining aspects of Biden’s platform.

Cillizza’s tweet—or X, or whatever we’re calling them now—is wrong on its face. Reporters and pundits get things wrong all the time; he’s not guilty of some unique transgression. But it’s telling that almost 24 hours after Cillizza first penned it, it’s still up. He’s posted multiple times since. It’s hard to believe he hasn’t seen any of the numerous comments correcting him, since he seems to be the kind of person who reads the replies.

But there’s something else notable about this extremely wrong tweet, and that’s the real reason I decided to write about it: No misinformation experts or fact-checking organizations are springing into action to save social media from the threat of this clearly incorrect claim. Yet it has been corrected, in some sense—not by the self-proclaimed experts, but by the X community—specifically, Community Notes, the platform’s crowd-sourced fact-checking system.

Community Notes, formerly called Birdwatch, predates Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, though Musk is a big supporter of the feature. It allows users to add a contextualizing statement to the bottom of a tweet, and other users can rate the accuracy and helpfulness of that note. It’s not a perfect system, and it doesn’t mean that the platform is going to be free of false information. But letting users make such determinations has a proven track record of success in other scenarios; consider Wikipedia, which certainly has its detractors, but generally functions as a useful compendium of accurate information.

Contrast the Twitter/X approach with the one favored by Facebook, which has deputized third-party activist organizations to do the fact checking on the platform. This has frequently resulted in wrongful fact checks, including of Reason content produced by John Stossel. I tangled with Facebook’s fact-checkers, too: In December 2021, Facebook labeled one of my Reason articles as “false information checked by independent fact-checkers.” According to the label, I had wrongly claimed that masking schoolchildren didn’t work. But I never said such a thing—I had merely made note of an Atlantic article that called into question the validity of a scientific study in favor of mask mandates in schools. (The Atlantic article had received no Facebook fact check, even though my version made the exact same claims.)

Facebook eventually conceded that I was right and removed the inaccurate label. Perhaps the platform needs to hire fact-checkers for the fact-checkers. Better yet, it could try something along the lines of Community Notes.