Linux is the peasant behind the scene on everything, including "Desktop Linux"!
Linux has always been a basic OS. While bootable without any additional applications or libraries it is not very functional. At the very least you will add a libc implementation and from there many other libraries, applications and possibly window managers to have a usable user interface. I agree that Android is not GNU/Linux (probably the most common form of CLI/GUI "Desktop Linux"), but in GNU/Linux, Linux is still the peasant behind the scene.
Linux is not *BSD/Windows/etc where the development team creates a whole package from the kernel up to the user interface, it is just the core, the "peasant" doing the hard work of managing system memory, networking and disc io, etc. Unless you are doing system development, or very low level application development, as a programmer you probably would almost never interact directly with Linux.
Yes, the media has turned Linux into a complete OS, but that has nothing to do with the actual Linux software and what it does. The media just did not like saying GNU/Linux which is generally what they were referring with when they would say Linux...