January 10, 2010

The answer: The NYT doesn't get pop culture references.

All the front-page promotion of this article about Roger Ailes finally got me to read it — mainly in search of the answer why the NYT thought it had such an important article.
At a time when the broadcast networks are struggling with diminishing audiences and profits in news, [Ailes] has built Fox News into the profit engine of the News Corporation. Fox News is believed to make more money than CNN, MSNBC and the evening newscasts of NBC, ABC and CBS combined...
Yes, yes, how galling it must be, for liberal media to have a market share that corresponds to the actual proportion of liberals in the population. There is one news network that leans conservative, at it has an audience proportionate to the conservatives in the population. All you need is to observe that the presentation of news and opinion is going to have a slant, and it all makes sense. Presumably, the Times would like to rile its readers up about what a terrible, horrible man Roger Ailes is. They lob this quote from his Rupert Murdock's son-in-law Matthew Freud (who is the great grandson of Sigmund Freud):
"I am by no means alone within the family or the company in being ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes’s horrendous and sustained disregard of the journalistic standards that News Corporation, its founder and every other global media business aspires to."
Aspires to, eh? But do they reach it? And if they don't, do they have self-awareness about their failure? I've got to think that this article itself is far from those aspirational standards.

Anyway, here's what caught my eye:
As powerful as he is within the News Corporation, Mr. Ailes remains a spectral presence outside the Fox News offices. National security had long been a preoccupation of Fox News, and it was clear in the interview that the 9/11 attacks had a profound effect on Mr. Ailes. They convinced him that he and his network could be terrorist targets.

On the day of the attacks, Mr. Ailes asked his chief engineer the minimum number of workers needed to keep the channel on the air. The answer: 42. “I am one of them,” he said. “I’ve got a bad leg, I’m a little overweight, so I can’t run fast, but I will fight.

“We had 3,000 dead people a couple miles from here. I knew that any communications company could be a target.”
The answer is 42?! What wag fed them that story? And who decided to pull the NYT's (bad) leg over the subject of 9/11? The NYT is still such a lamestain. It's a harsh realm indeed for the square old paper that wants so much to be hip.

Of course, the answer is 42! The answer to everything is 42. It's an old reference, a joke that is supposed to be so easily recognizable that you are really kind of a cob nobbler to resort to it these days. Ah, well. Rock on!

59 comments:

AllenS said...

If the New York Times has a bad leg, it's the middle one.

Kev said...

(the other kev)

Deep Thought is obviously not the hallmark of the New York Times.

Big Mike said...

I still say that the joke would have been much funnier if Adams had said "43," given what the question turned out to be.

Meanwhile, what is a law professor doing reading Doug Adams?!? Meade, you have truly found a treasure.

J.C. Nickel said...

Ah yes, FOX "leans" conservative.

The same way that Nazis "'lean" towards evil.

Ciarand Denlane said...

.... speaking of pop references, that sure didn't take long

vbspurs said...

Of course, the answer is 42! The answer to everything is 42. It's an old reference, a joke that is supposed to be so easily recognizable that you are really kind of a cob nobbler to resort to it these days. Ah, well. Rock on!

I have a touch of the old Grey Lady in me, because I didn't know about this joke. I didn't "get it" when I read the story last night.

And possibly that's why the New York Times, and FAZ in Germany, as well as the Times in the UK all have the same kind of "liberal but elitist paper of record" reputation. The tone they use is one I recognise and feel comfortable with, despite my politics.

SMGalbraith said...

The same way that Nazis "'lean" towards evil.

Let me guess, an Olberman fan?

somefeller said...

A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy reference isn't a pop culture reference, it's a geek culture reference. Not something the NY Times is likely to clue in on, though the harsh realm reference is a pretty good one for NY Times pop culture fail. And speaking for myself, it's not something I was aware of until clicking through the links on the post above.

SMGalbraith said...

Olbermann: "Fox news is worse than Al Qaeda. It's as dangerous as the Klu Klux Klan ever was."

I mean, folks, we're talking nutsville here.

Yeah, Fox News can be horrible, just awful. The bias, the sloppiness, the sensationalism is just shocking sometimes. And Beck is a flat out nut.

But some perspective please.

Eric said...

Yes, yes, how galling it must be, for liberal media to have a market share that corresponds to the actual proportion of liberals in the population.

I'm starting to think there's a big business opportunity in a second conservative news organization. Though no worse than its competitors on the left, the quality of Fox News isn't particularly high.

bagoh20 said...

It's a measure of one's insularity to know too many or too few of these references. The correct number? Of course it is.

Ann Althouse said...

Look, I haven't read "Hitchhiker's Guide." I've just encountered this pop culture reference enough times that it's obvious to me. Good God if I had to watch/read everything that contained a reference to get a reference! Don't you realize you've got to use time-saving strategies? It's so damned easy with Google anyway. If something recurs or looks odd, just Google it. You'll always get the reference after that. It takes more time being distracted and confused than it does to just spot and nail down these things.

Ann Althouse said...

And I don't watch Fox News either. I know what it's like. I might watch a clip now and then. Basically, TV news is an insufferable waste of time compared to the web. By the time it's on, I already know all the stories. I don't need to watch some overmade-up blonde teasing me with "And wait until you hear what..." blah blah before a commercial, when I knew about the teased thing hours ago. And by teased thing, I don't mean her hair. I mean, the boring news tidbit that she thinks I'll sit through commercials to hear.

OldGrouchy Doug Wright said...

JC Nickel: You Socialist Communist bastard! In 1940, you'd have been against fighting Hitler, wouldn't you! Because your hero leader Uncle Joe wants to snuggle up to Hitler!

Now, you and your kind try to attach that label and that your kind was in 1940 to your opponents.

Hitler controlled the Reichstag and the Germany government back then and boasted of remaking Germany. Obama controls our Congress and boasts of remaking America into his Socialist dream.

Get f'ing real, Missy, because the fire you and your party are playing with is going to burn you all badly, metaphorically speaking, so STFU!

somefeller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
somefeller said...

It's so damned easy with Google anyway. If something recurs or looks odd, just Google it.

Googling a reference to the number 42? Maybe you've come across this reference a lot or it's a baby boomer thing, but I'm someone who's pretty well-versed in pop culture references (as a Generation Xer, reruns all become our history), and this one didn't ring any bells or raise any red flags.

vbspurs said...

I'm starting to think there's a big business opportunity in a second conservative news organization.

I've been torturing myself wanting to have a few extra billion or so dollars lying around, so I could do exactly the same thing -- give Fox News a run for its money.

I'd make it sleeker, younger, and yet more sophisticated, but also put in a few country western stars with their own programmes too.

"On the next Gretchen Wilson".

vbspurs said...

And I don't watch Fox News either. I know what it's like. I might watch a clip now and then. Basically, TV news is an insufferable waste of time compared to the web. By the time it's on, I already know all the stories. I don't need to watch some overmade-up blonde teasing me with "And wait until you hear what..." blah blah before a commercial, when I knew about the teased thing hours ago. And by teased thing, I don't mean her hair. I mean, the boring news tidbit that she thinks I'll sit through commercials to hear.

OMG, Ann, you are in your late 50s. That sounded well-nigh crotchety. Get off my lawn, you blonde overly made up bimbo!

Tom said...

Go find a tab of Orange Sunshine. Split it with a friend. Find a vinyl copy of Jimi Hendrix's - Axis Bold As Love and a functioning turntable, headphones optional. Cue up "If 6 Was 9". All your questions will be answered. Or at least it seemed so back in 1967...

James said...

I too admit to not "getting" the 42 joke.

But I did catch an Althouse error. Young Freud is not Ailes son-in-law. He is married to Rupert Murdock's daughter.

Johanna Lapp said...

Given that "Hitchhiker's Guide" spent six months on the NYT bestsellers list and got play in the Book Review (a rarity for comic science fiction), you'd think someone at the magazine might have read it.

Clues, guys: Jim Kirk commanded a starship on Star Trek. Atlas Shrugged is not (literally) about a figure from Greek mythology. Valentine Michael Smith was Tarzan of the Martians. Rick Blaine ran a saloon in French Morocco. Billie Jean was NOT Michael's lover.

OldGrouchy Doug Wright said...

Everyone here is forgetting the most important act one could ever do: Carry a towel with you at all times!

MayBee said...

The funny thing is watching all the reporters on Twitter sending the link to this "must read!" article.

MrBuddwing said...

I take it there's no way the "42" answer was perfectly serious?

(Word Verification: mingumbe)

rcocean said...

"Hithchiker" was also a hit movie and a long running TV show - frequently played on PBS.

So, you don't have to be a SF geek to know about "42" or "Life, the universe and everything"

Its become like Monty Python.

Johanna Lapp said...

A HIT movie? That's more than a stretch, rcocean.

G Joubert said...

Googling a reference to the number 42?

I didn't get the reference either, but I DID google "42" and Phrases from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was the first thing that came back.

ironrailsironweights said...

No one seems to be considering the possibility that "42" might actually have been the correct answer. Fox News surely has (and had, on 9/11) some sort of emergency plan in place for operation during disasters. CNN and MSNBC and perhaps the broadcast network news divisions likely do the same. It may well be that the plan specified 42 as the minimum number of employees for emergency operations.

Peter

andrew said...

Speaking of Freud, here's some interesting quotes by the man.

“A fear of weapons is a sign of retarded sexual and emotional maturity”

and

“Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.”

Just some random things to think on.

Derek Kite said...

>but I'm someone who's pretty well-versed in pop culture references

I think you need a second opinion.

Derek

Tim Sisk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
showbiz111 said...

The way i read the freudcake remarks is that he believes that the lamestream media also 'aspires to disregard journalistic standards'. I believe that the events of the last two years in the lamestream media have shown Mr. Freudcake to be prescient in that observation.

bagoh20 said...

So if "42" was actually a serious answer, what does that say about Ann? Flashbacks may be becoming her new reality. Reach for us Ann, we will be your anchor.

XWL said...

"Look, I haven't read "Hitchhiker's Guide."

And why haven't you?

The series originated as a BBC Radio series, that's probably the best place to start, it's an excellent listen.

Big Mike said...

Look, I haven't read "Hitchhiker's Guide."

Meade, I take back what I wrote at 10:51

Chip Ahoy said...

Interview with Eion Colfer, of Artemis Fowl fame, who quite controversially is writing a sequel to Hitchhikers Guide as Douglas Adams is unavailable due to his death.

The interview is mostly quick answers to crap questions posed collectively by a bin of borderline retarded dipsticks.

Sample:
Eh? How can you even think you would be remotely in the same category of human mind as Douglas? What makes you think your shit is worth even one cent of Douglas'? And who the fuck are you?

Such lovely sentence structure. It makes me not want to debate anything meaningful with you.

rick said...

There are two labels the left tries to pin on the anybody who disagrees with them. Racist or Nazi.

The lefties have cornered this market to such a degree and for so long, you'd think there would be an anti-trust investigation by now.

Which party focuses on color? I bring you Harry Reid;s "talk Negro" as the latest the example. Joe Biden's "clean and articulate" code words for black but doesn't look or talk black. Bill Clinton's "he would be getting us coffee a few years back" i.e. a black waiter. And yet blacks continue to stay on the Democrats plantation. You disagree with an Obama position and you are Republican, Independent, or Conservative, you're labeled a racist. Everything with Democrats starts with the color of someone's skin.

Nazi?? The Nazi party wanted absolute government control. Do Conservative want that? No. Independents? No. Republicans? Some ,but few. Democrats?? More and by wide margin.

And yet these labels stick.

1jpb said...

This "Hitchhiker's" book must be a baby boomer thing. It makes me think of "The Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."

The first time I remember hearing about that "Zen" book was from the movie called "Drive me Crazy." In this movie the distant father gives this book to his daughter while they're on a hot air balloon. He says that this book will explain him, but the daughter immediately throws it overboard. IMHO, this scene captures how the self absorbed, self interested baby boomer generation is completely oblivious to the fact that other folks don't care about their endless self-importance, self-discovery, and self-blather.

The second time I remember hearing about this "Zen" book was when I was working on a Habitat for Humanity house w/ two baby boomers who were talking about how meaningful this book was. They seemed a bit annoyed when I described the way the book was used in the "Drive me Crazy" movie.

Baby boomers; sheesh.

kcom said...

"Everyone here is forgetting the most important act one could ever do: Carry a towel with you at all times!"

Actually, I have had a towel in my car for the last five or six or eight years. It turns out Douglas Adams was a genius and knew what he was talking about. The thing has a million and one uses. I cover my laptop with it when forced to leave it in the car (for short periods), it's available for spills, it can be a makeshift pilllow, it keeps takeout pizza warm, etc., etc., etc. Highly recommended.

Big Mike said...

@kcom, me too! It's surprising how often a towel comes in handy.

Ralph L said...

Young Freud is not Ailes son-in-law
A good thing, because he'd be cut out of Ailes' will. Still pretty stupid to rip your (indirect) employees publicly, especially the successful ones. I doubt Rupert likes it.

XWL said...

Don't Panic.

(I just wanted to sneak in with the 42nd comment on the thread)

Ann Althouse said...

@James Thanks for the correction.

Do I concede that it might be a pure coincidence that some informant told the NYT "the answer is 42"? Yes, but it's not only quite improbable, but even if it was a coincidence, the NYT should have known the reference and not used the story because it sounds like a joke.

Ann Althouse said...

And by "that some informant told the NYT "the answer is 42"" I mean that they said it without intending to refer to the Hitchhiker's Guide.

Paddy O. said...

This "Hitchhiker's" book must be a baby boomer thing.

Not at all! Less so than even Monty Python, which was at least made during the Baby Boomer's young adulthood.

Hitchhikers is probably more a Gen-X (can we still use that tired label?) thing. But, I think its intelligent humor is much more insightful and prescient than most Gen-X lit. It's really quite, quite postmodern, in a fun, engaging, British sense rather than a dour, cranky Continental way.

These books, along with Adams' Dirk Gently series, have long been comfort reads, offering escape from heavy non-fiction while not descending into wasteful fluff.

David said...

In Hitchhiker's Guide, it's determined that the answer is 42. Unfortunately the question is unknown.

A perfect metaphor for the NYT.

Opus One Media said...

One potential reason that FauxNoise's P&L might be higher than others is that they have no reporters gathering news. The regularly take video feeds from CNN and NBC and their producers compile from wire stories.

Furthermore what "news programs" does Faux have? There isn't a nightly news anywhere. Please don't consider Hannity or Mr. PhoneSex or Huckebee jamming with his friends to be news. They are entertainment programs. Variety shows if you like...but news? Nope.

Fr Martin Fox said...

The teeth-gnashing and vitriol that comes in response to Fox News is so funny; it's a major reason I read a post that might seem to feature some of it; laughing at it is a guilty pleasure.

I watch Fox, but I agree with Ann in getting my news from the Internet. There is something bloodless about getting news via the Internet; TV News is good for video and a sense of the mood around a story.

And I agree Fox deserves criticism and will, sooner or later, get caught short in a big way.

So why do I watch Fox? Simply put, I think they are far less contemptuous of me and what I care about than the broadcast networks, CNN and MSNBC.

And because the other networks -- as well as a large share of the legacy media -- richly deserve some comeuppance. Richly.

Opus One Media said...

What on the Internet can you certify as "true"? Anyone can post anything and then the reader has to decide what is up and down.

If you have had a grad course or two in "research methods" you come to a term called "original source"...roughly meaning "first entry". That used to hold water as the original source materials were in the library or interlibrary loan available and were on mircofiche or something akin and you knew it was what it was..right down to watermarks.

Now it is just electrons...so if you don't have anything better than an Internet listing for authentication, then you are playing in the comic strips in the local 7-11.

Opus One Media said...

As to FauxNoise.....well I have nothing. Zip.

It ISN'T news. a bowl of crap is too generous.

Synova said...

"Answer to the Universe" is how my 12 year old remembers 7 x 6.

"Evil Overlord" is 7 x 8.

Not because it's in a book anywhere, but because 56 is the evil overlord of mathematical facts.

I didn't find it fantastic that Fox News could be kept on the air with 42 people in its New York offices. I wonder if it included shifts for 24 hour coverage, 8-8-8.

holdfast said...

I'm an X-er, and read all the Hitchhiker books as a child, thanks to a good friend who was obsessed with them. The first one I read was actually the last (at the time) of the trilogy in four/five parts "So Long and Thanks for all the Fish" and I was reprimanded for laughing in class.

It is definitely Geek Culture, but the big-screen adaptation did ahieve modst success.

Paul Brinkley said...

Fr Martin Fox: "There is something bloodless about getting news via the Internet; TV News is good for video and a sense of the mood around a story."

You mean, sense of the mood TV News wants you to have around a story. I used to watch 20/20 when I was a kid; I started to make a game out of how fast I could tell which side of the story they would take. It got old about when I realized I could tell from the two-minute teaser at the beginning of the show.

Still works today, when I listen to NPR. It'd probably work on Fox, too, if I watched it. It's not a liberal thing; it's a news-with-ads thing. If you get no mood, you don't stick around for the sales pitches.

wv: muckamle - popular card game among yellow journalists, though, interestingly, only because they're told they should be playing it a lot

Salamandyr said...

I do wish there was an alternative to Fox News for TV news without a conservative slant. Like the NY Post, Fox is relentlessly populist. I'd prefer something a bit more high brow, like NPR, minus NPR's connections to government and their consistent leftishness.

Original Mike said...

It makes me think of "The Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."

I never could get through more than the first third of that book. Tried several times.

c3 said...

Read the article. Now I fully understand. The source of Mr. Ailes evil is his early contact with Beelzebub himself, Richard Nixon.

Despite our pervasive usage of Godwin' law, I say someone should devise one regarding Nixon. Speaking as a boomer, this is our generational touchstone of evil.

Louis said...

From th 1/08/10 episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire

$25,000 (The Magic Number)- According to the popular 1979 book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, what number is the “answer to life, the universe, and everything”?

A- 5 B- 27
C- 42 D- 76

Adam read the book, but it was 20 years ago, and he doesn’t remember the number. He walks with $15,000.

BJM said...

I'm, late to the discussion due the usual Monday fubar, but I must comment on this tripe;

"I am by no means alone within the family or the company in being ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes’s horrendous and sustained disregard of the journalistic standards that News Corporation, its founder and every other global media business aspires to.""

Buhwahahaha! Apparently Freud doesn't realize his father-in-law turned the Sun Times into a ubiquitous Brit tabloid with a 3+ mil daily circulation based on Page 3 Tits & Ass, sports and celeb gossip. While Murdoch certainly didn't invent the tabloid format (Murdoch's father was a great admirer of Lord Nortcliff) his remake of the Perth Sunday Times and Sydney Daily Mirror into profitable tabloids launched the News Corp empire.

So much for the NYT fact checkers.

fwiw-Those of you who think Murdoch is a dyed-in-the-wool winger, might want to google Gough Whitlam.

Like the Pythons, Adams' humor/satire had more in common with "The Goons" generation than his own. I still listen to audiobook versions of H2G2, etc., they are still topical and funny.

Adams was an early adopter of hypertext and wildly enthusiastic about the Internet; I occasionally wonder what he would be doing online today. It would be entertaining of that I have no doubt.

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