Bill Keller has spent the last two years in a dull and very public exasperated talking-to with the rest of the world for not being enough like Bill Keller. Since the New York Times helpfully selected him among all the writers whose opinions ought to be published periodically within the pages of the New York Times, out of gratitude for his nostalgic reprise of William Randolph Hearst’s brilliant use of the press to start wars, he has written periodically about his mild and grudging regrets for misleading the entire country, how he knew Nelson Mandela personally and it turns out Mandela could sometimes be a jerk, how he sort of liked Doris Kearns Goodwin’s new book and some other stuff that his buddies on the opinion page have had opinions about. He hasn’t tweeted copiously through it all, but he’s been reading some tweets, occasionally. Even by contemporary standards of old-media irrelevance, he’s irrelevant. A rapt audience of a few Times editors, a few other pundits and a couple of old people follows his marshmellow-soft narrative of truisms, hackneyed repetitions, noncommittal middle-of-the-roadisms, and smug posturings, occasionally annoying a larger audience enough to warrant a few angry tweets and blog posts.
In the last entry or so, his tone has changed slightly; his condescension has become a little less forgiveable. As 2014 began, the insufferable and privileged character of old-media punditry that had colonized the major American daily newspapers became much less tolerable. He was deemed too much of an asshole to just ignore. He is now lighting up the Internet with fury, serving as linkbait for the New York Times, which has embraced him as a source of new media advertising revenue.
Bill Keller is still alive, still writing, though you wouldn’t guess it by reading him. The column has become less about prolonging his career and more about defending his wife’s column.
“The words of my column become words that express why I’m paternalistically disappointed by most folks for not being enough like me, not dying the way I think they ought to die, and doing other things that really they should know better about,” he might as well write after reading a collective blast of tweeted exasperation. “The ebb and flow of not-Keller America, of not-Keller world. And so, too, inevitably, of all the things that Keller has done before.”