A nastily contrariwise way of remembering Tim Russert was published Friday in Canada's most important newspaper, the Globe and Mail, by one of its best-known columnists, Rick Salutin. Russert was a familiar face on the TV screens of millions of Canadians, but even so he was a foreigner, and Salutin examined him phenomenologically, as Canadian intellectuals like to examine Americans. Russert "had a gotcha style based on confronting his guests with things they had said, but I don't recall him ever challenging them on basic political issues or values," Salutin told Canada. But to the "superstars of the news media . . . he was their substitute real person," their street cred, "a link to the real world, now lost so far below their aerie of vast wealth, limos, blow-dried haircuts. . . . He looked like a news hound [though Salutin said he wasn't], and acted as if that was his metier, like a fish in water."
In short, Salutin described Russert as just marginally less fraudulent than his mourners, passengers sailing first class on a ship of fools. "There was nostalgia," he wrote. "Someone called Tim Russert 'an Irish cop on a corner in a neighbourhood called America.' In the impending era of Obama, it sounded like a longing for an all-white America that never was. The U.S. of Going My Way, with Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald as Irish priests."
Only a foreign correspondent trafficking in iconoclasm and cliche for the audience back home can sound so smart and so stupid at the same time. "Insiders" mourned Russert by "preening happily together," Salutin told Canada, but outsiders are past being taken in by that crowd -- the Huffington Post's Jason Linkins, in particular, shows "the proper lack of respect." To Salutin, Linkins is a man of the future, those media superstars an elite of empty suits vanishing before our eyes. "With [their] nostalgia goes a sense of menace, from the Internet, and bloggers like Jason Linkins, who ridicule the media luminaries to bits," said Salutin of this anxious elite. "They may still have the perks, but they've lost forever the deference."
It's Salutin's notion of the Internet that made me think twice -- his idea of the 'Net as a sort of frontier where plain truths are spoken, grit is capital, and fancy pants are hooted out of town. Maybe for the moment that's so, but frontiers get settled, order gets imposed, and pecking orders establish themselves. In a world of blogging equals Ariana Huffington, for one, clearly regards herself already as more equal than others. And she's announced that she intends to expand the Huffington Post into local news, beginning with a site dedicated to Chicago. She's on her way to becoming the William Randolph Hearst of the blogosphere.
The 'Net will produce its own superstars, and deference will be paid. And in time someone else will wonder what these prima donnas at their terminals know about the real world, and won't mind being rude about it.