Drudge At 10: Now He's Fun

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 25, 2005

On Sunday morning, April 17, Time magazine sent Matt Drudge an early copy of its controversial cover story on Ann Coulter, which he splashed on his gossipy Web site.

The transaction was a far cry from the morning in 1998 when he used a spiked Newsweek story to tell the world about Monica Lewinsky, sparking a fierce debate over whether he was corrupting the news business.

"For some reason the media elites aren't as hostile to me," Drudge says. "It makes the job easier. In some ways it makes it less controversial."

As he approaches his 10th anniversary as an online clearinghouse for forthcoming news stories, unreleased books, tabloid yarns, Hollywood chatter and unconfirmed, sometimes bogus, rumors, Drudge, 38, is now treated more as an amusing diversion than a threat to journalistic integrity. The white-hot debate these days is over the role of bloggers, whom Drudge says dismissively he doesn't bother reading.

Has the quirky kid from Takoma Park become an appendage of the media establishment he once tormented, a '90s relic eclipsed by smarter and more provocative online writers?

Drudge complains about new sites that are "all glib, all mockery." He grumbles about "the hideous pace" of Internet news and says "the big boys" -- the big newspapers whose scoops he used to pilfer -- are "becoming more competitive" with faster online reports. And, he admits, "I probably am taking myself more seriously than 10 years ago."

The Drudge Report is still capable of eye-catching, even outrageous, behavior, such as running only a partially blurred photo of the teenager accusing Michael Jackson of sexual abuse and several pictures of the boy's mother. "These people are marching into court making allegations," Drudge says. "I don't think they should be shielded." But, he adds, "I just see it as a way to get attention, of course, to offer something not being delivered elsewhere."

While Drudge says he zings both political parties -- and that the Bush White House won't deal with him -- the conservative gossip aims far more often at liberal targets. In a recent hyperventilation on "The Truth About Hillary," a book by Edward Klein due out this fall, Drudge quoted "a source close to Klein" as saying: "The revelations in it should sink her candidacy." No details, just a blanket prediction.

Drudge also acts as a shadowy entrance ramp to the mainstream highway. During last year's campaign, he billboarded a false rumor that John Kerry was having an affair with a young woman, which was picked by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the Web sites of National Review and the Wall Street Journal, forcing Kerry to deny it and the rest of the press to cover it.

Drudge says that while he "got some facts wrong," the charge was "very valid" because "the media were chasing that story. I know my critics say that's a very sneaky way of having it both ways. I never said it was true." Plus, he says, he carried the woman's denials: "One thing about this medium, it's three seconds to a new headline. You can call that reckless. I call it updating."

He employed the same rationale in trumping up a 1999 story: "WHITE HOUSE HIT WITH NEW DNA TERROR; TEEN TESTED FOR CLINTON PATERNITY." Although the genetic test disproved an Arkansas woman's claim of having carried Bill Clinton's child, Drudge says it was true that the teenage boy was taking the test.

He also claimed that year that Bill and Hillary Clinton were beginning a "trial separation." Earlier, he retracted a phony wife-beating allegation against then-White House aide Sidney Blumenthal, which led to a lawsuit settled years later.

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