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The Drudge Retort

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 18, 2008 10:26 AM

On Tuesday, as Wall Street was reeling and the humongous AIG bailout was being assembled, Drudge ran a picture of Barbra Streisand.

By calling attention to a $28,000-a-head Obama fundraiser headlined by the singer in Beverly Hills, Drudge again used his Zeitgeist-spotting ability to make some campaign mischief. McCain mocked Obama for hanging out with the Hollywood crowd, and a new zinger was born.

Or was it?

Does Matt Drudge, an unabashed conservative, still have huge clout in shaping the media's coverage? Or is his influence overstated by those seeking a simple explanation for why MSM types do what they do?

Even worse, do cable producers and others use Drudge as an excuse to chase pointless, lipstick-type stories rather than grapple with such serious matters as the candidates' record on financial deregulation?

In 2000 or so, Drudge was king of the Net. His gossip column was unique and lots of people--especially journalists--read it. He still has tremendous traffic, but he also has plenty of competition from the likes of the Huffington Post, National Review Online, Daily Kos, Pajamas Media and on and on, not to mention such mainstream blogs as the Caucus (NYT), the Trail (WP), Swampland (Time), First Read (NBC) and many others. So he's no longer the only guy who can drive a story. Far from it.

Sometimes the Miami-based Drudge has got his finger on the pulse in a way that editors locked in story meetings do not. Other times, he pumps up something trivial for sheer entertainment value. And while he certainly leans right, he'll post items damaging to Republicans if they're juicy enough. In the end, it's all about the number of clicks.

I do think journalists lean on Drudge as a way of indulging their id. "We've got to do this," they tell each other, "because it's on Drudge." Or: "The cable networks are running with this because it's on Drudge, so it's really out there." Whatever happened to independent judgment? Or are we all just digital dittoheads now?

My colleague Chris Cillizza is delving into Drudge-ology:

"In the banner headline spot for most of the day was a picture of entertainer Barbra Streisand touting a Beverly Hills fundraiser for Barack Obama -- not exactly the sort of headline that the Illinois senator wants as chum for the cable channels 49 days before the election.

"Two other stories never merited attention from Drudge: a claim by a senior aide to John McCain that the Arizona senator had invented the BlackBerry and a statement by McCain surrogate Carly Fiorina that neither McCain nor Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin would be equipped to serve as CEO of a major U.S. company ...

"The emphasis on Obama's Hollywood ties and the omission of two negative McCain items is consistent with a broader trend over the past month (or so) that has seen the Arizona senator receive far better treatment from Drudge than he had during the primary season when, as several other acute political observers noted at the time, a number of tough stories for McCain regularly appeared on Drudge."

Maybe so. But TPM's Greg Sargent says the impact, as measured by cable hits, was the opposite:

"One of the stories ignored by Drudge actually got a whole lot more coverage on cable Tuesday than the one Drudge pushed all day in that supposedly hypnotic banner headline of his . . .

"As best as we can determine, the Streisand story was only the focus of episodes on Fox. Neither CNN nor MSNBC did episodes focused on it. On those two networks, it only came up in passing when brought up by GOP operatives (a no-brainer) or when subjected to ridicule by a few others.

"By contrast, all three networks devoted repeated stand-alone episodes to the Fiorina mess -- even though (Heaven forfend) Drudge ignored it! She appeared on all the nets again and again throughout the day.

"Look, far be it from me to question the notion that Drudge has influence over network producers. Of course he does. But if we're really going to devote so much time to flacking Drudge's influence, how about a real and nuanced discussion of it?

"For instance, does Drudge's influence over the cable nets really mean what it once did? The blogs pushed the heck out of the Fiorina story Tuesday. Cable news followed suit. Other media is influencing the cable narrative, too. Even more broadly, in the new media environment, the cable-bubble-narrative has competition and doesn't necessarily reign supreme at all times -- so is Drudge really as omnipotent as he once was?"

I have to side with TPM on this. Carly was the campaign flap of the day. Key reason: there was video of her less-than-brilliant remarks about how Palin (or McCain or Obama or Biden) couldn't run a major company (unlike Fiorina, who was fired by H-P). And in TV land, video rules.

The Palin bubble appears to have popped, based on this poll that gives Obama a 48-43 lead:

"Despite an intense effort to distance himself from the way his party has done business in Washington, Senator John McCain is seen by voters as far less likely to bring change to Washington than Senator Barack Obama. Mr. McCain is widely viewed as a 'typical Republican' who would continue or expand President Bush's policies, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.

"Polls taken after the Republican convention suggested that Mr. McCain had enjoyed a surge of support -- particularly among white women after his selection of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate -- but the latest poll indicates 'the Palin effect' was, at least so far, a limited burst of interest . . .

"More than 6 in 10 of those surveyed said they would be concerned if Mr. McCain could not finish his term and Ms. Palin had to take over. In contrast, two-thirds of voters surveyed said Mr. Biden would be qualified to take over for Mr. Obama, a figure that cut across party lines."

Still, 50 percent now say the surge has helped the situation in Iraq. As for the excitement gap, "47 percent of Mr. McCain's supporters described themselves as enthused about the Republican party's presidential ticket, almost twice what it was before the conventions." But more have confidence in Obama's ability to manage the economy.

Boy, what a grilling Palin got from Sean Hannity last night. The questions included: "Is Obama using what happened on Wall Street this week for political gain?" "Why does everyone benefit if the rich pay less" in taxes? And this zinger: "How did you take on your own party, specifically, and do you think you'll be able to do as well in Washington?" It's a wonder she didn't start sweating.

By the way, with McCain and Palin vowing to crack down on Wall Street corruption, aren't they also using the week's events for political gain?

After McCain backed away from his "fundamentals are sound" comment, a new argument is emerging on the right: He's the steady hand and Obama is the sky-is-falling guy. National Review's Jonah Goldberg makes the case:

"McCain shouldn't apologize for his initial statements. Indeed, McCain should stop being defensive about his political instincts in areas like this. Obama wants this to be about 'the economy.' McCain's instinct is to make this about leadership in a crisis. That's the right instinct. Obama sees nothing wrong with screaming that the sky is falling during a stock-market meltdown in order to score political points. McCain's impulse was to argue for calm at the moment when it is needed.

"McCain's response to Obama's attack shouldn't be to ratchet-up his own panic language to keep up with Obama, but to scold Obama for making the situation worse. The narrative of the moment should be McCain is the grown-up, Obama the hot head. There's a thin line between hope and fear, and Obama is crossing it."

Well. Pointing out that the economy is struggling, Wall Street is imploding and the nation's largest insurance company needed an $85-billion bailout is hardly being a fearmonger.

Remember the biggest political battle of 2005? HuffPoster John Neffinger does:

"When George W. Bush made it to term #2, he decided to try to privatize Social Security to reward his supporters on Wall Street with a new source of capital, customers, and fees. (Those would be the same people whose firms are now cratering under the weight of the bad debt they recklessly took on while Republican regulators looked the other way). But as it turned out, we Americans were not about to let our elected representatives turn over our social security taxes to Wall Street financiers to gamble with if it meant losing the guaranteed income that has allowed millions upon millions of American seniors to live out their sunset years with at least a basic measure of dignity.

"But while ordinary Americans spoke out, John McCain stood with Bush (hugged him awkwardly in public, even), against the American people. In fact, just six months ago, McCain again let slip his fondness for privatization.

"I have been scratching my head why this has not been talked about more, especially since Obama has been having trouble winning votes among seniors."

In fairness, Bush's market-investment idea was to be voluntary. But the president pushed it hard, and got so creamed he couldn't even get a committe vote on the Hill.

Where's Hillary? The New Republic's Michael Crowley follows the clues:

"Quoth the NYT's Patrick Healy via NY Mag:

"You know what I keep hearing privately from advisers to Hillary? They say, 'Why is it our job to blunt Palin's impact? Hillary is not on the ticket. Obama didn't choose her.' I don't think it's so much about resentment, it's an honest assessment that Hillary can only do so much in this regard. (And she doesn't want to be blamed if this vote doesn't go Obama's way.)

"This really doesn't strike me as a line that Hillary's people should be promoting. After all, she's the one who explained to her supporters in Denver that the campaign wasn't just about her, but about the big issues. If she really believes, as she proclaimed at the Pepsi Center, that 'nothing less than the fate of our nation and the future of our children hang in the balance,' then isn't that worth sticking out her neck for, even if it entails some personal political risk? Now wouldn't seem the time to make a passive-aggressive point because Obama didn't put her on the ticket."

At the Weekly Standard, Michael Weiss delights in the notion that the Dems are depressed:

"As bellwethers of liberal demoralization about this election go, I've not yet come across anything so clanging as the following comment from Hanna Rosin, responding to the phenomenon of Sarah Palin: 'One of my many depressed Obama-supporting friends suggests a tidy solution: Repeal the 19th Amendment.' . . .

"Yes, it's rather moonlight and self-pity in Democratic circles now that the prospect of an Obama administration may not be the certainty it seemed only weeks ago. 'There is a growing sense of doom among Democrats I have spoken to,' the Financial Times quotes a party fundraiser who formerly supported Hillary Clinton. 'People are going crazy, telling the campaign 'you've got to do something'.' . . .

"In his almost jaw-dropping inability to stand up to the revitalized McCain campaign (at least not without allowing it to dictate the rules of every engagement) Obama appears more and more like a hapless professor in a chaotic classroom, the kind who'd love to get to the lesson plan but is reduced to meekly asking everyone to 'settle down now.'"

My nominee for the most over-the-top anti-Palin piece (with a bonus for the most sexual references) is Salon's Cintra Wilson:

"Palin may have been a boost of political Viagra for the limp, bloodless GOP . . . But ideologically, she is their hardcore pornographic centerfold spread, revealing the ugliest underside of Republican ambitions . . .

"As a woman who does not believe what Palin believes, the thought of such an opportunistic anti-female in the White House -- in the Cheney chair, no less -- is akin to ideological brain rape. What this Republican blowup doll does with her own insides in accord with her own faith is her business. But, like the worst and most terrifying of religious extremists, she seems very comfortable with the idea of imposing her own views on everyone else . . .

"The choice of Palin represents what the Christian right is really saying to the women of America. The subtext: It's a Faustian bargain, girls. To elevate your sex to power and respectability, you must first give us the keys to your chastity belt."

Ahem.

How low is this? Hacking Palin's Yahoo account. Pathetic.

When a radio interviewer criticized her lieutenant governor, Sean Parnell, Palin wrote: "Arghhh! He is so inconsistent and purposefully misleading! I am sorry Sean. He can keep trying, but you are the right one for the congressional position and he KNOWS it (that's the inconsistency!)"

I like a public official who can let loose with a good "arghhh!"

Speaking of Palin -- who, told yesterday that her back-of-the-plane press corps was getting lonely, apparently responded"Are you getting lonely? Gee, yeah, come on up then!"--the Troopergate story is back.

"Sarah Palin's latest explanation for why she fired Walt Monegan is that he had gone over her head in seeking federal money for an initiative to combat sexual assault crimes, before she had approved the program," says TPM's Zachary Roth.

"But it now appears that the program in question is one that most elected officials would be wary of admitting they hadn't strongly backed. According to Peggy Brown, who heads the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, Monegan wanted to use the federal money to hire retired troopers and law enforcement officials, and assign them to investigate the most egregious cases of sexual assault -- including those against children.

"In other words, if Palin's new story is true, she fired Monegan for being too aggressive in going after child molesters."

Prompting the New Republic's Christopher Orr to observe:

"If the Obama Campaign Were the McCain Campaign . . . how long do you think it would be before they cut an ad claiming that, as Alaska governor, Sarah Palin wanted to go easy on child molesters?"

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