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Matt Drudge

Matt Drudge parlayed an Internet gossip page into international celebrity when he surfaced the Monica Lewinsky story in January of 1998. Drudge claims to have scooped Newsweek magazine when he reported rumors that Newsweek editors were not running a Lewinsky scandal story that reporter Michael Isikoff had been working on for months.66 This is less a scoop than an act of scavenging. Actually, Newsweek editors were exercising appropriate caution with a story that needed more confirmation. After Drudge "broke" the story, Newsweek ran an Isikoff article on the scandal...the first of many. The previous summer, Drudge had surfaced Isikoff's Kathleen Willey story in the same manner. Conservative sources, including Lucianne Goldberg and Linda Tripp, had fed Isikoff the basics of the story.67 Isikoff now admits in his book on the subject that he was being used by conservative activists, but he is accurate in noting the extensive research he devoted to nailing down the details of the Lewinsky and Willey stories. 68

Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz described Matt Drudge as an "Internet gossip-monger," who refused to "play by the rules." According to Kurtz, "Untutored in such basic survival techniques as getting both sides of the story...Drudge seemed to overreach as he moved from titillating fare to serious scandal." According to Kurtz:

    Drudge understood how to tap into his self-absorbed audience. By making himself an object of fascination for media types, who love reading about themselves and their political pals, he turned the hype machine to his own advantage. He billed himself as an "old-fashioned troublemaker" putting out a "gotcha sheet," with no annoying editors, free to disseminate the latest rumors at the touch of a button."

    "He gets to write some of the things we all hear but can't put into print because we can't corroborate it," says conservative author David Brock, who recently threw a Washington dinner party for Drudge. "Some part of all of us wishes we could do that."

    Steven Johnson, co-editor of the online magazine Feed, calls Drudge "a showman who plays at a serious calling." The "moral panic" over the supposed dangers of the Net, he says, overlooks the amplifying role played by traditional news organizations when they trumpet its stranger stories.

    "All these conspiracy theories-Kurt Cobain lives-wouldn't really attract any attention if the big media didn't pick them up and start broadcasting them," he says. "If they treated the fringes of the Web with a grain of salt, it wouldn't be that big a deal."

    Drudge...intentionally sets his personal bar fairly low. Declaring that he's not a journalist, he seems to feel he can dispense with double checking the facts. By boasting that his information is 80 percent accurate, he figures to defuse criticism when a scoop blows up in his face. Alternately charming and infuriating the media elite, he reaps a publicity bonanza from the very folks whose stories he sometimes steals.69

In early 1999, Drudge again claimed a story had been suppressed, this time by NBC news. The story concerned allegations that 20 years ago, while he was Arkansas Attorney General, Clinton forced an unnamed woman to have sex with him. Tim Cuprisin of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel dismissed Drudge's story, calling Drudge a "cybergossip:"

    The source of this latest wave of interest in the case is Drudge. Before this, he told us all about how a supermarket tabloid was testing an Arkansas teenager to prove the boy was the president's "love child."

    That story turned out to be bogus, but not before it became grist for Jay Leno's monologues and front-page fodder for tabloids like the New York Post.

    And anyone claiming that the TV networks are holding up a story to avoid embarrassing the president must have been asleep for the past 12 months.70

Actually, even Drudge had quoted an NBC source saying the story was delayed while further corroboration was sought. Furthermore, the entire censorship controversy was a staged event to crowbar more media attention for Drudge. Cuprisin noted that NBC News had already reported the story in March 1998, and had named the woman.

David Horowitz, who with his partner Peter Collier founded the rightist Center for the Study of Popular Culture, (CSPC), wrote that he was proud that he and Collier "organized a fund to defend Matt Drudge, the Internet gadfly," and complained:

    Why then the seeming tolerance for the current White House witch-hunt, whose purpose is to smear and destroy its political critics? As anyone can see, there was no conspiracy in the events leading up to the First Lady's accusation. There is no Communist Party of the right with secret codes and top-down discipline that possesses the ability to give marching orders to anyone. If Monica Lewinsky was planted in the White House, she was planted by Democrats. It was Newsweek - no conservative institution - that developed the story that Drudge only made public.71

CSPC's online FrontPage magazine website features a "Matt Drudge Information Center and Defense Fund."72 CSPC is funded by Scaife.

For his part, Drudge has demanded an apology from his mainstream media critics, and compared his own pioneering spirit to that of "Ben Franklin, or a Thomas Edison, or a Henry Ford, or an Einstein...They all leapt so far ahead of the system, shaked it up, changed the balance."73

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