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Full of Himself

Reported by Judy - February 4, 2005

Somewhere there exists a journalist more full of himself than is Matt Drudge. On second thought, maybe not. Not even Geraldo Rivera comes close to the self-adulation that the author of The Drudge Report lavishes on himself with nothing but the cynicism of his cat, Cat, to rein him in.

And therein lie the pluses and the minuses of being – and reading – Matt Drudge.

Drudge recounts the beginning of the Drudge Report in his book, Drudge Manifesto (New York: New American Library, 2000). He first became famous (he probably would prefer "infamous) in 1998 for being the first to report the Monica Lewinsky story, based largely on a conversation with Linda Tripp's book agent, who, lucky for Drudge, knew what she was talking about and was not just hyping a book.

"Anything, from anywhere out to everyone" is Drudge's motto (p.29) He disdains the checks and balances provided by copyreaders, editors, and occasionally lawyers for most news organizations, preferring to rely on Cat, his pseudo conscience, as the source of any second thoughts about his reporting.

After an aimless early youth, Drudge got into internet journalism when his father gave him a computer, and Drudge discovered he could steal copies of movie box office reports from the trash where he worked and put them on the net. He soon branched out into taking news from The Associated Press, Reuters, and other news organizations and putting it on his page, allowing him to be "first" with the news.

The speed with which the Internet makes it possible to disseminate the news gathered by others induces Drudge to claim, over and over, that "print is dead" and "television is dead." Drudge never asks himself, if print is truly dead, who is paying for the news gathering operations of The Associated Press?

Governed by member newspapers, The Associated Press is a nonprofit news cooperative supported financially by newspapers and broadcast outlets. If print were truly dead, there would be no AP for Drudge to crib from. And darn little for him to be "first" with. Whether he is truly first is another matter entirely because Drudge has no way of knowing whether the stories he lifts from The AP have already been broadcast via radio somewhere or not. Many AP stories originate with contributions from broadcast members, and are rewritten and expanded before appearing on the newspaper wire.

Longing to be thought of as a journalist, Drudge claims other journalists look down on him. I have no problem with calling Drudge a journalist. I know lots of journalists whom I do not respect. Drudge is no different. There are all kinds of journalists, working in all kinds of media, writing for all kinds of audiences, specializing in all kinds of subjects, writing and reporting with all kinds of different styles. They all have their limitations, and so does Drudge.

Drudge, for example, is good for certain kinds of stories – the kind you can steal out of trash cans or that someone will call you and tell you about, someone who is trying to make a lot of money selling a book or has some other ax to grind. Drudge will happily oblige, allowing himself to be used by anybody for anything, all in the name of being first.

This week, for example, he ran identified the mother of the accuser – and of course the accuser, too – in the Michael Jackson trial. Drudge thought it was so cool that the woman had recently married so her name is now Jackson, too. While commenting on that, Drudge never commented on why the child's privacy, guarded by other news organizations, should be violated. That was Drudge's big scoop for the day – publishing something all reporters covering the case already know but have refrained from using out of consideration for a child.

Did Drudge break Abu Ghraib? No, that was a print reporter, Seymour Hersh. How did he do on the tsunami disaster? Not too well. Apparently, he has no friends in that part of the world to e-mail him with a tip, no network of far flung correspondents to talk to government officials or visit refugee camps. Another type of story Drudge has trouble with.

The absence of a staff is a plus in Drudge's eyes. Editors and reporters are evil gatekeepers who keep important stories from the public because of their own timidity or biases. That may be true in some cases (and there are all kinds of biases, not just political ones). The result, however, is that the Drudge Report is merely a list of links to other news pages. There is little to guide readers to "important" stories. In an ideal world, we could all sit in our flannel bathrobes and scroll through those stories all day long, but most people are too busy to do that. They rely on editors to make some choices for them.

In his book, Drudge mentions mistakes made by news organizations to make the point that the presence of editors or producers does not guarantee accuracy. Of course, viewers don't know how many mistakes editors catch or prevent. We do know that when someone makes a mistake (except in the case of Campaign Carl at Fox), there are consequences. If it is a big enough mistake, someone investigates, someone gets fired. In his book, Drudge admitted to no mistakes. Has he ever made one? What happens when he does make one? Will his dad come and take away his computer?

Drudge wants to be a reporter without the responsibilities of a reporter. He wants the access to politicians, the press credentials, the rush of writing on deadline, the scoop, the front page story. He wants it all, without the guilt feelings over having to interview the parents of a dead child, the slimy feeling that comes from being used by someone, the ethical dilemmas over whether to identify a rape victim, or the editor who says, "This is a family newspaper, we don't do that."

Well, Drudge did put up with some organizational restraints in the writing of his book. He wrote it "with Julia Phillips." On the Internet, however, Drudge has it his way. He has been lucky so far. He has given himself a lot of rope. And that, along with a lot of hubris, ultimately leads to a necktie party.

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