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Website Profile: The Drudge Report

A Pioneering Site Known For Conservative Politics and Rumor-Mongering

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Website Profile: The Drudge Report

Matt Drudge

Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images

Born in the primordial ooze of the early Internet era, The Drudge Report was one of the earliest political websites to achieve national notoriety, and more than a decade after its founding it retains a defiantly low-tech look.

Drudge has no flashy graphics or streaming video; indeed, it doesn't even seem to use more than one, decidedly frumpy, font. Some people say it's just plain ugly. Others call it a masterpiece of simple, minimalist design.

And here's the other amazing thing: Drudge has little in the way of original content. It consists mostly of links to other websites, along with a few thumbnail-sized photos.

Yet Drudge gets a hefty 2 million visitors a day, and a staggering 500 million page views monthly, according to Intermarkets, an ad sales firm.

And while other political websites saw their traffic drop as much as 20 percent after the 2008 presidential election, Drudge's traffic dipped by less than 10 percent, according to Quantcast.com.

So why is Drudge so popular?

Some say it's the site's tabloid-style headlines linking to news stories on other websites. "Pilot Gets Lost in Sky, Terrorizes JFK," was one recent example. Another, in all caps: "$20 MILLION HOLIDAY HOME SUITS OBAMA TO A TEE - AND IT'S OWNED BY A REPUBLICAN!"

A Little History

The Drudge Report website has its origins in an email newsletter started in the mid-1990s by Matt Drudge, then living in obscurity in a Hollywood apartment.

Drudge by his own admission had been a mediocre student who worked a series of odd jobs after high school. But a job at the CBS studios gift shop gave him access to Hollywood gossip, which became the focus of his newsletter.

As the newsletter morphed into a website in the late 1990s, Drudge, whose parents were Democrats (his mother had been a staff attorney for U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy), turned his attention to politics, more specifically conservative politics.

Drudge has described himself as a "conservative populist." From its earliest days, the Drudge Report, which rose to prominence at roughly the same time as the Fox News channel, made a point of skewering liberal politicians at every opportunity.

Drudge had no formal training as a reporter. But he had a gift for plugging into the rumor and gossip mill, and that led him to some scoops, such as the news that Bob Dole had picked Jack Kemp to be his running mate in the 1996 presidential election.

The Lewinsky Scandal

But the story that really put Drudge on the map was still to come. On Jan. 17, 1998, he broke the news that President Bill Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky had been having an affair.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Like many of Drudge's so-called scoops, the Lewinsky story was not the result of dogged investigative reporting on his part. In fact, the story actually originated with Newsweek magazine's Michael Isikoff, who had been investigating the Clinton affair for some time. Newsweek editors had delayed running the story in order to get more verification.

Drudge got wind of the story from one of his sources at Newsweek and promptly posted it online. Newsweek ran its story soon after.

Criticisms Arise

The Lewinsky story propelled the Drudge Report into the Internet stratosphere, but drew the wrath of journalists who complained that Drudge himself was little more than a peddler of rumor and innuendo. Drudge, they charged, violated the most basic principle of journalism: He ran stories that were just plain wrong.

In fact, the magazine Brill's Content looked into Drudge's supposed scoops and found that, of the 51 stories that he claimed as exclusives from January to September 1998, only 31 were actually exclusive stories. Of those, 32 percent were untrue, 36 percent were true and the rest were of dubious accuracy.

In 1997, Drudge was sued for $30 million by White House aide Sidney Blumenthal after Drudge ran a story claiming Blumenthal beat his wife. Drudge retracted the story and apologized, and the suit was later dropped, though a judge in the case wrote that Drudge "is not a reporter, a journalist, or a newsgatherer. He is, as he admits himself, simply a purveyor of gossip."

On other occasions Drudge has claimed otherwise. ''I'm a working reporter who has written thousands of stories and driven dozens of news cycles,'' he told reporters in 1998. ''I check all my sources.''

But with his trademark fedora and 1930s fashion sense, Drudge, in style and substance, has always been more of a modern-day Walter Winchell than a Woodward or Bernstein. Speed, not accuracy, is his forte. And whatever his flaws, his Lewinsky scoop demonstrated that the Internet - at the time still something of a novelty - was a force to be reckoned with as a purveyor of information to the masses.

Indeed, the early success of the Drudge Report foretold the wild and woolly future of online news, in which bloggers with few journalistic credentials would compete with experienced reporters at major news organizations. Drudge, after all, was just one man with a computer when he created the site that would become one of the most influential on the web.

Drudge Today

These days Drudge, who began his career from a tiny Hollywood apartment, is reportedly a millionaire recluse living in luxury in Miami Beach.

And the Drudge Report, the frumpy, low-tech site once scorned by media elites, has earned a kind of grudging admiration from journalists, pundits, politicos and the like who, like everyone else on the planet, want to be plugged in to the latest chatter.

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