Drudge Manifesto by Matt Drudge
by Matt Drudge, with Julia Phillips
New American Library. 241 pp. $22.95
Frequently Asked Questions about this crazy best-seller and its author:
Q: Is it okay to read Matt Drudge? I mean okay for a serious person?
A: It is more than okay. It is highly desirable. Just to be seen carrying the book is desirable, maybe even better than reading it.
Q: Wherefore better?
A: Because public possession maximizes the possibility of irking fans of Dan Rather, Frank Rich, and the Columbia Journalism Review.
Q: You are positing that the media establishment disdains and calumniates Drudgism?
A: It hates his guts, his persona, his trademark fedora, and the Drudge Report, possibly in that order. The Drudge Report is the Internet site where he lets fly with his version of the news. Major media honchos say the stuff on the site is just gossip, that Drudge does no reporting of his own, that he revels in dirt, that his material is unchecked. But what really kills them is that he often gets out there first with big breaking news stories. Also that the aforesaid Report (you get to it via www.drudgereport.com) is currently garnering 1.8 million hits a day.
Q: So how does he do all this?
A: That is the marvel and the miracle. Big-league journalism organizations have hundreds or even thousands of reporters, scores of bureaus around the world, and access to superduper transmission technologies, while Matt Drudge has been living and working alone in a small apartment in Hollywood, with (on the evidence of his Manifesto) only a cat to talk to and only a cheap Packard Bell computer based on a 486 Intel chip—not even a Pentium. And yet the Monica Lewinsky story was out there on Drudge’s web site at a time when the big-leaguers were dopily telling the world that Bill Clinton was in great shape because his grand-jury testimony on Paula Jones had gone so well. Frequenters of Drudge had long since learned that the grand-jury testimony left Clinton a wreck because there were more questions about Lewinsky than about Jones.
Q: Yes, yes, but how does Drudge out-scoop all those highly compensated media characters?
A: The journalism-school cliché about reporting is that shoe leather is what gets you the big stories. But shoe leather is the old technology. In the Internet age, Drudge gets out front mainly by checking his e-mail and phone messages and finding that the world is full of people who have . . . (drum-beat) . . . A Secret. And who think it would be neat to blab this secret to the Drudge Report, and thereby to the whole planet. Like the Republican politician who hauled off and told Drudge in 1996 that Jack Kemp would be Bob Dole’s vice-presidential nominee a day before the announcement. Or the reporter on the scene who clued in Drudge to Princess Diana’s death, enabling him to beat CNN by eight minutes.
Q: Is that all there is to it?
A: Yes, if Drudge thinks the source is solid and the risks are reasonable. In other cases, including Oval Office debauchery, the ball takes a lot of bounces.
Q: Kindly particularize.
A: Here is the incredible Lewinsky sequence:
- Late at night on November 20, 1997, Drudge gets an e-mail from an apparently knowledgeable tipster stating that POTUS (the President of the United States) has been having it off with a White House intern; that FLOTUS (the First Lady) does not know about it; and that further details might be available from the omniscient New York literary agent, Lucianne Goldberg. Wary of this one, our hero puts it in his “Keeps” file, lets it go at that, and opts to stay with another Clinton story he has been working on.
- Drudge reveals the tremendous news that POTUS has rented a raunchy movie, Boogie Nights, for viewing, presumably without FLOTUS, in the White House theater.
- It is mid-afternoon on January 17,1998, and the original tipster has suddenly surfaced again. He now says the intern story will be in an upcoming Newsweek feature by the reporter Michael Issikoff.
- Drudge gets a call from a guy in Conway, Arkansas, who has made a career out of following Clinton’s sex life, and senses that this person also has the scent of a big new story.
- Drudge finds Issikoff’s home number (thanks to www.switchboard.com), gets his wife on the phone, identifies himself, and is rapidly hung up on.
- Drudge calls Lucianne Goldberg, mentions that he is checking out a rumor about an upcoming Newsweek bust of Clinton and the intern. Goldberg the omniscient tells him the intern’s name, tells him about Linda Tripp and the tapes, and, best of all, insouciantly mentions that Newsweek has spiked the story.
- Drudge puts all this into a Drudge Report file, nervously hits the “Send” key, then starts wondering if his career is finished. But, of course, it is about to flower as never before. Not only has he beaten Newsweek to the punch with its own story but—over the next few days—he will have made fools of numerous commentators who have been deriding the whole scoop as the phantasmic outpourings of a screwed-up gossip-monger.
Q: Back to the book. Is it fun or not-fun to read?
A: It is both, often at the same time. Drudge tells you up front that in 1984 he graduated 341st in a high-school class of 3 55, and that he never went to college or had a serious job. Oddly enough, however, he turns out to be an interesting writer. Or at least he and Julia Phillips turn out to be an interesting writer. One way or another, the book has a loping, free-associating, hyperkinetic style that gets to you after a while. It is full of dimly relevant poetic efforts. It is festooned with typographical stunts, as in a page preceding a section about network television on which the only text is “you’re boring,” in tiny footnote-sized type. Somehow this all works, at least most of the time. Also, Drudge is often genuinely funny, especially when responding to media pomposity about his scandal-mongering and pointing up the errors, evasions, and embarrassing libel settlements of the guys he is talking back to. On the other hand. . . .
Q: He is not Walter Lippmann?
A: All too true. He is not a thinker. Confusions abound, often at critical junctures. Drudge identifies himself as a libertarian and links this position to the unregulated, free-form culture of the Internet, which has in effect given him his own “newspaper” with its own “presses.” Okay, so far. But then he gets carried away by some large misplaced vision and suddenly starts identifying his little libertarian self with the anarchosyndicalist sophomores carrying on against the World Trade Organization in Seattle. And groans because TV will not “tell the story of tens of thousands of people screaming above the satellites, hoping the world will hear a story the networks refuse to tell without a sneer.”
Q: So his libertarianism is impure. Does it really matter?
A: Wait. There is worse. There are also Naderite deviations.
Q: Naderite libertarianism? Is that anatomically possible?
A: Seemingly so. In Drudge’s case, it all begins with his rage against the media conglomerates, which leads to heavy breathing about the power of big money and our enslavement by big corporations. As in: “The Corporate State would have you believe that you must begin and end your day praying to its God of Demographic Dollars.” Drudge ought to be smiling when he says that, but instead he seems as serious as Nader himself.
Q: And now for the big question. We are talking about a manifesto. A manifesto is supposed to have a main point. What is the main point of this one? And I have a follow-up.
A: Your question is a good one, and highlights Drudge’s big weakness. Drudge Manifesto does have one intriguing thought, repeatedly stated, which is that things have definitely changed when a guy operating all by his lonesome can command so much attention and gain so huge a following, and occasionally outfox the big media conglomerates. But that is not a message. The real message, unstated but inescapable, is “Hey, look at me. Look at me. LOOK AT ME.” In headline type, if possible.
Q: Here’s my follow-up: shouldn’t there be an article, definite or otherwise, before the words Drudge Manifesto?
A: Yes, but this way the reader gets to Drudge faster. And that is still an okay place to get.