Editor’s note: The following is reprinted with permission of the publisher from WND founder Joseph Farah’s latest book, “Stop The Presses! The Inside Story of the New Media Revolution.” Next Saturday, May 5 is the 10th anniversary of WorldNetDaily’s founding. This excerpt from “Stop The Presses!” is Farah’s tribute to Matt Drudge, who helped inspire what has become the largest independent news service on the Net.
He defeats presidential candidates with a stroke of his keyboard.
He makes bestsellers with a click of his mouse.
He drives the national debate with his choice of headlines.
Those are some of the supernatural powers that have been attributed to Matt Drudge.
And, if you’ve been watching his work at the famed Drudge Report for as long and as closely as I have, you would probably agree there is more than a little truth behind them.
I’ll tell you what I think of Drudge in a minute. But here’s what others are saying about the guy who has become ubiquitous in our new world of New Media.
Mark McKinnon, one of President Bush’s top campaign consultants, said he checks the site 30 to 40 times per day: “When there’s a siren, that’s a three-alarm news deal.”
Democratic strategist Chris Lehane: “Literally, it goes up on Drudge and the phones start ringing.”
“Today Matt Drudge can influence the news like Walter Cronkite did,” says Mark Halperin, author of “The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008.” “If Drudge says something, it may not lead everybody instantly in the same direction, but it gets people thinking about what Matt Drudge wants them to think about.”
“Our largest driver of traffic is Matt Drudge,” says Washington Post editor Leonard Downie.
We all know the role Matt Drudge played in what ultimately led to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. It was the story of the “stained blue dress” that stuck amid an encyclopedia of administration scandals. More recently, some have attributed the defeat of Sen. John Kerry in 2004 to the erstwhile Drudgester.
John F. Harris and Halperin, in “The Way to Win,” say that although Kerry beat himself and was outfoxed by a better politician in George W. Bush, Drudge was a major factor.
“Here is another nominee for who beat John Forbes Kerry: Matthew Drudge,” they write.
Maybe you never heard him called “Matthew” before. In fact, Drudge is so pervasive in our culture today that we seldom hear any first name. It’s just Drudge. And everyone knows who you are talking about as surely as if you said “Cher” or “Madonna.”
“If you are reading this book, you probably know who Matt Drudge is,” they continue. “It is a guarantee that most of the reporters, editors, producers and talk-show bookers who serve up the daily national buffet of news recently have checked out his eponymous Web site, and that www.drudgereport.com is bookmarked on their computers. That is one reason Drudge is the single most influential purveyor of information about American politics.”
And keep in mind this is coming from two people who don’t like Drudge very much.
“Drudge, with his droll Dickensian name, was not the only media or political agent whose actions led to John Kerry’s defeat,” write Harris and Halperin. “But his role placed him at the center of the game – a New Media World Order in which Drudge was the most potent player in the process and a personification of the dynamics that did Kerry in. Drudge and his ilk made Kerry toxic – and unelectable.”
There is no better illustration of the power of Drudge than what happened July 28, 2004, and thereafter leading right up to Election Day. In the day before Kerry “reported for duty” and accepted the Democratic presidential nomination, Drudge blared some of the findings of new book, “Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry.”
Before the report, the book was languishing at number 1,318 on Amazon. Within 24 hours it was No. 2, and within 48, No. 1. So numerous are his New Media triumphs that many are just forgotten – like the fact that he scooped the establishment news media on Bob Dole’s selection of Jack Kemp as his running mate and Connie Chung’s ouster at CBS.
This is Matt Drudge – the guy who got one president impeached and played a significant role in the election of another. The impact of this man can hardly be overstated. It’s like Doug Harbrecht, the man who introduced him at the National Press Club in 1998, said: “So why is Matt Drudge here? He’s on the cutting edge of a revolution in our business and everyone in our business knows it. And like it or not, he’s a newsmaker.”
And how did he do it? I’ll let Drudge tell his own story – as told to that Press Club audience: “I swung into another clerk job, this time at CBS. I folded T-shirts in the gift shop, dusted off “60 Minutes” mugs. Occasionally after hours I had conversations with the ghost of Bill Paley. It was during one of these wee-hour chats that he reminded me the first step in good reporting is good snooping.
“Inspired, I went out of my way to service the executive suites. I remember I delivered sweatshirts to Jeff Sagansky, at the time president of CBS.
“Overhearing, listening to careful conversations, intercepting the occasional memo, I would volunteer in the mail room from time to time. I hit pay dirt when I discovered that the trash cans in the Xerox room at Television City were stuffed each morning with overnight Nielsen ratings, information gold. I don’t know what I did with it; I guess we, me and my friends, knew “Dallas” had got a 35-share over “Falcon Crest,” but we thought we were plugged in.
“I was on the move – at least I thought so. But my father worried I was in a giant stall. And in a parental panic he overcame his fear of flying and dropped in for a visit. At the end of his stay, during the drive to the airport, sensing some action was called for, he dragged me into a blown-out strip on Sunset Boulevard and found a Circuit City store. ‘Come on,’ he said desperately, ‘I’m getting you a computer.’ ‘Oh, yeah, and what am I doing to do with that?’ I laughed.
“And as they say at CBS studios: Cut, two months later. Having found a way to post things on the Internet – it was a quick learn – Internet news groups were very good to me early on – I moved on to scoops from the sound stages I had heard, Jerry Seinfeld asking for a million dollars an episode, to scoop after scoop of political things I had heard from some friends back here.
“I collected a few e-mail addresses of interest. People had suggested I start a mailing list, so I collected the e-mails and set up a list called the Drudge Report. One reader turned into five, then turned into a hundred. And faster than you could say ‘I never had sex with that woman’ it was 1,000, 5,000, 100,000 people. The ensuing website practically launched itself.”
Only in America! But the story of Drudge’s success is not just a story of the realization of the American dream for one funny, insightful and hardworking guy. The truth is that America needed entrepreneur Drudge as much as Drudge needed the entrepreneurial opportunities that America afforded.
Within two years of his launch, there were new, more traditional media launches inspired by it. First came the Fox News Channel in 1996 and then WorldNetDaily.com in 1997.
I don’t know whether Rupert Murdoch will admit to being inspired by Drudge, but I do. Here are some facts to consider:
- There would be no WorldNetDaily.com today without the inspiration of Drudge.
- There would be no “blogosphere” today without the inspiration of Drudge.
- There would be no talk radio as we know it today without the inspiration of Drudge.
- Americans – indeed, people all over the world – are getting their news in new ways today because of this Internet pioneer. He led the way.
- Today, the Internet is where TV producers look for their news budget – not the New York Times.
- Today, the Internet is where radio talk-show hosts get their talking points – not the Washington Post.
- Today, the Internet breaks the news, and the rest of the media world talk about what is broken there.
Thank Matt Drudge for that breakthrough. Thank Matt Drudge for the new competition we have in the media. Thank Matt Drudge for breaking the media monopoly.
How? Why? What happened? Again, let Drudge provide the answers from that famous address to the Press Club skeptics: “Well, clearly there is a hunger for unedited information, absent corporate considerations. … We have entered an era vibrating with the din of small voices. Every citizen can be a reporter, can take on the powers that be. The difference between the Internet, television and radio, magazines, newspapers is the two-way communication. The Net gives as much voice to a 13-year-old computer geek like me as to a CEO or speaker of the House. We all become equal.
“And you would be amazed what the ordinary guy knows.
“From a little corner in my Hollywood apartment, in the company of nothing more than my 486 computer and my six-toed cat, I have consistently been able to break big stories, thanks to this network of ordinary guys. The Drudge Report, first to name the vice-presidential nominee on the Republican ticket last election; first to announce to an American audience that Princess Diana had tragically died; first to tell the sad, sad story of Kathleen Willey; first every weekend with box-office results that even studio executives, some of them, admit they get from me. A new cable network is forming. I was first to announce the unholy alliance between Microsoft and NBC.
“I’ve written thousands of stories, started hundreds of news cycles. My readers can follow earthquakes, weather patterns, read Frank Rich on Saturday, Maureen Dowd on Sunday, from my site link to Bob Novak on Monday; dozens of other media spectrums, from Molly Ivins; track the world’s newswires minute to minute.
“And this is something new. This marks the first time that an individual has access to the newswires outside of the newsroom. You get to read all the news from the Associated Press, UPI, Reuters, to the more arcane Agence France Presse and the Xinhua. I’m a personal fan of the Xinhua Press.
“And time was only newsrooms had access to the full pictures of the day’s events, but now any citizen does. We get to see the kinds of cuts that are made for all kinds of reasons; endless layers of editors with endless agendas changing bits and pieces, so by the time the newspaper hits your welcome mat, it had no meaning.
“Now, with a modem, anyone can follow the world and report on the world – no middleman, no big brother. And I guess this changes everything.”
But Drudge created as much jealousy as excitement – as much anxiety as hope. We’d been here before. And Drudge noticed.
“I was here last night looking over the Press Club, and I noticed a room dedicated to one of – someone I can relate to, John Peter Zenger. And there’s a plaque outside the room. And I think he could relate to some of the heat I’ve been getting. To honor members of the newspaper industry, this room commemorates the achievements of John Peter Zenger 250 years ago, whose courage in publishing political criticism helped establish the precedent of press freedom in colonial America.
“He was born in Germany. Zenger was a publisher in 1734 when he was imprisoned on charges of criminal libel for articles in his newspaper criticizing the royal governor. Risking his business and possible life, Zenger stood fast and was acquitted in a jury trial after a brilliant defense of press liberty by his lawyer, at that time Andrew Hamilton.
“It got me thinking that really what we’re looking at here is history repeating. When radio lost out to television, there was anxiety. The people in the radio industry were absolutely anxious and demanded government stop the upcoming television wave. Television was very nervous about other mediums coming forward; cable. The movies didn’t want sitcoms to be taped at movie studios for fear it would take away from the movies.
“No, television saved the movies. The Internet is going to save the news business. I envision a future where there’ll be 300 million reporters, where anyone from anywhere can report for any reason. It’s freedom of participation absolutely realized.”
Of course, Hillary didn’t see it that way. Drudge recalled her dire warning about “the gatekeeping function” being lost with the rise of the Internet and how that can lead to “all kinds of bad outcomes.”
To which Drudge responded: “Would she have said the same thing about Ben Franklin or Thomas Edison or Henry Ford or Einstein? They all leapt so far ahead out that they shook the balance. No, I say to these people, faster, not slower. Create. Let your mind flow. Let the imagination take over. And if technology has finally caught up with individual liberty, why would anyone who loves freedom want to rethink that?”
When I look over that speech Drudge gave to the Press Club, I realize again how far ahead of his time he was. Do you see what he was predicting with accuracy years before it happened? He was predicting the blogosphere. It didn’t exist in 1998.
It’s worth noting that Drudge was greeted at that event with a series of rude, self-righteous questions from the beltway media establishment. Immediately after his address, Harbrecht posed this incredibly insipid query: “How does it advance the cause of democracy and of social good to report unfounded allegations about individuals and Nielsen ratings?”
The cause of democracy? The social good? That’s what these guys think they are doing. Who do these guys think they are? Martin Luther King? Florence Nightingale? They think they are making society better. They think they are improving our political system. They think they are, in effect, miracle workers. What they are clearly not doing, however, is their jobs – serving as watchdogs on corruption, fraud, waste and abuse in government and other centers of power.
But I digress. The point is that the media police were confronting Drudge on reporting “unfounded allegations.” To say Drudge hit the ball out of the park would be an understatement.
“Well, that’s a good question. … One of my competitors is Salon Magazine Online, which I understand is the president’s favorite website. And there’s a reporter there, Jonathan Broder. He was fired for plagiarism from the Chicago Tribune. And I read that in the Weekly Standard. But do I believe it? Because, as much as I love the Weekly Standard, they have had to settle a big one with Deepak Chopra, if I recall. I heard that from CNN. But hold on. Didn’t CNN have the little problem with Richard Jewell? I think Tom Brokaw told me that, and then I think Tom Brokaw also had to settle with Richard Jewell. I read that in the Wall Street Journal. But didn’t the Wall Street Journal just lose a huge libel case down in Texas, a record … $200 million? I tell you, it’s creative enough for an in-depth piece in the New Republic. But I fear people would think it was made up.”
Even the hostile audience at the National Press Club had to laugh at that one. Drudge’s point was simple. Mistakes are made in the establishment press all the time. In fact, I would say, many more poor judgments are made in the traditional press than are made in online journalism. So where do these guys get off vilifying Drudge, WorldNetDaily, and the handful of other Internet news pioneers who are actually doing what journalists are supposed to do – watchdogging government, exposing high-level corruption, challenging the status quo?
Drudge’s words were indeed prophetic. Within a week, the largest news-gathering organization in the world, the Associated Press, made one of the biggest goofs you can possibly make in media.
This behemoth of a news agency, with some 3,000 employees worldwide, which prides itself on fact-checking, editing, and being “responsible,” reported on its website that Bob Hope had died.
Now, for the record, Bob Hope eventually did die – as we all do. But it wasn’t in 1998. It was five years later on July 27, 2003. When the AP made this gaffe, within minutes a congressman was announcing it on the floor of the House of Representatives, and ABC News was reporting it on radio nationwide. How did this happen? With all the wonderful checks and balances built into the establishment press’s infallible systems, how could such a crucial and embarrassing mistake be made?
Where were those corporate gatekeepers? Doesn’t ABC have editors? Doesn’t the AP double-check reports before cybercasting them on the Internet? Where were their sources? Why didn’t anyone pick up the phone and call Bob Hope’s home to learn he was quietly eating breakfast with his wife and that, in the memorable words of Mark Twain, rumors of his death were greatly exaggerated?
Drudge may not have had any journalistic credentials when he entered the world of the Internet. But I sure did – more than 20 years’ worth. Yet I admit I am subject to human error as much as the next guy. All the training and experience in the world doesn’t make you immune.
I think one of the biggest differences between the new Internet journalism and the Old Media is that practitioners of the former are willing to admit their human frailties and correct their errors. The general public finds that lack of arrogance refreshing – which explains why the Old Media is so jealous of people like Matt Drudge.
Following within a week of AP’s muffed Bob Hope obit came an establishment media scandal of historic proportions. CNN and Time magazine teamed up on one of the greatest frauds in the history of American journalism – an investigative report claiming that U.S. troops had used deadly nerve gas during the Vietnam War and had purposely set out on missions to kill defectors. There was zero credible evidence for any such allegation. Nada. Zip. Zilch.
Later, the Time-CNN report was criticized in news stories in the major media, discredited in an op-ed piece in the New York Times, subject to an investigation by the magazine itself. Eventually CNN was forced to retract the entire report. During the fallout, one fact was conspicuously downplayed in all the establishment press coverage: the problems with the CNN expos? were first exposed on the Internet – specifically in WorldNetDaily, and, more to the point, by yours truly.
Yet not one account in the AP, Washington Times, or any other print or broadcast news media has bothered to mention that fact, or to give credit where credit is due. Some talk-radio hosts noted it. My point is not to try to grab some credit for a story broken nine years ago. I point this out primarily to illustrate how self-conscious the establishment press is – how insecure, how defensive, how pathetic.
Even back then, just about a year after we got started at WND, with the new medium still in its infancy, we had the big boys on the run. They were scared, threatened, jealous and protecting
their turf in the only way they knew how.
Having spent 20 years working in the establishment press, running daily newspapers in major markets, I think I’m in a pretty good position to understand the mentality, to see both sides, to have some perspective.
Just like the exponential growth Drudge noted in his talk to the Press Club, in the span of one year, WorldNetDaily exploded from nothing – little more than a vague concept in my head – to an Internet force to be reckoned with. And today, 10 years later, it is serving nearly ten million different people every 30 days.
One of the nice things about reaching so many people in a medium like the Internet is that you hear from so many of them.
There is immediate feedback – and lots of it. I hear from thousands of people a day through e-mail. Many of them are breathless in their praise for what we are doing. They are grateful beyond words for this alternative. They are eager to tell their friends and relatives about this unique site.
I cannot begin to tell you how much that means to me. It is one of my greatest motivations for continuing the hard work day after day.
While my ego might lead me to believe this enthusiasm is due to my creative genius, my sensibilities tell me it’s much more complicated than that. WND and Drudge have filled a great void in the lives of Americans.
It wasn’t that long ago that CNN was the new kid on the block. People laughed at Ted Turner for dreaming up the idea that an all-news cable network could actually find a niche in the marketplace. Now CNN is part of the media establishment – part of a huge multinational media conglomerate. And CNN was toppled as the No. 1 cable TV network by Fox News.
There are fewer and fewer conventional newspapers in the land. When you travel around this country from city to city, you see very little difference between the papers. They all run the same stories, follow the same script, take their cues from the same sources. This is a prescription for disaster, yet few in the industry seem to notice. They hold conferences and seminars with one another and reinforce each other’s prejudices and ignorance. They blame falling circulation and ratings on all the wrong causes.
I used to be frustrated by what I saw in my industry. Now I’m grateful. It’s as if God put blinders on my colleagues, and at the same time opened up incredible opportunities in a revolutionary new medium for me, positioning me perfectly to use all the tricks of the trade I learned from the Old Media.
I always believed the institutional problems of the news media could only be solved through competition, rather than kvetching and complaining. But it took the new technology to level the playing field so those opportunities could be created.
Think about it. Think about what Drudge did. Newspaper companies had spent hundreds of millions of dollars – perhaps billions – researching ways of effectively and efficiently distributing their information electronically. The experiments, focus groups and text-marketing campaigns had continued for a decade before anyone had ever heard of the Drudge Report. Then, Matt Drudge, with no resources at all, set up shop with a computer in his Hollywood apartment and showed them all up.
And he did it based on gut instincts – not market research, focus groups and demographic surveys. With his brilliant use of links, he gave us an easy way to compare and contrast news accounts from all over the United States. Most people have probably forgotten how controversial that was 10 years ago. It scared the establishment press as much as Drudge’s critical reports scared Hillary at the White House.
Did you know the Washington Post, CNN and other big news organizations actually resorted to lawsuits to try to prevent the kinds of news links provided by Drudge and WorldNetDaily? Do you know what their excuse was? They didn’t like the idea of ordinary consumers being able to compare their news accounts to those of other news organizations.
Later, as Len Downie of the Washington Post noted, they figured out how much traffic was coming to their websites from the Drudge Report and WorldNetDaily. All was forgiven. And the big news agencies began courting our links. Personally, I hate to provide them. But an insider at the Washington Post told me that Drudge was their number one referrer, while WND was No. 2.
I have often speculated that if Matt Drudge and WND operated like a cartel and cut off their hyperlinks to certain large news agencies, we could actually do them serious harm. But why bother? The big media are imploding from their own dead weight. Since the earlier press scandals I mentioned, there have been many more – even more prominent. Think Jayson Blair and Dan Rather. Even today, though, you will still hear about the irresponsibility of the New Media. You will hear how you can’t trust independent Internet journalists. You will hear how only the big media have standards.
And who will you hear this from? Why, as a matter of fact, you hear it from the self-proclaimed gatekeepers of the truth – the arrogant establishment media. You will notice I never refer to the establishment media or big media as “mainstream.” I shudder when I hear that reference.
Personally, I don’t think there is anything mainstream about the Old Media. They may have been mainstream once, but all the surveys show the general public is seeing them differently. People are getting their news from alternative sources. They are turning in droves to Internet news sources that have broken the hammerlock of control over the flow of information.
That’s why the “mainstream media” are no longer mainstream.
I prefer to call them the “downstream media” or the “lamestream media.”
The New Media are not infallible, but the Old Media no longer have any grounds for their arrogance, for their phony claims to superior standards. The charade is over.
Think of the success of this media revolution born in the last 10 years. It is a paradigm shift so dramatic it boggles the mind. Anything is possible.
Take your hat off to Matt Drudge.
Excerpted with permission from “Stop The Presses! The Inside Story of the New Media Revolution” by Joseph Farah.