The year was 1995. An estimated 150 million people watched as O.J. Simpson was declared not guilty of the double-slaying of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.
Timothy McVeigh would be arrested as a suspect in the bombing of an Oklahoma City federal building.
The Million Man March would descend on Washington, D.C.
And a ceaselessly savvy news shark would disrupt the news industry like a nuclear bomb.
It was a busy year. But few developments had a more profound effect on the next two decades in America than one that took place on Feb. 14, 1995.
That was the day visionary Matt Drudge crashed the news scene and turned the Old Media on its head – causing many mainstream newshounds to sneer at the thought of an amateur with wild instinct and an unpretentious news website threatening their media empire.
Today, visionary Matt Drudge celebrates the 22nd anniversary of his launch of the mega-hit website the Drudge Report.
Drudge, occasionally dressed in just his underwear, rocked the news world from a small Hollywood apartment accompanied only by his black stray feline, aptly named “Cat.”
Mainstream Media gatekeepers have groaned and scoffed at the mere mention of his name, even calling him the “devil of journalism incarnate.” Once dubbed the “country’s reigning mischief-maker” by the New York Times and “Sludge” by former President Bill Clinton, Drudge scours the Web for intriguing stories and breaking news to feature on the Drudge Report.
Drudge captured worldwide attention in 1998 when he broke the news of former President Bill Clinton’s sexual affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. While Newsweek had the Lewinsky scoop first, the magazine spiked the story. Drudge, working from the apartment he once called “the most dangerous newsroom in America,” bucked the big journalistic machine and blasted the affair into national headlines.
The Drudge Report was also first to report the death of Princess Diana to an American audience, early box-office results and the NBC-Microsoft merger, among other major events through the years.
Several weeks before the 2016 presidential election, Drudge posted links indicating then-presidential candidate Donald Trump would win the race for the White House while most pundits and mainstream media figures widely predicted a near-certain win for Hillary Clinton.
Little Drudge plays editor
Who is this rebellious mastermind who ushered in the rebirth of modern news gathering?
His 2000 book, “Drudge Manifesto,” co-authored by the late Julia Phillips, chronicled the Web-news pioneer’s early days as a news junkie.
Drudge recalled his childhood when “talk radio tucked me in at night and the police scanner was my unconditional best friend.”
He was barely a teen when he began his newspaper-delivery route in Takoma Park, Maryland.
“Each day after junior high school, I would load up the cart and hit the sidewalks. Newspaperboy Drudge. … Most days I wouldn’t get to each and every address on my route,” he wrote.
“That might’ve been because I stopped to read the entire paper on a park bench one block from my house before I even started.
“On the bench, I would play editor.
“I noticed how their lead story was not really the lead story. How the hottest news was buried on the inside pages and the best reporting was riding at the end of the copy when it should have been at the beginning.
“I’d rewrite my own headlines for an audience of one. Not counting the squirrels.”
Drudge also worked at 7-Eleven, where he had access to the earliest newspaper editions.
“Every morning at about 2 o’clock the bulldog editions of all the major papers would be dropped off right at my doorstep,” he recalled.
“I couldn’t wait to get my hands on them.
“While the rest of the city slept, I’d read fresh headlines and bylines – first, before anyone else.
“The predawn customers would get an earful.
“I was never sure why I cared about being first, but boy did I feel connected when I was.”
But Drudge knew he’d never break into the news world the old-fashioned way.
“Every time, it seemed, I’d end up at the Washington Post Newsroom on 15th [Street], I’d look up longingly, knowing I’d never get in,” he wrote. “Didn’t attend the right schools. Never enjoyed any school, in fact. My father was not the son of a famous drunken Southern senator, nor was I even remotely connected to a powerful publishing dynasty.”
Drudge collected celebrity scoops as he worked as a CBS gift-shop clerk folding and delivering T-shirts in California. At CBS, he would eavesdrop on conversations, intercept memos and volunteer in the mail room.
When his father bought him his first computer from Radio Shack in 1994, Drudge learned how to post his entertainment and political scoops on the Internet. Then he collected email addresses for the list he would later call the Drudge Report.
“One reader turned into five,” Drudge explained to the National Press Club in 1998. “Then it turned into 100. 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.”
In 1998, Drudge received 6 million page views in one month.
“Clearly there is a hunger for unedited information, absent corporate considerations,” Drudge prophesied nearly two decades ago. “Exalted minds … didn’t appear to have a clue what this Internet’s gonna do, what we’re going to make of it, what this is all going to turn into. But I have glimpses. …
“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, 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.”
Referencing Drudge’s 1998 speech, Washington Times Executive Editor Christopher Dolan told WND: “It really is quite astonishing how everything he predicted has come to pass. And yet even two decades later, that speech is as fresh and informative and valuable as it was the day he delivered it.
“He talked about how the Internet would become the great equalizer between the 13-year-old computer geek and the CEO of a massive media empire – that ‘era vibrating with the din of small voices.’ Every reporter in Washington listening that day may or may not have been terrified by Matt’s predictions, but one thing is for sure: Every single one of them has since seen their careers upended by the very forces he laid out that day.”
(Watch Drudge’s 1998 speech to the National Press Club at the end of this article.)
‘He blazed the trail’
The launch of the Drudge Report came just two years before the official beginning of WND, which burst onto the news scene on May 4, 1997.
“I can honestly say that without Drudge, there would be no WND,” said Editor and CEO Joseph Farah. “I’m sure that would please many people in America – especially those in power and in establishment media circles. But Matt was clearly our inspiration. He blazed the trail.”
Farah revealed that he even tried to hire Drudge many years ago.
“Oh, how I wish he took me up on that offer! It was Drudge who showed us it was possible to have an impact in the news business without spending $100 million getting started,” he said. “He showed us the how the Internet leveled the playing field. And he blew up the barriers the media gatekeepers had erected and maintained for so many years. Drudge rocks today just like he did back then.”
As for what sets Drudge apart from everyone else in the industry?
“That’s easy,” Farah said. “He has outstanding news judgment. He has a knack for knowing what news consumers are really interested in knowing about – a healthy mix of the important, the bizarre, the entertaining and the stuff, well, you just need to know.
“He’s also a damn good headline writer.
“What he created with that combination is a place people feel they need to go to be informed, with confidence they won’t be missing anything too big. That is a remarkable accomplishment.”
Vince Coglianese, editor in chief of the Daily Caller, echoed Farah’s sentiments concerning Drudge’s stellar news judgment and headline writing skills.
“Every influential newsroom in the world has at least one computer tuned to the Drudge Report, and reporters quietly praying for its attention,” Coglianese told WND.
“The famously basic layout of the Drudge Report belies the genius of its proprietor. It’s a lesson that many have learned: You can copy Matt Drudge’s HTML, but you can’t duplicate his instincts. Some combination of his unparalleled news judgment, fearless independence, snappy headline skills and colossal footprint has ensured that Drudge will maintain his dominance for many years to come.”
Coglianese said every day, journalists across the globe submit their best work to Drudge, and, “When Drudge teases that news is coming, journalists clear their schedules – it’s refresh time.”
He added, “In 2017, the competition to become a clearinghouse for journalism has never been fiercer. But good luck. The Drudge Report has a 20-year head start.”
Project Veritas spokesman Stephen Gordon told WND, “The Drudge Report has been able to succeed while keeping its content to the simplest of HTML, clearly illustrating one of the most important maxims at Project Veritas: Content is king.”
And Fox News contributor, author and columnist Michelle Malkin, founder of Twitchy.com and the news site Hot Air, called Drudge “an anti-establishment renegade of mythical proportions” and “a scrappy symbol of free speech, independence and bootstrap journalism.”
“Citizen journalists and independent Internet-based media outlets from every part of the political spectrum owe their roots to Matt Drudge,” Malkin told WND. “He was the first to break the ‘mainstream’ media mold. And he remains on top – outlasting a long list of now-defunct competitors with far more staff and resources. Never change, Drudge!”
In 2013, talk-radio giant Rush Limbaugh declared, “The New York Times should be doing what Drudge is doing. If they’re really interested in the news, and they’re really interested in … people being informed, all the news fit to print, but they don’t do it. It’s a niche that Matt came along and filled quite ably.”
Love him or hate him, even the White House checks his website frequently. In March 2010, Drudge reported that his site received 10,825 hits from the White House in just nine days.
The White House did not respond to WND’s requests for comment on the impact of the Drudge Report.
However, Stephen K. Bannon, now President Trump’s chief strategist, sang the praises of Drudge in a 2013 interview with WND, describing the news king as a “visionary and a leader.”
“Before Drudge, news articles were presented to the public as if they existed in a vacuum,” said Bannon, former executive chairman of Breitbart News. “The Drudge Report connects the headlines to one-another in a way that tells a story much broader than the sum of the individual headlines.
“And on top of that, he was among the first to embrace the 24-hour news cycle. The news doesn’t wait for the morning papers to go to print or the evening news to broadcast, and it’s those two concepts that have made Drudge a visionary and a leader.”
However, the Obama administration was not so friendly. And in December 2016, Drudge even suggested his site might have been the object of a U.S. government cyberattack.
Also, in 2012, the Obama administration scolded reporters for citing the Drudge Report, publicly warning them, “Be mindful of your sources.” In 2013, White House Senior Adviser Dan Pfeiffer condemned media reliance on the Drudge Report for news content.
“It’s not that it drives our conversation in our world. I’m fairly ambivalent to what Drudge puts up on a daily basis,” Pfeiffer said. “This is less true now than it was before, but there’s a Pavlovian response from, you know, some media outlets.”
He admitted that Drudge’s site “hurt” Obama’s message.
“Anyone saying anything can get caught up in the spin cycle in a way that is very damaging,” Pfeiffer told Politico. “It hurts what we’re trying to do, but then it is very damaging to that individual person.”
Now, the 50-year-old media kingpin who began his wholly independent website as a one-man operation in his apartment runs the Drudge Report with the help of assistants and lives a private life in South Florida, where he continues to forge his own path in the industry.
In fact, Drudge’s widespread appeal is largely due to that fiercely independent spirit.
“Since I cover the Makeup out of The Chair, I can report candidly on nefarious activities,” he explained in his 2000 New York Times best-seller. “I’ve discovered and revealed dozens of media blow-ups, fake-outs and frauds perpetrated by frauds, fakers and blow-by-blowers. …
“I’m not beholden to them in any way.
“I’m not carried on their air.
“I’m not a byline in their dirty print.
“I don’t use their bandwidth.
“I have created my own ‘paper’ printed on my own ‘presses.’
“Distributed on my own.
“Technology has finally caught up with liberated individuals. [W]e call it ‘freedom of the brain.'”
Watch Drudge’s historic 1998 speech to the National Press Club below: