Skip to comments.Drudge Match (Roundtable Interview with Matt Drudge)
Posted on 06/09/2003 1:35:16 PM PDT by Mister Magoo
MAER ROSHAN: I know there are hundreds of sources you search through each day. How do you decide which to feature?
DRUDGE: I just post the things I find interesting. I can't remember the last time I actually read a full-blown article, you know. Usually I just scan the first two paragraphs and the last two paragraphs. I've had to become a speed-reader simply to feed this great big hole. I've got five computer screens lined up, and thousands of news stories to go through on any given day. It comes down to an editorial decision that I make every second that I'm sitting in front of the monitors. If you're not careful you can fill up people's minds with stories that go nowhere.
PAGLIA: You have an improv qualityit's like flying by the seat of your pants as the storm of news is raging all around you. You're just grabbing at things as they fly by.
DRUDGE: I don't think it differs much from the editorial meetings that newspapers or Dan Rather and Peter Jennings have. However, I think, oddly enough, my choices, and the variety of sources I have, are wider and more varied than theirs are. There's a reason I know that Prince William wants to move to America long before Barbara Walters does. I don't think a lot of the decision makers are even online; the media's old guard is in fact really old. What scares me is I've got so many smart people reading it: the congressional leaders, the executive branch leaders, the judicial branch leaders, the Hollywood moguls. It's frightening, because it's easy to make mistakes on the Internet. You can make up anything about anybody and send it everywhere, all with a hit of the send button.
PAGLIA: Your opponents say that you circulate rumors without substantiating them, then withdraw them after the harm has been done.
DRUDGE: I'm not even sure at what point rumors officially become news, Camille. The New York Times just caught a reporter making a great many outright falsehoods over a period of years, so I'm not the only one making mistakes. There have always been questions about journalism and rumor, where one ends and the other begins. But I don't know who it is that officially rings the bell and says, "Now it can be considered news."
ROSHAN: You've mentioned as your role models Louella Parsons, Walter Winchell, and William Randolph Hearsttwo gossip columnists and a notorious yellow journalist. Do you see yourself more as a gossip columnist or a news reporter and gatherer?
DRUDGE: I'll let the reader decide that. That's one of those old-school questions that I've answered too many times. It certainly would not be fresh enough for the pages of the new magazine Radar. [Laughter]
PAGLIA: In the past you've denied that you're a journalist per se.
DRUDGE: Meaning graduated with degree, appeared on Charlie Rose.
PAGLIA: You don't do firsthand reporting. That's not your function.
DRUDGE: No, I disagree with that sharply. I know that many people, including Lucianne Goldberg, claim I have never done an original report in my life. Well, how did I know to call her on that night I broke the news about Michael Isikoff's Lewinsky story [in Newsweek]? With all the media sources now available to modern consumers, original reporting on someone else's reporting will be more and more valuable.
PAGLIA: There's something retro about your persona. It's like the pre-World War II generation of reportersthose unpretentious, working-class guys who hung around saloons and used rough language. Now they've all been replaced with these effete Ivy League elitists who swarm over the current media. Nerdsutterly dull and insipid. DRUDGE: But you look at these tanned, blow-dried gym bunnies like Brian Williams, NBC's next anchorall they do is read off a teleprompter, and no one has a problem calling them journalists. In the end I really don't care what I'm called, as long as it's not blogger. As Roger Ailes told me early on, you don't need a license to report. You need a license to do hair.
PAGLIA: I think a lot of people who dismiss you as a gossip columnist are dismissive about the entertainment industry in general. There's a snobbery in the media that says that serious reporters cover political news, while those who cover celebrities are dismissed as gossips.
ROSHAN: When Sidney Blumenthal sued you for libel, for claiming that he beat his wife, your lawyer defended you by saying that at worst your report was an accurate report of an inaccurate rumor. Would that qualify as gossip or news?
DRUDGE: Hmm When I wrote that story I certainly thought it was news. But, you know, again, I'll leave you to decide what it is. I don't know what is gained by putting different labels on me. As far as I'm concerned, if American Idol gets 25 million viewers, that to me is as important as the latest bill passed in Washington. That to me is newsand it's also news to most Americans in this new century.
ROSHAN: Labels aside, doesn't your willingness to report inaccurate rumors separate the Drudge Report from, say, the New York Times?
DRUDGE: Oh, of course not! Maureen Dowd had no problem picking up Kitty Kelley's dubious story about how Frank Sinatra slipped into the White House to carry on with Nancy Reagan. This made it to page one of the Old Gray Lady. Was that accurate reporting of an inaccurate rumor, or gossip? You also have to remember, Maer, how Blumenthal's suit ended. He settled. He's making a big stink in his book about how he couldn't continue his suit against me because he ran out of money. Well, he had enough money to pay off my lawyers to stop harassing him on a case he had filed.
ROSHAN: What do you think of Blumenthal's new book?
DRUDGE: I haven't read the book, but I think Blumenthal's a liar. I remember what he told [New York Times columnist] Anthony Lewis about the questions that were asked of him in the Starr chamber: Does the president consider sex part of his religion? But no one asked him anything like that. It was a blatant lie. Blumenthal counted on grand jury testimony never seeing the light of day, because it usually never does. It's always sealed. However, the planets aligned and there was an impeachment. And all of a sudden we got to see Starr's actual questions and Blumenthal's answers, and they didn't remotely relate to what he told Lewis. He just lied and lied.
PAGLIA: And the people who accuse you of sensationalism?
DRUDGE: Life is sensational. News at its very essence is sensational. The spirit of "Extra! Extra! This just in..." The paperboy throwing the paper on the lawnthis is the spirit that I've adopted. The complete anarchy of the Internet has taken things to new levels, of course. But the mix of politics and show business and weather and science is the same one that Hedda Hopper and Hearst and Winchell pioneered.
ROSHAN: How did you get into this Winchell thing? Was he a childhood role model for you?
DRUDGE:: No, I was born in '66. By then he was hated for what he did.
ROSHAN: I know you weren't contemporaries, Matt. I was wondering if he was someone you had read about when you were a kid.
DRUDGE: No, no. But, you know, a lot of people compare me to Winchell. People like Neil Gabler, who wrote that hideous biography, which took all the fun out of what Winchell did. Gabler wrote a 2,000-word editorial in the L.A. Times saying that Drudge is like the Winchell of old. But I don't sit at the Stork Club. I'm not reporting on Broadway bimbos. To me it's only the Winchell spirit that I'm gravitating toward, as opposed to the man. He put himself in the center of situations. I do just the opposite. I remove myself from the fray and monitor everything from above. ROSHAN: And Winchell died alone. That's undisputed, right?
DRUDGE: I don't know. I'd be very careful with all that stuff. As Nixon said, history belongs to those who write it. I would certainly hate to read my obit on Salon. [Laughter]
PAGLIA: Your fascination with weather and nature is really interesting to me. You have this sublime mix. There'll be all these sordid, squalid, tabloid storiesa sex scandal or some hideous crimeand then all of a sudden you'll insert a huge image of a hurricane heading across the Atlantic toward Florida.
DRUDGE: Or a monkey screaming for mercy at a looted Baghdad zoo. Images like that are as profound as a bomb. I don't differentiate tabloid stories from broadsheet, or news stories from the gossip columns. It was Winchell who first warned of the Nazis, much to the chagrin of the main press, which, at that time, tried hard to downplay such dangers. The Internet provides the same platform in many ways.
PAGLIA: You're right. Mass newspapers developed as a populist voice for the immigrant generations in the 19th and 20th centuries. The journalism establishment got more and more pompous about itself, with this pretense that it's objective and altruistic. Look at the transformation of Joseph Pulitzer. His name used to be mud. But because of the Pulitzer prizes his name has a saintly ring to it. What's your relationship with the media machers of the northeastern seaboard?
DRUDGE: I have none. Zero. I am completely unrestrained by any shackles, actually. I have no profit-and-loss statements to worry about, no speeches in front of shareholdersunlike [New York Times executive editor] Howell Raines, who must live in complete shock and horror every time the Audit Bureau of Circulations issues the new numbers. The Arbitrons, the Nielsensnone of that makes any difference to me.
ROSHAN: Yet you seem to place a great deal of stock in other people's ratings. You talk about Arbitron as the equalizer of the Internet. DRUDGE: It's the applause meter of the new generation, yeah.
ROSHAN: But are ratings a good measure of what's sensible or what's moral?
DRUDGE: Hmm... No, but in a way they are a populist weapon, a way for ordinary people to get back at these massive entertainment conglomerates. Heretofore your only recourse was to shout back at the screen. But numbers don't lie. Take your old boss Tina Brown and the 74,000 dismal viewers her new show attracted the other night. And it kind of is a nice balloon-popper, one that goes against the perception of popularity that was created by illusion and deception. Tina Brown is like an American Idol contestant who was voted off before the final 10. There is now much more wide reportage on ratings, and SoundScan resultsthis whole rush of data and information, just so consumers can mock people who are failing on the tube! Like Jennifer Aniston. She's on the cover of every AOL Time Warner magazine almost every week, come hell or high water, but she still can't open a movie. When it comes time for the public to vote on her specificallynot her and her batch of "friends"she always gets rejected.
ROSHAN: Is it fair to judge people or talent or ideas in such cold, mathematical terms?
DRUDGE: Look, I'm not immune either. One day you'll look at Matt Drudge and remember when he was so hot back at the turn of the century. I'll accept that. I'm not going to have the bitterness of the Ted Koppels of the world, who can't accept that new technology has pushed them into irrelevance.
PAGLIA: You are a role model for young people who feel daunted by the corporate landscapea model for what one shrewd, tech-savvy person can accomplish if he or she has balls.
DRUDGE: What I represent, if I see it correctly, is an independent voice who's willing to take on presidents and networks, and reveal ratings they don't want you to see.
PAGLIA: It's so true. The Drudge Report has dramatized the process of censorship that's going on, the filtering of the news by established news organizations. I used to think, at the beginning of the '90s, that we had a relatively free press and that people were out to make their reputations in the Woodward-Bernstein model. But I no longer think that. Most of the reporters on the networks and in main northeastern newspapers are company menshmoozing careerists who are desperately afraid to rock the boat.
DRUDGE: Well, these media machers, people like Peter Bart of Daily Variety, Len Downie at the Washington Post, Lachlan Murdoch at the New York Post, for all their power, are an extremely unimaginative bunch. None of them has the freedom that I do. But there is an organized attempt now to put an end to that. The major labels and the studios, and the MPAA, have to gang up on the Internet, to not allow individuals to move and share freely.
PAGLIA: In your remarks about government regulation you seem like a libertarian, and yet you freely admit that you are a registered Republican. But you fiercely criticize the Department of Justice run by John Ashcroft.
DRUDGE: Have I said I'm a registered Republican?
PAGLIA: Yes, you didat my university! You don't want us to say that? [Laughs]
DRUDGE: I don't think I've said that publicly before.
PAGLIA: Well, you must have been moved to candor!
DRUDGE: Well, in any case, I think it's my job to be critical of whoever is in power. But the Internet restrictions make me particularly crazy. Hands off my downloads, Hilary Rosen! Get out of my hard drive, Mr. Ashcroft! It's none of their business. And, ironically, Ashcroft argued as a senator that there should be no Big Brother police state on e-mails, even with the most heinous crimes. So to hide behind the World Trade Center to start going into our hard drives is a complete folly, and the Bush administration will pay the price with votes. PAGLIA: But on the whole you've seemed to favor the Iraq war.
DRUDGE: I was actually very on the fence on the war. It put me in a difficult position. If you've noticed, I thought I did a pretty clever job of at least sharing with readers what the U.K. Mirror, the Independent, all these antiwar outlets were doing. Probably it was perceived as just mischief-making, but it reflected my own lack of clarity about the war issue. I don't have to be clear, though. I'm not a politician.
Paglia: We need more mischief-making. The American media is too bland and cautious about the government. It's refreshing to hear someone being rude and raucous. It's great.
DRUDGE: A lot of that is me saying, "Look, Ma, I can sing. Look, I can dance. I mean, I can tell you what'll be on the front page of the New York Times tomorrow, and it hasn't even been published yet." A lot of that is me making mischief at the expense of Howell Raines. Hopefully, he understands there is a sense of humor to it.
ROSHAN: Matt, you say that you know what will be on the Times's front page tomorrow. How can you know unless you're a psychic, or you can hack into their site?
DRUDGE: Jeannette Walls, in all her glory, once accused me of hacking into Newsweek, which is a crime. Lucky for her I never sued for that. Hacking is a criminal offense. And under Ashcroft it would probably land me in Guantánamo. But just think about this: How many people work at the New York Times? The place is just full of leaks, full of sources. And it's not only the Times. People offer me an endless flow of leads and sneak peeks. Not all for crass publicity reasons, like the Vanity Fair woman calling and saying, "We have this really hot story coming, Drudge. Do you want it first?" It may be that some of the sneaks are unauthorized and bootlegged. But I'm not ready to concede that I'm committing a crime and hacking into the Times.
PAGLIA: You're antiestablishment down the line, except when it comes to your politics. Do you really consider yourself a conservative? DRUDGE: Oh, yeah. I'm a prolife conservative who doesn't want the government to tax me. There are issues that I'm so frightened of1.2 million abortions a year scares the hell out of me. Oftentimes when I see these superstorms forming, you know, sometimesI wouldn't be honest if I didn't think it was retribution. I also am opposed to big government. Now, you would argue: Well, how could you support a government interfering with the rights of a woman over her own body? But I would argue: No. That all life is sacred. Abortion is the issue that really motivates me.
PAGLIA: Do you come from a religious background?
DRUDGE: No, not at all. I have very liberal parents.
PAGLIA: You're more conservative than they?
DRUDGE: Oh, much more so. But I follow my own instincts rather than any political agenda. It's not wise for me to be too overtly political, believe it or not, because I have so many readers from so many different points of view. If I go too hardcore partisan I'll lose them.
PAGLIA: Expanding on the subject of sex and morality, what's your attitude toward outing?
DRUDGE: I have never done it myself. I certainly could, but I prefer to leave that to Maer. I don't do a lot of sex stuffand I know that sounds ironic in light of my most famous story, of Blumenthal beating his wife, allegedlybut it happens to be true. I tend to stay away from all that, because I don't know where it will end. I was even uncomfortable with the story about Bill Bennett's gambling, because he's a private citizen going to a casino. I'm trying to maintain a site that is going for action and intrigue, but if I just start printing who's gay, who's straight, or who did a mound of coke last night, it all goes downhill very quickly.
ROSHAN: What made you escape California for Miami?
DRUDGE: Taxes. I was paying nine percent in California. One year I paid $90,000 to the city of Fresno. Florida has no state income tax, which is its greatest attraction. I guess the last straw for me was being stuck at the corner of Highland Avenue and Sunset Boulevard for hours one afternoon. It was a nightmare, like a scene from Joel Schumacher's Falling Down. I almost left my car in the middle of the street. I hit Route 10 a week later. Now I'm in Miami Beach, up in clouds, looking at the sea. I can see, probably, 40 miles out of the Drudge windows.
PAGLIA: Do you have a social life in Miami Beach?
DRUDGE: Zero. The media's my mistress.
ROSHAN: Aren't you a DJ somewhere, Matt? I seem to remember an article in a Miami paper that said you sometimes DJ at clubs there.
DRUDGE: No. I'm not a DJ anywhere. I do love music, though. I often thought I'd be much better as a radio DJ doing music rather than talk. If I can get enough money together, maybe I can pursue that full-time.
PAGLIA: You do play a lot of music on your radio show.
DRUDGE: I've always been a hipster, always knew the first beat of every song. I could always name that tune in one note.
ROSHAN: What kind of music is your favorite?
DRUDGE: Everything, really. Carmen McRae mixed in with Massive Attack, and a little Rod McKuen. It's crazy. But I'm looking for a little romance. I'm not a very big fan of this new electronic musicI think with a few exceptions it's just too cold and inhuman. The new generation really needs to reach out for romance, because we're spending too much time in front of screens and radiation and lights and blips and blurbs. We need romance and flowers and wind.
ROSHAN: It's interesting to hear you draw a distinction between your public life and your private life. Didn't Clinton make the same argument? DRUDGE: I think pulling out his cigar in the White House as Arafat waited outside wipes out any argument Clinton might have had.
PAGLIA: He was using the hall off the Oval Office. Why didn't he just rent a motel room?
DRUDGE: In any case I no longer do the Clinton beat. Or cover any politicians who are out of office. So I would say what he was doing on the clock in the White House very much was a concern to everybody involved, not to mention to national security.
ROSHAN: Speaking of national security, how do you feel about Condoleezza Rice?
DRUDGE: Oh, she's a powerhouse! But the DNC has a dirt file on her that is really thick. Think of The Contender, or those other movies that have warned what happens when a female candidate has some dirt she'd rather hide. And I wouldn't be surprised if Democrats used it. I think the best match-up would be Donna Brazile versus Condoleezza Rice, high noon, and we get all that crap out of the way.
ROSHAN: When you compare Condoleezza Rice to [Gore's barely closeted campaign manager] Donna Brazile, what are you really saying?
DRUDGE: They're both tough black women who would run at the same time, and who possibly could have a dirt file on both sides. I know nothing. I haven't seen Condoleezza's file, but I've been assured that one exists. Roshan: What about Hillary Clinton's future?
DRUDGE: Oh, she's a superstar. She's the brightest light on Broadway. She's Harvey Weinstein's First Lady of our Heart. She is the Democrat to beat in '08, and her opponent may turn out to be Rudy Giuliani. And if I had to predict right now, I would think she could clean up.
PAGLIA: Really? But she can't even give a speech. She has no ability to interact with people in a spontaneous way.
DRUDGE: Let's put it this way: I'm staying alive just to see her run against Giuliani. I think you will see a dynamic, a red-versus-blue rematch, that would just fascinate the country. Camille, as you remember, one of the finest performances we've seen out of Washington was the first lady coming out of the grand jury office wearing a dragon coat and white face powder. And I expect much more from Hillary as we ramp up for the next election. She has decided to go undercover and play it very calm and very conservative and Miss Marm. But she will surround herself with the Blumenthals, the Harold Ickeses, and everything else we loved and hated about the '90s. The corruption, the crimes, the craziness will all come back to the fore.
ROSHAN: Matt, you said your parents are liberal. What do they think of what you do?
DRUDGE: I think they're extremely proud. My mother turned on Clinton toward the end; now she's turned on Bush. I kind of like that: a woman who doesn't necessarily look up to any politician.
PAGLIA: When you said that all life is sacred, was that a religious statement or a reflection of 1960s-style cosmic consciousness?
DRUDGE: I guess if I popped a pill while saying that it would qualify as '60s. [Laughter]
PAGLIA: You have no religious affiliation?
DRUDGE: You could probably call me a new-age Jew. I'm really into meditation. I have been meditating since I was five years old. I love reading Jesus. I am open to a lot of different things. Again, it's a formula for my personal self that I've come up with. I don't go to shul, I don't go to church every Sunday. But the older I get, the closer I feel to a creator.
PAGLIA: What do you mean by meditating?
DRUDGE: I do exercises every day to clear my mind. Third-eye stuff.
PAGLIA: Transcendental meditation? Where did you learn it?
DRUDGE: I'm self-taught.
PAGLIA: This is so '60s. You give off such a '60s vibe.
DRUDGE: [Laughs] Well, I do have a hundred Rod McKuen albums, you know.
ROSHAN: What are you doing when you're not doing what you do? In your off hours?
DRUDGE: I have no off hours. I don't have an office I go to. I do everything from home.
ROSHAN: I imagine there are times when you're not planted in front of the screen.
DRUDGE: Oh, many times, many times.
ROSHAN: What are your friends like? Camille here seems to think of you as this lost Norma Desmond character. [Laughter]
PAGLIA: No! That's not what I said.
ROSHAN: She made you out to be a legend, communing with millions but intimate with very few. I'm interested in your individual relationships. What are your friends like?
DRUDGE: They're nice, trustworthy, stimulating. I seem to relate more to older people, but I've got friends my age, and younger.
ROSHAN: I can't imagine there are many old people in your part of Miami Beach, frankly.
DRUDGE: [Laughs] Not true. I haven't been south of 40th Street in a year. Much like when I lived in L.A.I never went west of La Brea. I'm allergic to the ultratrendy market that hopefully Radar is not catering to. [Laughter]
PAGLIA: You don't go to South Beach?
DRUDGE: No. I don't have to. I don't go down there and chase the tourists who are drunk off their asses with pants halfway down their butts. [Laughter] These sad 45-year-olds, pretending it's MTV's Spring Break year-round.
PAGLIA: So where do they live, these friends of yours?
DRUDGE: At this point I could call everybody a friend if I really wanted to play that Georgette Mosbacher-type social game, where everybody who is in my sphere is my friend. I don't do that. I have a handful of good friends, and a lot of them were my friends prior to the Drudge Report, which makes a big difference. But I have met new people, like Ann Coulter, who I happen to like a lot. She's moving from New York to Miami very soon.
PAGLIA: Are all your friends Ann Coulter types: tough and uncompromising?
DRUDGE: Well, they all do seem to be tough. People who take a submissive role on this planet, I don't understand where they're coming from. I think they're probably damaged.
ROSHAN: Do you have partners or lovers or people you are more intimate with?
DRUDGE: Huh? [Laughs] I'm going to pass on that. He cleverly waits until the very end, of course.
PAGLIA: Come on, Matt! Give us something hot about yourself. [Laughter]
DRUDGE: No, I'll do that on my website, not on Maer's. He may commission a story later to investigate that, but that's his business. [Laughter]
ROSHAN: Where do you go on the Internet for pure enjoyment, Matt?
DRUDGE: I don't use the Internet for enjoyment. Mostly I search the wires and Nexis. I'm looking at my bookmarks as we speak. Something called News Edge. AP, Reuters, Agency French Press, National Weather Service radar.
ROSHAN: Sounds fascinating. [Laughs]
DRUDGE: No, my bookmarks are boring. I'm mainly using it for news. I surf without images, too. I don't see pictures for the most part, or Java applets that are spinning around. I don't see all this craziness that they're developing on the Internet that has nothing to do with the written word. You said something when we had dinner in Philadelphia, Camille, that spoke to meabout how as a girl you would see your life in headlines and do headlines for people around you.
PAGLIA: Yeah, I used to narrate my life in headlines. I still do. When I was a kid, if I'd fall off a chair I'd announce, "Girl Falls off Chair," like that. I love those blaring, brazen headlines in old-time newspapers. They also had a great impact on Andy Warhol.
DRUDGE: Well, clearly I like them too. They make life seem fun and dramatic and hysterical in the extreme. "Man Faints." "No Change on Rates." "Twisters in Kansas." There is just a drama to every second on earth. There are never any down moments for me.
DRUDGE: Oh, she's a powerhouse! But the DNC has a dirt file on her that is really thick. Think of The Contender, or those other movies that have warned what happens when a female candidate has some dirt she'd rather hide. And I wouldn't be surprised if Democrats used it.
DRUDGE: They're both tough black women who would run at the same time, and who possibly could have a dirt file on both sides. I know nothing. I haven't seen Condoleezza's file, but I've been assured that one exists.
Those parts are chilling. Everything else to me is irrelevant. God knows what kind of real or manufactered stuff they have.
and a registered Republican (elsewhere in this piece).
PAGLIA: You're antiestablishment down the line, except when it comes to your politics. Do you really consider yourself a conservative?
DRUDGE: Oh, yeah. I'm a prolife conservative who doesn't want the government to tax me. There are issues that I'm so frightened of1.2 million abortions a year scares the hell out of me. Oftentimes when I see these superstorms forming, you know, sometimesI wouldn't be honest if I didn't think it was retribution. I also am opposed to big government. Now, you would argue: Well, how could you support a government interfering with the rights of a woman over her own body? But I would argue: No. That all life is sacred. Abortion is the issue that really motivates me.