"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 26 September 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Code Red-Faced


[isn't today friday yet?]

In filing a defamation lawsuit

against DIY gossip columnist

Matt Drudge, lawyers for Clinton

story editor Sidney Blumenthal

have portrayed the

syntax-bludgeoning pundit as the

quintessential New-Media

Bogeyman, an "irresponsible

liar" who just won't play by the

rules of traditional media. We

can't help but admire the

mercenary impulse behind such

miscasting - how else to

rationalize Blumenthal's

ridiculously excessive US$30

million request than to conflate

Drudge's alleged misdeeds with

those of an entire upstart

medium? What surprises us is how

many people continue to buy the



Sure, Drudge has expertly

applied Microsoft's

software-development paradigm to

the world of journalism: find

out what the other guy is

working on; beat him to the

market with the story regardless

of how buggy it is; revise as

necessary. And, yes, he works in

a digital medium. But beneath

such superficialities, The

Drudge Report exists as

traditional media's most ardent

fanzine; it fairly swoons with

gooey mentions of which

"ace investigative reporter" is

working on what

traffic-stopping, wire-burning

exposé. And even when

Drudge adopts a chiding tone,

his adulation always shines

through - in his universe, it's

Michael Isikoff, Maureen Dowd,

and Howard Kurtz, rather than

the political figures and

celebrities they report on, who

are the true stars. Because

pretty much every journalist and

pundit fervently believes that

this is, indeed, the natural

order of things, traditional

media has rewarded Drudge's

unctuous perspicacity by giving

him a like amount of coverage.


[tomorrow i'm going to big sur for a weekend retreat]

That much of the attention

they've shown him has been

negative simply means that they

don't get the joke: What

elevates the new-media

provocateur's efforts from mere

drudgework to incisively

obvious high comedy on the

current state of journalism is

the fact that he's managed to

provoke so much criticism by

parodying the very people who

issue it.


Journalists are wracked with

self-doubt these days; in the

wake of Henri Paul's untimely

collision with a Danielle Steele

novel, they're no doubt

wondering how it's come to pass

that a motley gaggle of

picture-takers has so thoroughly

usurped the world's enmity. (In

the glory days of H. L. Mencken

and Walter Winchell, it

certainly wasn't the

photographers who were cursed

for their power to kill public

figures.) As penitent artifacts

like David Halberstam and Carl

Bernstein sign statements

professing their concern for the

"direction of the profession,"

Drudge dons his Winchell drag

and camps it up as the

inevitable consequence of the

personality-driven news they

helped pioneer.


Lacking formal training, Drudge

learned his craft simply by

watching and reading, absorbing

huge doses of journalism not as

it's taught but as it's actually

practiced. The lessons he

learned from watching his

predecessors may not constitute

the whole of the discipline, but

they're the only ones that

matter much these days: Focus on

personalities instead of issues;

be sensational; waste no effort

on context; and, most important

of all, be timely. In a droll

take on this last principle, the

poker-prosed Drudge recently

made the following announcement:

"For the record, the DRUDGE

REPORT homepage was the first

Web site to report that Diana

had died - more than four and a

half minutes ahead of a CNN

announcement ...." With Drudge

imitating current journalism

values with such uncanny

fidelity, is it any wonder

traditional media now vilifies

him? Parents never like it much

when their children mirror their

most hated imperfections.


[a weekend of massage, good food, and meditation]

In regard to Blumenthal, of

course, it probably would have

been in Drudge's best interest

had he mirrored the habits of

his purported idol Winchell a

bit more closely. While all

Drudge had to do to convince

Newsweek and People that the

analogy between himself and

Winchell was an apt one was to

pose for a few photographs in a

gray fedora, in actuality the

two aren't much alike at all.

Instead, Drudge is journalism's

version of Quentin Tarantino,

another superficial technician

whose underlying absence of

conviction leaves him with no

particular story to tell.


Whereas Drudge shows a childish

earnestness (he really, really,

really wants to be a great

reporter; he just doesn't seem

to know why), Winchell was one

of the world's great frauds. He

sentimentalized the virtues of

family life while fucking

showgirls and assiduously

avoiding his own wife and

children; he championed

democracy while thuggishly

striving to silence any

oppositional voice. But at least

his beliefs, however

hypocritical, gave him purpose;

Drudge saves his reverence for

the scoop and the scandalous

lead only. While he claims a

conservative bias, he never

really articulates it; you get

the sense that he maintains this

perspective only because

Clinton, in all his squishy,

scandal-magnet tumescence, pops

the loudest when hit. In other

instances, Drudge makes noises

about the conflicts of interest

that arise when a single

corporation owns the

entertainment magazine that

reviews the blockbuster summer

movie that features the cable

news channel in a cameo, but his

cracks never materialize into a

call for reform. Unlike the

crusading Winchell, Drudge

prefers the role of topical

gadfly; his buzz stays fresher

that way.


[damn, i deserve to be treated like a diva for the weekend!]

Ultimately, it was Drudge's lack

of conviction as much as his

lack of journalistic training

that got him into trouble with

Blumenthal. Had Winchell gotten

ahold of a similar tip about one

of Truman's aides, you can bet

he wouldn't have been content to

simply pass it along to his

readers without investigating

further; he would have tried to

accumulate even more dirt with

which to bury his enemies.

Drudge's ambitions are far less

lethal; he seems content to

deliver nothing more than a

sub-Albert salvo of soundbites.

And when his targets bite back,

the retractions come quickly.

It's easy to apologize when you

don't care much one way or the


courtesy of St. Huck

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