Hey! Were you aware that for a long while now, internet scribe Matt Drudge has been active, leading the press, like horses, to water? Of course you were! But that doesn't alter the grand press tradition of writing an article describing this phenomenon anew every thirty-six hours!
Today, the role of suddenly pop-eyed Drudge enthusiast fell to the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza, who wants you to know that YES: Drudge continues to be influential. The approach to the subject is so rote that it's a wonder it didn't include a chart of today's high and low tides. It actually included this parenthetical paragraph:
(A quick note to preempt the inevitable argument that Drudge's influence is overblown. Tomorrow morning, take a minute to look at the stories Drudge is highlighting. Then, later in the day, watch a few cable channels to see what stories they are talking about. It will open your eyes.)
OH WILL IT OPEN MY EYES, CHRIS? Thank you for exposing this never before noted abnormality! I must have blinked or something. Actually, this touched off a little exercise: what's the oldest article I can remember reading that touched on the very same subject? Here's the best I could do:
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.
That's from the September 26,1997 edition of Suck.com, people. I have no doubt that some of you could do me one better, but I trust I've made my point, here. Especially since that last sentence predicts Cillizza's September 2008 writing like Nostradamus - unfailing in its precision, like shooting fish in a barrel.
Cillizza gets his post on the Paranormal Drudge Singularity out today on the conceptual, low-hanging limb that Drudge has, shockingly, started to run against Obama in his coverage. This should surprise nobody who's spent a week of their life out from under a heavy stone, of course. But a while back, the Drudge Report seemed to be prevailing against McCain! And what about earlier this year, when many mused that Drudge was in the tank for Hillary Clinton? What makes this guy tick, ideologically? Cillizza attempts an explanation:
What explains the change in tone? It's easy to lapse into the tired old logic that Drudge is nothing more than a conservative mouthpiece returning to his roots as election day nears.
But, those who follow the news choices that Drudge makes on a day in and day out basis -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- argue that the shift in focus by Drudge is in keeping with a long time strain of his site: a healthy disdain for the mainstream media and their perceived biases.
But that's RIDICULOUS, and it belies a fundamental misunderstanding about how Matt Drudge built a media empire out of little more than a computer and a...well - unflinching desire to build himself a media empire. An empire whose vastness is ever-reflected back to its creator through the fealty of the very mainstream media Cillizza believes Drudge holds in disdain. If you are walking around, confused as to why Drudge seems to shift, in scattershot fashion, across a number of ideological positions, even while reliably leaving the impression that he is, at heart, a conservative, all you need to do is read the September 26, 1997 edition of Suck.com!
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.
In short, Drudge is about bare-knuckle click-through commerce, married to the self-esteem that comes from the fact that he's driving the debate. And, look, my hat's off to the guy, but there's absolutely nothing new to say or to see here.
But let's face it: where would co-dependent relationships be if it weren't for the willingness of the lesser partner to issue a daily rumination on the toxic and inseparable ties by which they are bound? In another thirty-six hours, someone else will come along and muse on this subject in goggle-eyed amazement. In the meantime, if you're interested, here's two aspects of this story that Chris Cillizza missed.