Don't count Matt Drudge out.

Media criticism.
Nov. 10 2008 6:51 PM

Don't Count Drudge Out

His demise is overreported once again.

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It's astonishing that this late into the Web era no major media site has followed Drudge's lead and established a news fix with attitude that points to great headlines on the rest of the Web. The site is so simple that anybody could do it—but nobody has for very long, or at least not successfully. Newser tries to deliver a free-range news feed, but it's so hopelessly overloaded with technology, user options, and typography that you just want to click away when you land there. Plus, its "grid" design gives no indication of what's most important or most interesting: You might as well visit the more Drudge-esque Google News.

Drudge has his critics, and he deserves them. For starters, here's FiveThirtyEight's recent takedown on Drudge's use of polls and EW.com's Josh Wolk on the Chris Rock "Oscar" blowup. He also fell for the "Attacked and Mutilated" McCain-volunteer hoax (but give him credit for correcting the record). He made entirely too big a deal about the mysterious John Kerry affair that wasn't and got overexcited about the "clues" of an Obama-Bayh ticket.

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Although he hates the left, as Philip Weiss reported in New Yorkmagazine in the summer of 2007, he's not the right-wing attack machine that some think he is. "Republicans can't count on Drudge. He praises Rosie O'Donnell and Michael Moore for their independence and fight, and seems to despise Giuliani and McCain," Weiss wrote. Drudge's brand of iconoclasm is so elastic that he found a way to accept the Hillary Clinton camp's advances even before the primaries, peppering his page with positive news about her campaign. Such resourcefulness will serve him well in the Obama administration.

Drudge endures, while imitators and newly minted Web stars fade, for a variety of reasons. He works incredibly hard. He cares about his site. He appears to have no interest in working for somebody else, and his entrepreneurial vigor makes the site come alive. And also because he appreciates something about readers they might not even know themselves: They want an information site that would rather err on the side of recklessness once in a while than be right all the time.

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When Slate launched in the summer of 1996, Editor Michael Kinsley tried to hire Drudge. He politely declined. I reviewed Drudge Manifesto for the Wall Street Journal in 2000, where I called for "More Drudgism! … But maybe a little less Drudge." Instead, we've gotten more of both. In 1998, following the debut of the Lewinsky-Clinton scandal, I wrote a feature for the New York Times Magazine about Drudgephobia in the press. I think it holds up. Let me know what you think at slate.pressbox@gmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray,"Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

Track my errors: This hand-built RSS feed will ring every time Slate runs a "Press Box" correction. For e-mail notification of errors in this specific column, type the word Drudge in the subject head of an e-mail message, and send it to slate.pressbox@gmail.com.

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.

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