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.

Matt Drudge. Click image to expand.
Matt Drudge

At the beginning of the summer, the press considered the Drudge Report so influential that its proprietor, Matt Drudge, was thought to be in position to determine the fall election's results.

Jonathan Martin and Ben Smith of Politico wrote that he had "an uncanny ability to drive the national conversation" and quoted Mitt Romney's press secretary saying that Drudge "serves as an assignment editor for the national press corps." In a piece titled "How Matt Drudge Rules the (Political) World,"Washingtonpost.com reporter Chris Cillizza wrote that Drudge and his site "sit at the junction of politics and journalism in the modern media age." Cillizza pointed to both the Politico story and the 2006 book by John F. Harris and Mark Halperin, The Way To Win: Taking the White House in 2008, which anointed Drudge as "the single most influential purveyor of information about American politics." Harris and Halperin also credited Drudge as a major reason for John Kerry's2004 defeat.

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By the fall, Drudge had lost it, the press surmised. "Does Matt Drudge, an unabashed conservative, still have huge clout in shaping the media's coverage?" the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz asked on Sept. 18."Or is his influence overstated by those seeking a simple explanation for why MSM types do what they do?" Kurtz cited TPM's Greg Sargent, who had just chronicled the decline of Drudge's influence over cable news. By late October, Media Matters' Eric Boehlert was calling the Drudge Report "unplugged down the stretch." Cillizza expanded on Boehlert's theme in his blog on Oct. 30, quoting a series of wishful headlines on the Drudge Report hinting at a possible upset of Barack Obama by John McCain.

This isn't the first Drudge collapse to be recorded by the press. The media gravediggers have been sharpening their spades for him ever since he broke onto the national media scene in 1998 by previewing the Monica Lewinsky story Newsweek was reporting. In December 1999, New York Times columnist Frank Rich declared Drudge's demise as he left his weekly Fox News Channel show, noting that Drudge's Web site had dropped from the 228th most popular to the 636th. Drudge's "brief reign as national press mascot" was over, Rich asserted.

Not to take anything away from Drudge, but he was never as important as his promoters made him out to be. Time embarrassed itself by calling him one the world's 100 most influential people in 2006! He's recorded ups and downs, hits and misses, scoops and errors, but he's never approached the irrelevance his detractors would wish upon him.

That Drudge touted a dubious McCain comeback or that his influence over cable may have waned misses the fact that 12 years after its founding, no greater media punch can be found in a smaller Web package than the Drudge Report, reportedly just a two-person operation. According to comScore Media Metrix, the Drudge Report's number of unique visitors rose 70 percent from September 2007 to September 2008, impressive even in a year that most Web sites covering the campaign have attracted plumper audiences.

What's most remarkable about the Drudge Report after all these years is how efficient and useful it remains in the age of podcasts, Web video, RSS feeds, animations, interactive charts, interactive maps, slide shows, Digg buttons, Facebook widgets, comment pages, change-text-size buttons, print options, and all the rest. Drudge's idea of sexing up his one-page-fits-all-sizes site is adding a plain-wrap version for mobile devices. Maybe the Drudge Report derives its efficiency and usefulness from its lack of podcasts, Web video, RSS feeds, animations, interactive charts, interactive maps, slideshows, Digg buttons, Facebook widgets, comment pages, change-text-size buttons, and print options!

If you could access only one home page for breaking news and chose Washingtonpost.com or CNN.com over the Drudge Report, you'd be a blockhead. His newswire-meets-tabloid sense of story—hysterical and playful at the same time—links to both what you need to know and what you want to know, and he updates more frequently than conventional media sites do. Sure, Drudge breaks stories of his own now and again, but that's not his big draw. "The dirty little secret about Drudge," Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, told the Los Angeles Times, "is that he's a gateway for conventional journalism."