the drudge report

the drudge report

The Influence of the Drudge Report on Public Opinion

1. Introduction

The explosion of the internet in the late 1990s brought about changes to the way information was produced and distributed. One of the first of such changes was the emergence of online-only news organizations. While these sites, such as Salon magazine and Slate, proved successful, nothing matched the popularity of the Drudge Report. The wealthy college dropout Matt Drudge created the Drudge Report in 1995 as a gossip column on the goings-on in Hollywood. By 1998, his site had become a major player in news dissemination. The highlight of Drudge’s young career in journalism was the breaking of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. It was Newsweek magazine reporter Michael Isikoff’s story on the Lewinsky scandal which led to its national attention. Isikoff had given the story to Newsweek, which could not run it until the following Monday. Drudge broke the story mid-week, and the mainstream media was forced to play catch up. In the year 2003, the Drudge Report was posting 700 million page views a month. That’s when the Drudge Report became a true alternative to the mainstream liberal media. Matt Drudge has been quoted as saying, “We’ve become an endangered species. We’re the last bastion of free and open information in this country, and when the political establishment gains control over a medium, they are going to use that medium to further their message.” The case for this statement is true from much of Drudge’s experience during the Clinton presidency and continued into both the Bush and Obama presidencies. He can cite examples such as the time the Obama campaign asked its followers to report anything heard about Obama on the news to the website (this was meant to single out misinformation, but many right-wing pundits took it as a means to quell any negativity towards Obama in the media). The biggest example of political control over a medium came with the major news networks and New York Times in reporting on the Iraq war. Drudge accuses these organizations of being cheerleaders for the war early on, and not until the war’s end did the mainstream media become a critic of the war. It was often said that CNN would take its morning news directly from the Drudge Report and report on those stories throughout the day.

2. History and Evolution of the Drudge Report

In January 2001, the Drudge Report gained exclusive worldwide rights to a video clip of George W. Bush choking on a pretzel. Matt Drudge released the $100,000 home security video free of charge on his website. He also said that he sent pizzas to Florida to news organizations as a friendly gesture. He is quoted as saying, “I am a showman, I am anything but a journalist.” This would be a contrast of how the media portrays Drudge’s profession. Although Drudge says he is not a journalist, his passion for reporting news and breaking stories cannot be doubted. This is evident in his purchase of The Drudge Report domain with his life savings from working at a 7-11 and managing a gift shop, as well as the time he spent developing his career in a studio apartment and a small Hollywood office only accessible through an alley. Today, the Drudge Report averages over 26 million visits per day and is ranked by Alexa as the #1 most visited media site in the United States.

The Drudge Report is the creation of Matt Drudge, who established this news aggregation site in 1995. While the report has maintained a very simple format with very few graphics and no accompanying video, it has remained a popular news source with a large and varied readership. During the Clinton administration, the report broke several important stories including the Newsweek story of Monica Lewinsky’s affair with the president and the impeachment of the president. During this time frame, The Drudge Report expanded in popularity, bringing in an average of 3 million views per day in addition to being the subject of much controversy and a lot of criticism from the mainstream media.

3. The Drudge Report’s Role in Shaping Public Opinion

The Drudge Report plays a major role in organizing or setting the media and public agenda because of its heavy readership by members of the media and several influential opinion shapers. Drudge Report stories set a certain tone of discussion and frame for an issue which has a provocative, information leading, or sensational aspect. Often times members of the mainstream media will analyze and report on a story or segment the Drudge Report has featured, thereby linking and giving the story more weight in the national dialogue. When these instances occur, the Drudge Report may discuss how an interesting headline or story was featured in the New York Times, Washington Post or LA Times etc.; all leading to increased ratings and readership for the newspaper in question. At other times, the story becomes so newsworthy that newspapers will seek to employ original or follow-up coverage so that they have their own material featured or linked on the Drudge Report.

4. Criticisms and Controversies Surrounding the Drudge Report

Since its rise in popularity, the Drudge Report has received criticism from both the media for its reporting style, and from politicians and their constituents for the way it has delivered news on the web. In this paper, I have already echoed several criticisms directed towards Drudge from various media outlets. Drudge’s tendency to label news events with his own personal spin is another gripe against the Drudge Report. According to a survey taken on 215 individuals, Richard R. Wilk, Jr. notes that, “Most people just do not think he (Drudge) reports the news objectively and is not biased” (19). This negativity was further reflected on in the comment I enclosed from an interview conducted with Bill Clinton. Clinton’s accusation that Drudge did a story with no facts simply reinforces the belief that Drudge has at times sacrificed accuracy to achieve his publishing first mentality. In a speech at the University of Georgia, Drudge admitted that when he first discovered a news break on Monica Lewinski he hesitated in publishing the report. However, this inaction was not due to the fact he was worried about the authenticity of information, but the fear of becoming another “Irrelevant slob on the Internet” who holds onto a newsworthy story too long and lets others “get the prize” (Wilk 21). The alignment of competition between himself and other reporters to who gets to “the prize” or the top news story, and his statement that, “I’ll do almost anything to win” – said during an interview with CBS’ Mike Wallace as one of Drudge’s infamous tag lines – truly illustrates what some perceive to be an undermining of journalistic ethics in Drudge’s journalistic principles.

4. Criticisms and Controversies Surrounding the Drudge Report

Michael K. Smith The Influence of the Drudge Report on Public Opinion

5. Conclusion: The Future Impact of the Drudge Report

Aristotle once noted that “thought and feeling may at the same time be right and yet lead to different actions.” This reflects an uncertainty as to the precise influence of thought and feeling on public actions. The world of political thought over the last century has been focused on the concept that the media has a huge impact on public opinion, which in turn determines the course of political action. The Drudge Report is much maligned by the mainstream media. We can rely on the reports of Lewis and similar researchers that in the years after the year 2000, the media came to recognize the report as a major source. While it is beyond the scope and purpose of this paper to attempt to ascertain whether this is accurate, the fact that the existence of the report and discussions of it at length in sources such as Newsweek (Dvorak) would indicate that it has indeed had some influence on the news agenda today. This in itself would indicate some potential to influence the origin of political thought. The few specific incidents highlighted above, particularly the Lewinsky scandal, have shown that Drudge’s actions to date have led directly to a change in policy undertaken by major US news organizations. If we are to believe the hypotheses stated earlier, the result of this new policy would, in turn, lead to a corresponding change in the public opinion of certain political issues. This then leads down a long and somewhat speculative road to whether Drudge has had any direct impact on public opinion of political issues. The above instances noted by Mendelberg would suggest that the answer is affirmative. Drudge has influenced media content, which in turn sways public opinion cues. But to find more broader and concrete evidence of this possible influence, it would likely require a major content analysis involving direct comparison of the US news media and public opinion on a range of specific political issues, pre and post Drudge era.

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