My mission is to find Matt Drudge, and I’m failing. I’ve e-mailed the author of the Drudge Report countless times and written letters to him at the two places he owns in Miami to say I’m coming to town and want to talk, but when I check into my hotel there’s no note from him at the desk. It’s late Sunday night, and I turn on his weekly radio show in the room. Drudge is on his favorite theme, surveillance cameras everywhere, his belief that Google wants to spy on us and pass it all on to the government. At such times, Drudge comes off as a hunted man. “I just don’t want to be watched when I’m visiting the Lincoln Memorial, going through Penn Station, or walking down Hollywood Boulevard. So many cameras everywhere. And now you start feeding that into some kind of database and start linking it up with a Fascist company like Google? This is a serious issue. And it’s not given serious consideration—when it is a total transformation of our society and our liberties. What gives you a right? Why are you watching me? People say, well, what do you have to hide, Drudge? What do you have to hide? You know what? The burden should be on them. I think I have a right not to be watched.”
I call in to the show a few times: 1-866-4-drudge. Busy. You can often hear Drudge at his keyboard even as he’s on air, so I drop him another e-mail with a clever headline like something on the Drudge Report. Then the next morning I go round to his two addresses. It’s breaking my word. I’d e-mailed Drudge, “Not Stalking You; Coming to Miami,” because I know how feverish he is about the prying press. When Lindsay Lohan had her accident in Beverly Hills in May, Drudge said it was caused by violent “stalkerazzi.” He said, “That’s probably why she was drunk and higher than a kite … because she has no life and no privacy … they create their villains and then they report on them.” Not that this philosophy keeps Drudge from posting paparazzi pictures on the Drudge Report, or milking the Paris Hilton drama. I ring and knock on two doors: the high-rise condo on the beach where Drudge first moved when he came to Miami in 2001, then the $1.4 million Mediterranean-style stucco house he bought on Rivo Alto Island a couple years later. There’s a large, faded American flag hanging from a palisade and two cars in the driveway, but no sign of the Corvette that Drudge listed on old condo records in 2002, or the black Mustang of more recent vintage. The fact is, I’m not even sure where Drudge lives. A friend says that the 40-year-old Drudge couldn’t deal with the upkeep on the house and moved back to a condo on the beach, and the L.A. Times says it slipped a note under Drudge’s door at the Four Seasons tower, the tallest building on the bay. On his radio show, Drudge tries to throw his pursuers off the scent. “I have not missed a day in nearly thirteen years. They keep saying, ‘Oh, the secret life of Matt Drudge …’ There is no secret life here. It is found literally on the Website, because this is all I’ve been doing.”
Drudge’s greatest notoriety, breaking the fact that Newsweek had killed a story on a White House intern’s involvement with Bill Clinton and then breaking the name Monica Lewinsky a day later, occurred nearly ten years ago. Back then he was a gossip; today, notoriety has given way to something else: respect. This respect derives from the fact that so many journalists, political operatives, financiers—just about anyone in public life—consult his Website, drudgereport .com, several times a day to know what others are talking about. “This is America’s bulletin board, and much more than that,” NBC’s Brian Williams said recently. “Matt Drudge is just about the most powerful journalist in America,” said Pat Buchanan.
That power is looming as the country readies for 2008. Drudge’s status was underscored in the book The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008, in which the authors Mark Halperin (of Time) and John Harris (now editor in chief of Politico, formerly of the Washington Post) said that Drudge was the “Walter Cronkite of his era,” in terms of his ability to steer the public agenda at a time when the “freak show” moments of a candidate’s behavior or past can play such a large role in the political process.
That process has, of course, largely hurt Democrats. “He is the center of personality-obsessed, attack-based politics. That is the content Drudge looks for,” Glenn Greenwald says. “He’s a right-wing hack.” Greenwald is a leader among the phalanx of left-wing Internet groups and voices, from Salon to Media Matters to Talking Points Memo, that is taking Drudge on as the snake in the Eden of American democracy, the guy who gets the media to take seriously trivial or scurrilous gossip, like John Edwards’s $400 haircut, or the Swift Boat Veterans’ attack on John Kerry three years ago.