Drudge has said that he first glimpsed the Internet’s power when a police sketch of a rough-looking man seen near Vince Foster’s body went flying around the Net. Chris Ruddy, the reporter who worked that story for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (he’s now editor of Newsmax), says Drudge’s e-mail list gave his work “a national footprint,” and when Ruddy came to L.A., he got Drudge together with their shared icon, George Putnam, a conservative whose radio talk show in L.A. Drudge often called in to as “Matt from Hollywood.” Ruddy says, “We went to an Italian restaurant in Burbank, and … Matt Drudge shows up with his hat, expounding on his views about the Clintons and the world. I think George was a little thrown. Someone he’d never heard of in the media world had such strong views and tremendous vision. I think Matt was gloating at that time that his e-mail list was 300,000. He said, ‘Some time I’m going to have a million, more than the Washington Post.’ ”
Many in the vast right-wing conspiracy were thrown by Drudge’s hybrid sensibility, including his obsession with Hollywood gossip and box office. Hollywood scoops—including his report that Jerry Seinfeld was seeking $1 million an episode—got Drudge hired, first by Wired online in 1996 and later by America Online, which was paying him $3,000 a month as a “runaway Internet gossip” when he published, and quickly retracted, a rumor that Sidney Blumenthal had abused his wife.
The rumor was clearly false, but the lawsuit, which was ultimately settled, exalted Drudge. For it appeared to have the backing of the Clinton White House, wanting to silence an enemy. And Blumenthal’s allegations of fact in the suit only played to the Webmaster’s populist image:
“92. Defendant Drudge never attended college.
“93. Prior to the time when defendant Drudge began to work full-time writing and publishing the Drudge Report, defendant Drudge’s full-time job was as the manager of a gift-shop.”
That was just a first act. On January 18, 1998, barricaded in his Hollywood apartment with an entirely accurate sense of the historic moment, Drudge filed a breathless report claiming that Newsweek had, that week, held a story reporting that Bill Clinton had had a sexual affair with a 23-year-old White House intern.
Today Drudge likes to distance himself from sexual gossip. When former Florida congressman Mark Foley got busted for his sexual advances toward interns last year, Drudge empathized with Foley, describing the kids who flirted with him in e-mails and then turned the documents over as “beasts.”
On his radio show he claimed to be outraged, on invasion-of-privacy grounds, when Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes asked Mitt Romney whether he and his wife had had premarital sex. “We’re in a new era of journalism,” he said on his radio show. “I think it’s a 60 Minutes first. CBS News, the Tiffany network, Murrow, the crown jewel, Cronkite—they’re going in and talking about a candidate’s sex life, and no one’s even getting impeached.”
Drudge then speculated that reporters would ask Hillary when she had last had sex with her husband. “And who’s going to ask her the L-word? … It’s going to be a long, dirty campaign.”
Drudge often has trouble stepping away from his own dirty streak. In 2004, he published a false and damaging rumor that John Kerry had had an affair with an aide. Lately he suggested that Lance Armstrong may have left Sheryl Crow because she didn’t wipe enough (Crow has called for limiting toilet-paper consumption on environmental grounds). He has urged people to retaliate against Google Earth’s invasions by photographing the “Google geeks” when they are having “bowel movements.” Scatological imagery is a weakness for him. Taking the side of former Bill Clinton secretary Betty Currie, he said, “the highest ranking African-American in the Clinton administration. Who cleaned the sink and picked up the panties. Disgraceful.”
Drudge was expressing sympathy for someone demeaned by a powerful male. His mother has a creative, fiery nature, and many of his idols are women, from Mother Nature to the Old Gray Lady to Janis Joplin. Enthused by Hillary’s performance in a May debate, he called her “butch” several times. “She’s on the fast track for this nomination, I can tell you,” he said. “She butched it up, she butched it up!”
Today his muse in the political-philosophical realm is the ferocious, glamorous Camille Paglia. “She’s one of the hippest people I’ve come across … She goes for the deep stuff beyond the fast food.” During the Clinton days it was gravelly-voiced Lucianne Goldberg. Drudge dedicated his 2000 autobiography Drudge Manifesto to Linda Tripp (notwithstanding the fact that “I have never met or spoken to Matt Drudge,” Tripp says). That book was co-written with another muse, brilliant, angry, gender-bending, Jewish lefty flameout Julia Phillips. “She got his head screwed on straight,” says a Drudge friend.