The late producer and author of You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again, Phillips came to Hollywood as an insider and ultimately cratered. “As smart as she was, and she was really smart,” says Bernie Weinraub, the playwright and former Times correspondent, “she was also very angry. She was angry at Hollywood, she was angry at the people of her generation, cynical about them. I think she liked Matt Drudge’s rebelliousness and his sense of anarchy. She was brilliant and funny, and she was always conspiratorial. She saw the hand of conspiracy.” Says her close friend Roz Heller: “She was wildly entertaining, wildly smart, talented. But also mean-spirited. She identified with Drudge as an outsider and a rebel.”
Like Drudge, Phillips had a complicated sexual persona. Heller says she wasn’t gay, but she affected a butch look and was drawn to lesbian clubs and careerists as emblems of female power in a male-dominated world. When Phillips died, Drudge praised her for her love of youth culture and music. Amid her snarls about privacy, Paglia offers the morsel that Drudge is “deeply knowledgeable” about dance music.
Phillips fashioned a public persona for Drudge in Drudge Manifesto, which states triumphantly that “technology has finally caught up with liberated individuals.” Drudge comes off as a literary character in the book, an anomic Walter Winchell. His only friend is a stray cat called Cat. He talks news values with Cat and the ghost of William Paley, who tells him to go through the garbage cans at CBS for ratings figures. Phillips and Drudge’s greatest collaboration was the speech he gave at the National Press Club in June of 1998. Doug Harbrecht, then–press-club president, invited Drudge over the objections of many members who wondered how he could invite Drudge “into the sanctum sanctorum of American journalism.”
It was a staggering speech. Drudge was both revolutionary Tom Paine and dreamy populist. “I used to walk these streets as an aimless teen, young adult. Walk by ABC News over on DeSales. Daydream. Stare up at the Washington Post newsroom over on 15th Street, look up longingly, knowing I’d never get in. Didn’t go to the right schools. Never enjoyed any school, as a matter of fact. Didn’t come from a well-known family—nor was I even remotely connected to a powerful publishing dynasty … I would never be granted any access, obtain any credentials … There wasn’t a likelihood for upward mobility in my swing-shift position at 7-11.”
The best line in that speech was Drudge’s statement that “It’s more fun to talk about Godzilla than watch it.” He was introducing the reporters to the new hierarchies of the information age, when events, from Putin to Godzilla, would collapse into so much spectacle for a surfer on the Net. Seriousness doesn’t interest Drudge; phenomena do. As he wrote in his book, “Politics is as Important as Hollywood. Is as Important as Science.” Drudge flattens all hard news into collage, and it is this, more than anything, that angers the old guard.
“I need Hillary Clinton,” Matt Drudge said on his show. “You don’t get it. I need to be part of her world. That’s my bank.”
And then there’s the issue of his ideology. The left hates Drudge for good reason; he has helped kill one Democratic presidential aspirant after another and has started in on John Edwards this season. But as Halperin and Harris note, Drudge only gained his power because liberals so dominated traditional media that they disdained the Internet. Now that he’s opened the territory, the left is doing pretty well itself. “There’s a pretty healthy group of left-wing sites online, which tends to balance things, no doubt,” says Donna Brazile. “But Matt is in a class by himself.”
At times Drudge does sound like a conservative. He hates big government, immigration, and abortion rights. When Jimmy Carter criticized George Bush in the foreign press, Drudge questioned his loyalty. But Drudge’s ideological heart is libertarian, and many of his anti-corporate riffs would stir a left-wing anarchist. Drudge has been highly critical of partnerships between Google and state governments, and he fears corporations. He believes that people in surgery have had chips implanted without their knowledge, that the day will come when the government will “dart” a chip into you without your permission, and that DNA will be collected from spit on the street, “and then they can impose any rule, even against smiling.”
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. “Breitbart is an intellectual, dyed-in-the-wool conservative, and educated. Matt is not a book reader. I think he probably struggles to make right-wing noises,” says one Republican.
Drudge was a registered Republican in California, according to state records. He then registered as “no party affiliation” in Florida. But he doesn’t vote. The Los Angeles County Registrar says Drudge didn’t vote in 2000 while registered in L.A. Florida’s Division of Elections says he didn’t vote in 2004 or ’06 while registered in Florida. Those were big elections; some people would have given eye teeth to cast a vote in Florida in 2004.
On the radio, he’s answered the left’s critique. “The problem is, when half of my links already go left, that kind of dissolves their intellectual argument that they are needed. Because I’m already sitting here providing both sides of it.” Well, not really. The Drudge Report has clear tilts. His audience is decidedly right-wing. According to the online advertising company linked to his site, the audience is 78 percent male, 60 percent Republican, only 8 percent Democratic.
“Yes, he is right of center, but he is an equal-opportunity zinger, he will zing Republicans as well as Democrats,” says Donna Brazile. Her left-wing friends don’t like to hear it, but she’s given info to Drudge herself. “No one in politics has clean hands. I don’t have clean hands. There’s no question that everyone has called on Matt at some time to use the power of the Internet.”