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Watching Matt Drudge

The Drudge Report is an institution, the seventh-most-visited news Website, ahead of the New York Times, Fox News, and the Washington Post. Getting linked on Drudge can unleash a tsunami of public mentions and e-mails, and journalists cater to Drudge to gain those links, alerting him when their stories have nasty anecdotes. Drudge laughs that journalists “kiss the ring.” Glenn Reynolds, the conservative Tennessee law professor famous as Instapundit, compares Drudge to Johnny Carson: “How does a comic really make it big? He goes on The Tonight Show.” Greenwald echoes, “A link from Matt Drudge is in a completely different universe in terms of the traffic it generates than any other link.” When Greenwald argues that Politico should not have reported on John Edwards’s $400 haircut rather than alerting Drudge, it isn’t just an argument over news judgment, it reflects an ideological struggle over what role shadowy Drudge will play in the life of American journalism.

The left calls Drudge a right-winger, but Drudge calls himself an anti-government libertarian. Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul’s positions are “true to my heart … But I look at him and say, ‘The guy can’t lead.’ ”

But Drudge’s political philosophy is more mysterious than that, given that, currently, the one person Drudge seems to believe can lead is Hillary Clinton. Though Drudge often savages Hillary, he is convinced that she will make history, and he seems determined, in spite of himself, to empower her. HILLARY ON SURGE? “IT’S WORKING” was a recent lead headline. The Clinton scandals of yesteryear bore him, Drudge has said. Right-wing fans have begun to complain about the pattern, calling him “Hillary-obsessed.” What an irony that the gossip who almost destroyed Bill Clinton’s presidency might propel his wife to the Oval Office. “That House is going pink,” says Drudge.

Who is the man behind the Website? The more power Drudge has attained, the more reclusive he has become. Drudge seems to despise his own fame with a Kurt Cobain–like intensity. On radio he speaks of himself as a nobody and has referred to his fans as “psychic vampires.” He has utterly compartmentalized his life, separating the personal and the public. Acquaintances describe very brief, formal encounters, and even friends of Drudge’s, if there is such a category, generally communicate with him by IM. He’s said by some to be gay, but he has thrown water on these speculations.

Those who know him guard his privacy. Andrew Breitbart, a conservative writer living in Brentwood, California, who Drudge says is his only employee—“Andrew does the afternoon shift”—e-mailed me that “I haven’t talked to him in over a year,” then declined to talk. “Everything I’ve said about Drudge is on lexis/nexis,” e-mails Lucianne Goldberg. Another of Drudge’s power mamas, Camille Paglia, also sends her regrets. “In regard to my friendship with Matt, I think that anyone who provides private details to a journalist about a public figure is not a true friend. I would certainly expect the same loyalty and discretion from my friends.” Ann Coulter doesn’t respond. John Fund says he’ll call back and doesn’t.

When Drudge turns on someone, that someone becomes a nonperson. The one person who spoke of this process to me was the conservative California writer David Horowitz. Horowitz had learned of Drudge back in the Clinton-hating days and got hooked. The two became friends; Horowitz still feels indebted to Drudge for helping to clear his reputation when Time magazine insulted him. Then when Sidney Blumenthal sued Drudge, Horowitz ran to Drudge’s side and helped get him a lawyer, Manny Klausner, and then set up a fund to help him. He said he raised about $50,000. At that time, though, something Horowitz did ticked Drudge off, and his link vanished from the site.

Horowitz says in an agonized tone, “He’s never communicated to me, but I gather what happened is I did a fund-raising letter based on his case and he thought I was exploiting him. I sent a letter without Matt’s approval. I regret not taking enough care to talk to him about it, but I was defending him. I would apologize to him, but I get silence.”

Drudge’s radio persona isn’t very personal. About all he ever let listeners know during the months I listened was that he used to sleep a lot until the Internet changed his life. The old Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard was an icon of his youth. He’d been in Jerusalem, and Buenos Aires, and on a German train he wept listening to Kelly Clarkson’s new record. He has no cell phone but he does have a BlackBerry. He hates taxes more than anything that the government does. “Give it back to the people you stole it from.”