Watching Matt Drudge

Illustration by DarrowPhoto: Evan Agostini/Getty Images [Drudge Head]

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.

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.”

Lower taxes were a prime factor in Drudge’s flight to Florida from California in 2001. Surveillance was another factor. A photographer took pictures of him through his apartment window in Hollywood. “People are basically exhibitionists and voyeurs; they’re happy to be watched,” he says scornfully.

Back when she was talking about him, Goldberg said that Drudge has so many personas, no one knew who the real Drudge was. Acquaintances say that the brilliantly snide Drudge on radio is a character. (“You horny toad! You horny toad, let me have some of your Viagra now,” Drudge spat after Mike Wallace crossed the privacy line, in his view, by asking whether the Romneys had had premarital sex.) Says one Drudge watcher, “His demeanor off the air could not be more different than what it is on the radio, and explains why the Susan Estriches and Donna Braziles and Arianna Huffingtons all like him. There’s a profound sweetness to him; he’s got a delicate nature that allows him to win over the enemy when he’s in the room with them.” Donna Brazile describes her first meeting with the Webmaster: “What I remember is the graciousness of a Southern gentleman in him. He gave me his card just like a good gossip writer would and he said, ‘Keep in touch if you ever need something.’ And I said, ‘Yup, if I ever need something I’m going to get in touch.’ ”

Vulnerable, gracious Drudge has soft dark eyes and a quiet manner that seems to bring out a maternal quality in certain powerful women. “There is a very wounded-bird quality about this guy,” says Doug Harbrecht, new-media editorial director at Kiplinger, who introduced Drudge to the National Press Club at his historic speech in 1998, back when recognition from the mainstream media seemed important to him. These days Drudge leads a life way outside all the Beltways. “He’s tanned and buff,” says a Drudge watcher. “He’s in the best physical shape of his life. And traveling at will. I think he leads the perfect life.”

But is he happy? This summer, Drudge choked up on his radio show reading a long passage from The Sheltering Sky. “How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it…” Its author, the late Paul Bowles, is someone Drudge would seem to emulate in his hatred of elites and complex sexuality.

In his own life, Drudge maintains ironbound privacy, but his Website has grown by seizing on incidental, personal actions of public figures and blowing them up, at times viciously. In 2000, he helped defeat Al Gore by turning up the volume on such stories as Al Gore’s fund-raising appearance at a Buddhist temple. In 2004, he did more than anyone to upend Kerry by playing up a small ad buy by the Swift Boat Veterans. In this campaign season, he has made a virus of the John Edwards $400 haircut.

At times he has served Hillary. In April, he posted the exclusive that Hillary won the first-quarter fund-raising battle in a “blowout with $36 million.” Insiders say the Clinton campaign leaked the figure to spin perceptions, because most of Hillary’s contributions couldn’t be spent until the general election. “The Hillary campaign leaks their numbers on Drudge because there is no follow-up question,” says one former Democratic operative.

Outsider stylings aside, Drudge is now part of the establishment. In their book, Halperin and Harris speculate that the New York Times has an unofficial policy of getting important stories to Drudge in advance of their publication on the Net. A Times official denies this. “There is an implication that we somehow cooperate with Drudge to give him tips on our stories. I want to be clear that that is not the case. Drudge may receive information on the advance news schedules that go out to subscribers of our wire service,” says Catherine J. Mathis, a Times spokesperson.

Possibly he gets his frequent Times exclusives (often attributed to “newsroom sources”) off the wire. But Drudge would seem to have a symbiotic relationship with the paper he calls the “Old Gray Lady” and whose politics he says he despises. Drudge says he doesn’t read the L.A. Times or the Washington Post, but he calls the Times “very influential.” The Times advertises on his site. That reflects the fact that the two publications are going after the same audience: American leaders.

Drudge’s own influence stems from the fact that he loves news, in a way that great newspeople do, and his news sensibility is extremely sophisticated. When he was a kid, he figured out that though thousands of people get murdered, only a few murders are news. One role model seems to be Rupert Murdoch, whom he praises for understanding that newspapers have to be fun. “[Murdoch] brings [news] alive. It’s not dull,” Drudge says, his voice thrilling. Paglia invokes an earlier idol, Andy Warhol. “He has extraordinary intuition, imagination, and improvisational energy. He is a highly creative performance artist who has invented his own genre—which no one has been able to imitate or reproduce … The Drudge Report is a kind of existentialist high-wire act.”

Drudge enjoys the changing fashions in news, the plot shifts that he has a hand in engineering. As he’s entered middle age, something noir and futuristic has entered his sensibility, more Philip K. Dick (on his show, he often invokes Blade Runner) than Walter Winchell. The site is obsessed with global warming, with the dangers of cell phones and cloning, with all manner of tabloid horrors. He’s a storyteller, and the stories are dark.

Matthew Nathan Drudge was born in 1966 and raised in suburban Washington, the only child of two liberal-Democrat parents who both worked for the federal government. The parents separated when Drudge was 6, and his father moved in with another woman and her kids before long. Drudge’s own version of his past is spotty. He says that he “failed bar mitzvah” and barely graduated from high school in 1984. He told Playboy he was “suspended a few times” for such infractions as “cheating … on tests.”

The divorce and child-support papers in the Maryland State Archives offer a heartrending picture. About the time Drudge failed bar mitzvah, his mother left her job as a staff attorney for Ted Kennedy, where she had worked on health issues, “because of sickness” and remained unemployed for at least two years. The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz has reported that she was hospitalized for schizophrenia. It appears that Drudge got his star power from his mom. He has proudly described his mother as a pioneering lawyer. She drove a Datsun 280Z. She went by several first names and changed her last name from Kudish to Drudge to Star—the last apparently her invention.

“He is a highly creative performance artist who has invented his own genre,” says Camille Paglia. “The Drudge Report is a kind of existentialist high-wire act.”

When Drudge was 15, crisis rocked the family. His mother was hospitalized, and a few weeks later Drudge was arrested. “Juvenile court told me that he was arrested on June 18 for making annoying phone calls,” his father testified in a hearing on child support. “He’s got a problem of making annoying phone calls to a girl,” Drudge’s mother testified. After the arrest, Drudge went to live with his father on a farm on the eastern shore of Maryland and go to school there. Robert Drudge was a therapist and social worker, but the boy was evidently too much for him, and Matt wasn’t cut out for the sticks—he liked to hang out at video arcades with a Walkman, listening to tapes. Robert Drudge sent Matt back to Washington. Drudge’s mother said his father “resents” the boy, and told this story in a diva’s style that her son would admire: “Robert Drudge rejected his natural son, Matthew, and returned him to my home, knowing that I am under doctor’s care and unemployed. His reason for returning Matthew to me after three weeks was that ‘his wife comes first, her two boys come second, and Matthew comes third’; that he did not want to assume any responsibility for him as his father because he has a new family; and that he hopes everything turns out all right. Robert Drudge has not communicated with his son or me since that time.” Young Drudge was placed in psychiatric treatment with Jewish Social Services. It was recommended that the boy be sent to a boarding school, “and if not the last choice will be a foster home.” (The court papers don’t say whether this came to pass.)

Drudge must have been an uncomfortable kid. He lost his books, he lost his glasses. His mother said he had “special education” needs. One friend says that Drudge started wearing the famous hat in high school to deal with premature hair loss. “This is an incredibly lonely kid. He doesn’t have a sister, his mother is in and out of hospitals, the father was beside himself. In high school they treated him like shit. He was starting to lose his hair in high school; think what that does to a kid. I find it so appealing when someone has nothing and gets somewhere.” Robert Drudge has said his son’s case proves that the schools are unequipped to deal with difficult talents.

The boy’s genius winked out even then. On his paper route, Drudge tore apart the Washington Star to see which stories and angles the editors had misplayed. In his high-school yearbook (unearthed by the Washington City Paper), he wrote, “To everyone else who has helped and hindred [sic] me whether it be Staff or students, I leave a penny for each day I’ve been here and cried here. A penny rich in worthless memories.”

Drudge’s father ultimately changed his life. After high school, the boy tried New York and Europe, then drifted to his father’s hometown, Los Angeles, where he worked for years in the gift shop at CBS studios. Worried about his son’s aimlessness, Bob Drudge insisted on buying him a Packard-Bell computer in 1994. The Drudge Report began as an e-mail sent out to a few friends. Drudge’s interests were studio gossip, often plucked from trash cans at CBS, and right-wing politics.

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.

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.”

Apparently, even Hillary’s campaign. Drudge has a sneaker for the woman he calls “the Senatress.” When Clinton started wheezing and coughing in a speech in New Orleans in May, Drudge expressed genuine concern for her. “Hillary, dear, take care of yourself. We need you. I need you personally … Take a few days off, what’s this frenetic pace?” He added admiringly, “She was professional. She kept going. She finished the speech.” After a left-wing listener IM’d Drudge to say he wanted Hillary to drop dead onstage, Drudge said, “I need Hillary Clinton. You don’t get it. I need to be part of her world. That’s my bank. Like Leo DiCaprio has the environment and Al Gore has the environment and Jimmy Carter has anti-Americanism … I have Hillary.”

In the latest turn in his noir screenplay, she’s the tough blonde. Although he still throws insults her way. Wowed by “cold, chic” French presidential candidate Ségolène Royal, Drudge said last spring that Hillary was so lacking in glamour she wasn’t fit to hem Royal’s pantsuit. He called her “big-boned,” “obese,” and “an out-of-shape middle-aged cow,” then compared her rear-end shots to the derrière of Royal, “who has birthed four children.” That was all in the moment. A few weeks later, Drudge complimented Hillary on her new look, said she had taken his advice to hit the treadmill, and Donatella Versace’s advice to lose the pantsuit.

“What’s wrong with a makeover, we’re in a makeover society,” he said.

Having once issued descriptions of Bill Clinton’s penis on some pretext, Drudge can’t wait for Hillary to be president. “I’m on the record that Hillary Clinton, she’s already in.” There’s a paranoid frisson to that fantasy. On his radio show, Drudge has imagined the day that cameras will record image and audio on every street so that President Hillary can listen to conversations he had, even years later. What if things take a dark turn, he says. There’s martial law. Hillary’s voice will go out to the people from bullhorns. His words will be fed into a national database, and his opposition to global warming will make him a terrorist. He will be arrested and a chip darted into his skin. The government will meddle in our bodies. “Why don’t they get this over with and start coming door to door and collecting our body liquids,” he grumbled not long ago.

David Sheff of Playboy remembers the moment in a long interview with Drudge when tough questions about Drudge’s sources on the right caused the Webmaster to become very emotional and defensive and get out of his seat. “Literally he stood up and grabbed his famous hat. I wondered where it was coming from. It didn’t seem provoked or consistent with the rest of the interview. And I don’t think that has emerged since then. There’s a lot more control if he’s behind the curtain in the darkened room with all his sources and his e-mail.”

Sheff’s metaphor touches on the left’s assertion that Drudge is gay and closeted. In high school, Drudge was already in a gay scene, dating men, Jeannette Walls reported in Dish. And in his memoir, Blinded by the Right, conservative-turned-liberal David Brock, who is gay, described Drudge coming on to him sexually in 1997, including e-mailing Brock the suggestion that they be “fuck buddies.” Michaelangelo Signorile, a journalist who has broken down many a closet door, calls Drudge “a nasty faggot.”

Drudge has denied that he is gay. “I go to straight bars, I go to gay bars,” he told the Miami New Times. The only thing you can say for sure is that Drudge has tried out many personas. In a sense his journalistic achievement springs from these ambiguities. Drudge upset the Establishment by mixing a very patriarchal and traditional idea of news (Winchell/Cronkite) with a feminine one (box office and gossip). The mistake his enemies have repeatedly made is reducing him and underestimating him.

On my visit to Miami, a neighbor said something interesting about Drudge’s house. The vibe had changed there recently. The pool was on at a different time, at night, and she’d heard Spanish voices in the dark. Drudge might not speak Spanish, but he sure tried. In his book, he used Spanish words. He fulsomely praised European media values, while putting down the United States as tacky and superficial. He knew the international club scene. He’d been in Buenos Aires, Germany, Israel, England.

When Argentina’s First Lady announced for the presidency, Drudge headlined the story MOVETE HILLARY. (“Get out of the way, Hillary,” though he misspelled the Spanish.) In his high-school yearbook, his favorite color was “Caribbean blue.” On radio, he pronounced the Mediterranean island playground Ibiza super-correctly, “Ibitha,” and did the same with Peru (“Pay-ru”). I wondered whether Drudge had a foreign lover.

More likely it was an escape fantasy. One night, speaking of his fears of the coming crackdown, Drudge said, “I’m personally looking for a plan-B offshore that Hillary won’t have any kind of Interpol connections.”

What a grim story line about America he was playing out: the candidates getting ugly with one another, the Google vampires surveilling, a hurricane bearing down, and Hillary at center stage, monitoring our thoughts. Anyone else would shut their eyes. Drudge couldn’t wait to see what happened next.

Watching Matt Drudge