In Defense of Drudge

Over the past few years so so, there have been grumblings by conservatives that Drudge is anti-Trump, that Drudge is working with the left, or that Drudge has lost his way, etc. Just two days ago, Tucker Carlson called Matt Drudge “firmly a man of the progressive left:”

“For decades, Matt Drudge was one of the most influential figures in conservative news journalism,” Carlson said in an interview with Matthew Lysiak, the author of a new biography on Drudge. “His self-titled Drudge Report broke news and set priorities in digital media. Republican presidential candidates made wooing the famously secretive Drudge a high priority, and for several of them, including Donald Trump, it paid off big.”

In April 2020, Trump lashed out at Drudge, claiming that “traffic to his website has plummeted as its coverage has grown more critical of him [Trump].” Drudge responded that the past 30 days had seen record traffic to his site, which at the time was at the peak of the Covid-19 epidemic.

So who is right? Has Drudge lost his way and, intentionally or not, is sabotaging his site and betraying his readers, or does he know what he is doing, and that rather than Drudge having changed, some of his readers have changed their expectations of what Drudge should be? I am inclined to give Drudge the benefit of the doubt that he knows what he is doing. In spite of the rise of social media and the increasing dominance of the ‘four horsemen’ of the media: The New York times, Vox, Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, Drudge is still as big and relevant as ever and has carved out a lucrative niche, making Drudge millions a year in ad revenue and generates a billion of page views a month. Yeah, it is not as big as The New York Times, to but say it has faltered as its critics attest, is unsupported by the evidence.

This is not really directed at Tucker, but I think many of Drudge’s critics don’t understand how Drudge works or its appeal. If Drudge catered exclusively to conservatives the site would be considerably less popular than it is now and would not be as relevant as a go-to source for breaking news, for the past 2 decades and counting . People turn to Drudge because they want to see a trainwreck and shitshow, regardless of whose party;s train is being wrecked and shat on. That is all. They do not go to Drudge to see their views/biases affirmed or for for their faith in humanity to be restored. They want the dopamine hit that comes from reading the news, particularly if it’s bad news.

I don’t read Drudge that often, but from skimming it yesterday in preparation for this article, I saw some negative headlines regarding Trump, such as the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation requesting that Trump “stop using former President Reagan’s name and image in fundraising,” so maybe this is the sort of bias Tucker and others are referring to. However, there are also negative stories about Biden, about the pandemic, about the national debt, about the protests and riots (such as in Portland over the weekend), etc. So, yeah, Drudge does seem negative towards Trump, but he is also negative about about almost everything else, too. Like any newsman, Drudge knows that negativity means more clicks and money.

Drudge linking to the story about the Reagan Foundation snubbing Trump is not necessarily indicative of bias against Trump, but rather interesting and newsworthy in its own right, and I imagine many conservatives would want to know about this story even though it is negative. Drudge ignoring this story because it is negative would be depriving his readership of information they want to know about.

Conservatives such as Limbaugh like Drudge, in spite of it not being avowedly pro-Trump, because it satisfies a curiosity to see the clown show that is Washington and American politics and society unfold. If you have cynical view of Washington politics, in general, does it matter whose side is imploding? Drudge makes millions in ad revenues and is more relevant than ever, but no no, he is doing it wrong, say the armchair experts. Drudge was never intended to be a pro-conservative website but rather more of a Beltway/DC scoop website that initially started out as mailing list. It just so happened that it owes its huge initial success to the Clinton scandal, so Conservatives misread it as Drudge being on their ‘team,’ but that was just a coincidence.