|MR. HARBRECHT: Good afternoon and welcome to the National Press Club. This is our 90th anniversary year. My name is Doug Harbrecht. I’m president of the National Press Club and Washington news editor of Business Week magazine, a McGraw-Hill Companies publication.I’d like to welcome Club members and their guests in the audience today, as well as those of you watching on C-SPAN or listening to this program on National Public Radio. . . .
I must confess, my first reaction to having our speaker today at the National Press Club was the same as a lot of other members—was the same as what a lot of other members f the Club have had: Why do we want to give a forum to that guy?
Matt Drudge is the31-year-old chronicler of The Drudge Report, an Internet site packed daily with gossip, tidbits and information on everything from the latest scandal in Washington to the latest Neilsen ratings. He scooped the national news media on Bob Dole’s selection of Jack Kemp as his running mate and Connie Chung’s ouster at CBS.
But Drudge’s methods are suspect in the eyes of most journalists. He moves with the speed of cyberspace, and critics charge he has no time to know his sources or check his facts. Like a channel catfish, he mucks through the hoaxes, conspiracies and half-truths posted on-line in pursuit of fodder for his website. That can have unpleasant consequences.
Recently he was hit with a $30 million libel suit, after reporting allegations about a White House aide, Sidney Blumenthal, that appear to have no basis in fact and won’t be repeated here. (Laughter.) Drudge apologized and claimed the tip on Blumenthal was given him by politically motivated GOP operatives. The lawsuit is still pending.
So why is Matt Drudge here? He’s on the cutting edge of a revolution in our business and everyone in our business knows it. And like it or not, he’s a newsmaker.
Drudge claims to get up to 1 million hits a day on his website sometimes; that is phenomenal, if you’ve involved in online journalism that’s pretty amazing.
He culls his report from 35 daily newspapers, wire services and more than 1,000 daily E-mail tips. My children, agents 20 and 17, know who Matt Drudge is. But they don’t know who David Broder and Helen Thomas are—(laughter)—two of Washington’s legendary journalists.
And while many of his colleagues are loathe to admit it, The Drudge Report has become a tip sheet for journalists, too. He came under fire in January when he posted an item on his website that Newsweek was holding a story about President Clinton’s purported affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The rest of history.
A Tacoma Park—right up here—right outside of Washington—Tacoma Park native, skipped college and moved to Los Angeles, where he managed the CBS gift shop for seven years before starting his report in 1995. He’s a voracious reader and watcher of news. But he has no training or education in journalism. He likes to draw parallels to himself and Walter Winchell, the hard-bitten gossip columnist of the 1930s and 1940s. He attributes his popularity to being at the right place at the right time.
But his critics say he embodies the most dangerous aspects of online, where a wacky conspiracy theory can move the stock market and people with impure hearts and hidden agendas can injure reputations and spread lies at will.
So, Matt, know this: You may be, as the New York Times recently dubbed you, the nation’s reigning mischief-maker; you may get it first sometimes, you may even get it right sometimes, your story of success is certainly compelling. But there aren’t many in this hollowed room who consider you a journalist. Real journalists live, pride themselves on getting it first AND right; they get to the bottom of the story, they bend over backwards to get the other side. Journalism means being painstakingly thorough, even-handed, and fair.
Now, in the interests of good journalism, let’s hear Matt Drudge’s side of the story. Ladies and gentlemen, Matt Drudge. (Applause.)
MR. DRUDGE: Applause for Matt Drudge in Washington at the Press Club, now there’s a scandal. (Laughter.) The kind of thing I’d have a headline for.
I’d like to thank the president of the Press Club, Doug Harbrecht, thank you very much, for extending the invitation to address you today, and to Kerry Gildae, the brave member of the Speakers Committee, for suggesting it. Thank you very much.
You know, last time I was in town—and this is my hometown, Washington, I grew up here—I arrived to a headline in the local paper, “I was baby-sat by Matt Drudge—Exclusive!” (Laughter.)
They quoted one of my elementary-school chums: “Even at age 12, Drudge already liked to tell stories. He’d take all the kids down to a creek behind my house when it was dark and tell us those elaborate stories. We’d be terrified.”
Well, the one thing that has changed is my shoe size. (Laughter.).
You know, and what a place, Washington, DC, to grow up in. 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.
Burning(?) I may have been, but I was sophisticated enough to know I would never be granted any access, obtain any credentials, get that meeting with Vernon Jordan or work with Newsweek magazine. There wasn’t a likelihood for upward mobility in my swing-shift position at 7-11. (Laughter.) That was my last job in Washington.
So, in the famous words of another newsman, Horace Greeley, I, still a young man, went West, out to Hollywood. And I do mean Hollywood, not Beverly Hills, not the Palisades, no 90210 for this kid. It was the part of Hollywood they always promised to clean up and they never do, a part of Hollywood you see on Cops. (Laughter.) Where you twinkle and then wrinkle and people forget about you. That’s where I’m from.
I swung into another clerk job, this time at CBS. I folded T-shirts in the gift shop, dusted off 60 Minutes mugs. Occasionally after hours I had conversations with those ghost of Bill Paley. It was during one of these wee-hour chats that he reminded me the first step in good reporting is good snooping.
Inspired, I went out of my way to service the executive suites. I remember I delivered sweatshirts to Jeff Sagansky, at the time president of CBS.
Overhearing, listening to careful conversations, intercepting the occasional memo, I would volunteer in the mail room from time to time. I hit pay dirt when I discovered that the trash cans in the Xerox room at Television City were stuffed each morning with overnight Neilsen ratings, information gold. I don’t know what I did with it; I guess we, me and my friends knew Dallas had got a 35-share over Falcon Crest, but we thought we were plugged in.
I was on the move—at least I thought so. But my father worried I was in a giant stall. And in a parental panic he overcame his fear of flying and dropped in for a visit. At the end of his stay, during the drive to the airport, sensing some action was called for, he dragged me into a blown-out strip on Sunset Boulevard and found a Circuit City store. “Come on,” he said desperately, “I’m getting you a computer.” “Oh, yeah, and what am I doing to do with that?” I laughed.
And as they say at CBS studies: Cut, two months later. Having found a way to post things on the Internet—it was a quick learn—Internet news groups were very good to me early on—I moved on to scoops from the sound stages I had heard, Jerry Seinfeld asking for a million dollars an episode, to scoop after scoop of political things I had heard from some friends back here.
I collected a few E-mail addresses of interest. People had suggested I start a mailing list, so I collected the E-mails and set up a list called “The Drudge Report.” One reader turned into five, then turned into 100. And faster than you could say “I never had sex with that woman” it was 1,000—(laughter)—5,000, 100,000 people. The ensuing website practically launched itself.
Last month I had 6 million visitors, and I currently have a daily average larger than the weekly newsstand sales of Time magazine. Thank you, Sidney Blumenthal. (Laughter.)
What’s going on here? Well, clearly there is a hunger for unedited information, absent corporate considerations. As the first guy who has made a name for himself on the Internet, I’ve been invited to more and more high-toned gatherings such as this, the last being a conference on Internet and society and some word I couldn’t pronounce, up at Harvard a week ago.
And I mention this not just to blow my own horn, but to make a point. Exalted minds—the panelists’ and the audience’s average IQ exceeds the Dow Jones—didn’t appear to have a clue what this Internet’s going to do; what we’re going to make of it, what we’re going to—what this is all going to turn into. But I have glimpses. And sometimes deep in the middle of the night I tell them to Bill Paley.
We have entered an era vibrating with the din of small voices. Every citizen can be a reporter, can take on the powers that be. The difference between the Internet, television and radio, magazines, newspapers is the two-way communication. The Net gives as much voice to a 13-year-old computer geek like me as to a CEO or speaker of the House. We all become equal.
And you would be amazed what the ordinary guy knows.
From a little corner in my Hollywood apartment, in the company of nothing more than my 486 computer and my six-toed cat, I have consistently been able to break big stories, thanks to this network of ordinary guys. The Drudge Report, first to the name the vice-presidential nominee on the Republican ticket last election; first to announce to an American audience that Princess Diana had tragically died; first to tell the sad, sad story of Kathleen Willey, first every weekend with box-office results that even studio executives, some of them, admit they get from me. A new cable network is forming. I was first to announce the unholy alliance between Microsoft and NBC.
I’ve written thousands of stories, started hundreds of news cycles. My readers can follow earthquakes, weather patterns, read Frank Rich on Saturday, Maureen Dowd on Sunday, from my site link to Bob Novak on Monday; dozens of other media spectrums, from Molly Ivens; track the world’s news wires minute to minute.
And this is something new. This marks the first time that an individual has access to the news wires outside of the newsroom. You get to read all the news from the Associated Press, UPI, Reuters, to the more arcane Agence France Presse and the Xinhua. I’m a personal fan of the Xinhua Press.
And time was only newsrooms had access to the full pictures of the day’s events, but now any citizen does. We get to see the kinds of cuts that are made for all kinds of reasons; endless layers of editors with endless agendas changing bits and pieces, so by the time the newspaper hits your welcome mat, it had no meaning.
Now, with a modem, anyone can follow the world and report on the world—no middle man, no big brother. And I guess this changes everything. It certainly changed on the night of January 17th, when Newsweek spiked, at the 11th hour, a well-researched, responsibly documented piece about the president of the United States and an obscure White House intern named Monica Lewinsky.
After checking with multiple sources, I ran a story about the killing of the story. According to the Los Angeles Times, people familiar with the matter said Clinton was informed Saturday night or Sunday morning The Drudge Report had posted that Lewinsky was about to erupt. For four days I had the story exclusively, and I took a lot of heat. Everyone was afraid of it until the water broke over at theWashington Post that Wednesday, and then everyone jumped on it.
Now they love it too much, and I’m still taking the heat. “He’s one man out of control,” a caller warned on talk radio in Los Angeles. “There is such a built-in level of irresponsibility in everything he does,” cried First Amendment protector Floyd Abrams in a page one Wall Street Journal piece. “The notion of a Matt Drudge cyber gossip sitting next to William Safire on Meet the Press would have been unthinkable,” smacked Watergate’s Carl Bernstein in an op-ed.
I was here last night looking over the Press Club, and I noticed a room dedicated to one of—someone I can relate to, John Peter Zenger. And there’s a plaque outside the room. And I think he could relate to some of the heat I’ve been getting. To honor members of the newspaper industry, this room commemorates the achievements of John Peter Zenger 250 years ago, whose courage in publishing political criticism helped establish the precedent of press freedom in colonial America.
He was born in Germany. Zenger was a publisher in 1734 when he was imprisoned on charges of criminal libel for articles in his newspaper criticizing the royal governor. Risking his business and possible life, Zenger stood fast and was acquitted in a jury trial after a brilliant defense of press liberty by his lawyer, at that time Andrew Hamilton.
It got me thinking that really what we’re looking at here is history repeating. When radio lost out to television, there was anxiety. The people in the radio industry were absolutely anxious and demanded government stop the upcoming television wave. Television was very nervous about other mediums coming forward; cable. The movies didn’t want sitcoms to be taped at movie studios for fear it would take away from the movies.
No, television saved the movies. The Internet is going to save the news business. I envision a future where there’ll be 300 million reporters, where anyone from anywhere can report for any reason. It’s freedom of participation absolutely realized.
The first lady of the United States recently addressed concerns about Internet during a cyberspatial Millennium Project press conference just weeks after Lewinsky broke. She said, “We’re all going to have to rethink how we deal with the Internet. As exciting as these new developments are, there are a number of serious issues without any kind of editing function or gatekeeping function.” I wonder who she was referring to.
Mrs. Clinton continued, “Any time an individual leaps so far ahead of that balance and throws the system, whatever it might be—political, economic, technological—out of balance, you’ve got a problem. It can lead to all kinds of bad outcomes which we have seen historically.”
Would she have said the same thing about Ben Franklin or Thomas Edison or Henry Ford or Einstein? They all leapt so far ahead out that they shook the balance. No, I say to these people, faster, not slower. Create. Let your mind flow. Let the imagination take over. And if technology has finally caught up with individual liberty, why would anyone who loves freedom want to rethink that?
And that’s why I’m addressing you today. It got me in the door, this new technology. You walk into the Press Club, you see a plaque dedicated to Joseph Pulitzer—someone, again, I love. Our republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. The power to mold the future of the republic will be in the hands of the journalists of the future generations. And if Pulitzer were alive today in this time, he would add using future media.
I was walking the streets of Washington, the streets I grew up in, last night. I found myself in front of the Washington Post building again, looking up, this time not longingly. This time I laughed. Let the future begin. (Applause.)
MR. HARBRECHT: Well, Matt, for our first question, let me ask you, how does it advance the cause of democracy and of social good to report unfounded allegations about individuals and the Neilsen ratings?
MR. DRUDGE: Well, that’s a good question. I mean, I don’t know specifically what you’re referring to. You know, I have some—there’s different levels of journalism; I’ll concede that. One of my competitors is Salon Magazine Online, who I understand is the president’s favorite website. And there’s a reporter there, Jonathan Broder. He was fired for plagiarism from the Chicago Tribune. And I read that in theWeekly Standard.
But do I believe it? Because as much as I love the Weekly Standard, they have had to settle a big one with Deepak Chopra, if I recall. I heard that from CNN. But hold on. Didn’t CNN didn’t have the little problem with Richard Jewell? I think Tom Brokaw told me that, and then I think Tom Brokaw also had to settle with Richard Jewell.
I read that in the Wall Street Journal. But didn’t the Wall Street Journal just lose a huge libel case down in Texas, a record libel, $200-million worth of jury? I tell you, it’s creative enough for an in-depth piece in The New Republic. But I fear people would think it was made up. (Applause.)
MR. HARBRECHT: Well, Matt, I wonder if you would define the difference between gossip and news, then, please.
MR. DRUDGE: Well, all truths begin as hearsay, as far as I’m concerned. And some of the best news stories start in gossip. Monica Lewinsky certainly was gossip in the beginning. I had heard it months before I printed it. I didn’t really check it out. I knocked on Lewinsky’s door. She wouldn’t answer the door.
At what point does it become news? This is the undefinable thing in this current atmosphere, where every reporter will be operating out of their home with websites for free, as I do. I don’t charge. It’s a question I’m not prepared to answer, because a lot of the legitimate news cycles—the Associated Press, for example, will issue news alerts, a recent one being an anthrax scare in the Nevada desert, where a group was targeting the New York subways. AP news alert. Berserk. It went all the way to Janet Reno commenting. It turns out it wasn’t true. I think that was some gossip.
MR. HARBRECHT: Let’s talk a little bit about the Monica Lewinsky episode for a moment. I guess one could say you did “out” that story by reporting that Newsweekhad reservations about reporting it. The story came out. The American people made a judgment, and Bill Clinton’s approval ratings in the polls have gone up 20 points. People consistently tell pollsters they don’t want to know this kind of information. They don’t want to know this kind of stuff. And they blame the news media and they hate us even more. Would you comment on that?
MR. DRUDGE: Well, I disagree with the question. Ask Geraldo or Chris Matthews if the American people dislike it. Their ratings are doing quite well. I think they just expanded Matthews to two hours. I disagree with that. This is a story that’s developing, that’s serious. When I broke the story, I had it for four days to myself exclusively where I was reporting details, quite frankly, Newsweek didn’t have at that point.
So I did some original reporting with that. I barricaded myself in the apartment. I was terrified, because from my Hollywood apartment a story of this magnitude was being born. I remember I teared up when I hit the “Enter” button on that one that might, because I said, “My life won’t be the same after this.” And it turned out to be right.
I think it’s—as the front page of all the newspapers say, this thing is yet to be determined. I hope the American people will not let someone who has lied potentially in office stay in office. But that’s our call. You know, we’ve been here before and we’ve made these decisions before. We’re letting the court do it.
If you’ve noticed, the tapes have not been played in public, the portions of the tapes I have heard. And the people who are in possession of these tapes, I believe, are letting the courts take care of it. Some of the tapes are quite graphic in details I have heard that I ensure you will take up several news cycles once aired. So I would—I’m not convinced this thing is DOA or the American people have dismissed it as private life.
MR. HARBRECHT: Do you see your methods and your medium as controversial in and of themselves, or are they contributing to the degradation of serious or hard traditional journalism?
MR. DRUDGE: Well, you know, the editor of Civilization magazine, Adam Goodheart, wrote a great op-ed in the New York Times talking about “Is this really something new, this type of fast reporting, this competitive, very competitive”—I’m part of the headline generation. He maintains it was a going back to our foundations when the press was found in quite a different atmosphere, when the press would report that the president’s mother was a common prostitute brought over by the British army. Imagine if someone did that now.
We have a great tradition of freedom of the press in this country, unpopular press. If the first lady is concerned about this Internet cycle, what would she have done during the heyday when there was 12, 13 editions of a paper in one day? What would she have done with that news cycle? That’s the foundation. That’s what makes this club great is the tradition. And I think we have a tradition of provocative press. And I maintain that I’m the new face on that. I’ll take that for a season.
But a lot of the stuff I do is serious stuff. I was first to report that the encryption was missing from a Loral satellite, for example, a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t see the main press reporting that one. So not everything I do is gossip or bedroom. To the contrary, I think that’s just an easy label to dismiss me and to dismiss the new medium. But I’m excited about the launch of this Internet medium. And again, freedom of the press belongs to anyone who owns one. (Applause.)
MR. HARBRECHT: How much do you embroider or make up in your online items? (Laughter.)
MR. DRUDGE: Now, which person here asked that question? (Laughter.) Well, no one’s raising their hands.
None. Everything I print from my apartment, everything I publish I believe to be true and accurate. I put my name on every single thing I write. No “Periscope” here. No “Washington Whispers” here. (Laughter.) I put my name it; I’ll answer to anything I write. I’ll make mistakes. I’ll retract them if I have to; apologizes for it; try to make it right. But as I’ve pointed out, the main organizations in this country have let us down every once in a while and end up in trouble with editors. So I don’t maintain that an editor is salvation.
There won’t be editors in the future with the Internet world, with citizen reporting just by the nature of it. That doesn’t scare me. There’s a notion that sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will kill me. I don’t believe it. I get maligned every day on the news groups. I’m still standing. I still have a smile on my face.
It’s just the nature of this new thing. I mean, if I get defamed from Egypt, what do I do? Do I go to the World Trade Organization and ask for relief? This is the world we’re going to be facing shortly, and I don’t know exactly what the courts are going to do with this dynamic. I’m not too anxious about it however.
MR. HARBRECHT: Aren’t you coarsening the public discourse?
MR. DRUDGE: I hope not. You know, these questions are pretty tough, and I think if you directed this type of tough questioning to the White House, there’d be no need for someone like me, quite frankly. (Laughter/applause.)
I have fun with what I do. A lot of it’s smiles. A lot of it’s “Look, Ma, I can dance.” A lot of it’s preempting other newspapers. I cover politicians the way the—I cover media people the way they cover politicians. I’m reporting Jeff Gerth may be breaking something in a couple of weeks, for example. That’s fun stuff. That’s a new paradigm. It’s where the media is unchecked. It’s where they’re not the only game in town, where the media now is a guy with a 486 out in Hollywood.
How did a story like Monica Lewinsky break out of a Hollywood apartment? What does that say about the Washington press corps? It just baffles me. I haven’t come up with answers on that.
MR. HARBRECHT: I think Monica Lewinsky was from Hollywood, wasn’t she? (Laughter.) How many sources do you require before posting an item?
MR. DRUDGE: Well, a little more than Bob Woodward’s “Deep Throat” from time to time. (Laughter, scattered applause.) Sometimes I’ll go with one person. The Loral worker who came forward and told me the encryption was missing from the satellite—the biggest nightmare scenario for defense types—I went with that one. I thought that was pretty solid. The guy seemed sincere.
What I do is a formula where I follow my conscience—and this is upsetting to some people—but I maintain the conscience is going to be the only thing between us and the communication in the future, now. And I’m very happy with my conscience.
If we’re—if you’re looking at me and thinking about the Blumenthal case, I retracted that story within 24 hours. Even though he was demanding sources, I apologized for it in the pages of the Washington Post. He called the apology “drivel”—this from the White House adviser.
And you know, I woke up to a very strange headline—”Clinton-Gore approved of filing libel suit.” It’s the first time in American history that a sitting president of the United States has approved a civil action against a reporter—in our history. Well, I guess they locked some people up before we were founded. There’s a room down the hall dedicated in that spirit.
But this is a—this is something new. And as we go, I think I’ll prove White House resources have been used to fight this litigation. Joe Lockhart, the deputy press secretary, admitted he called USA Today from the White House Press Office to complain about an op-ed that was favorable to me. Tax dollars at work. (Applause.)
MR. HARBRECHT: How many leaked stories do you get from mainstream journalists, and would you speculate on their motivation?
MR. DRUDGE: That’s a good question, because what I’ve been doing lately is breaking news that’s about to be broken, coverage of the coverage of the coverage. But that’s where we are, since the media is so powerful. The media is comparable to government—probably passes government in raw power.
A lot of the stories are internal. They leak it to me wanting to get attention, wanting to get that headline. More times than not, I will not give it to them. It has to get—has to raise my whiskers. It has to be a good headline. I’m a sucker for a good story. I go where the stink is. I’m a partisan for news. If you got a story, I’ll be listening outside when we’re done. (Soft laughter.)
MR. HARBRECHT: All right, you’ve got your hat on, and you seem to emulate in your dress and advocate in your presentation the good old days of the tabloids of the ’20s and ’30s. But does populism equal consistently good journalism?
MR. DRUDGE: I’ll have to ask Tom Brokaw that. I don’t necessarily think a populism means you’re out defaming people left and right. A populism press is a press that cares about the country. Most of my sources are concerned citizens, in and out of government, who don’t like the direction of the White House Press Office, for example. Or quite frankly, a lot of the people on the Hill aren’t quite forthcoming answering questions.
I reported a great story about a website that had been set up, had been registered “Friends of Al Gore PAC.” The billing address they used for this PAC was 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Someone had registered a political action committee from the White House, using it as a billing address. This is a huge story. I had it exclusively. I guess mainstream press don’t know how to work the Internet and get the information.
This is an example of a populous press. It’s very concerning. That, to me, was violating quite a few laws. They said someone in the office had set it up, and they were told to bring it down, and it wasn’t—bring it down. They changed the address eventually. I looked up the address. It was a graveyard in Denver. That’s a populous press to me.
MR. HARBRECHT: Matt, what types of stories would fall into the category that you would not publish?
MR. DRUDGE: Hmm. There’s quite a few stories I don’t publish that come my way. For instance, specific descriptions on these Lewinsky tapes of the presidential anatomy, I’m not reporting. I’ve had it, I’ve held it back. This, to me, composed quite an interesting dilemma on a world stage, quite frankly. That is an example that I don’t think furthers the story.
That Phil Hartman may have met his wife through a prostitute doesn’t necessarily interest me. I’m an advocate. I love public policy. Those are the type of stories that get me—get me typing. I also like to have fun. I like to do ratings and box office, just to show that it’s not really about the product. It’s more fun to talk about Godzilla than to watch it, for example. (Laughter.)
So I don’t have one straight category of things I rule out. I tend not to do drugs, I tend not to do serious stuff that would upset people in private lives. That’s probably my criterion of drawing the line, which I get a lot of it. I simply hit the “delete” and keep moving. I get 10,000 e-mails a day. There’s—odds are there’s another morsel at the next—the next—(inaudible).
MR. HARBRECHT: Where does your money come from? Explain the economics of The Drudge Report. How do you make a living from a free website? (Scattered laughter.)
MR. DRUDGE: Richard Mellon Scaife is not my benefactor, if that’s the question. (Scattered laughter.) I haven’t made a penny off The Drudge Report. It’s been free. For the four years I’ve been doing it now, the website is free. there’s not advertising on it. It was a labor of love, it continues to be.
I sell the column, I have sold the column, first to Wired magazine up in South Park, San Francisco, and now to—(audio interference)—and I’ve just been hired to do a TV show, made some money that way.
But I didn’t get into this for money. And in the early days of newspapers, no one made any money, or radio, either. If that’s the motivation, I just sit back and laugh when, for instance, a Slate starts charging. I’m not sure where their—(audio interference)—but that’s how I make my money. Not much. I’m—still wear the same beat-up shoes I’ve had since the day I started this, still walk the same streets.
So, that’s—I think this is not a cash medium yet. There’s probably quite a few people making money on the hype of it, but the actual application of it? Don’t quite see it yet.
MR. HARBRECHT: I just have to call this to attention, because it’s something that used to drive people crazy about Richard Nixon (?), and you just did it, which is you threw out a sort of a juicy little tidbit about Phil Hartman here, saying, “but I don’t really—I don’t really have any interest in that kind of thing,” when in fact that’s exactly what is on your website all the time.
And I call attention to it, because that’s exactly the kind of thing that I think infuriates journalists about what you do. I wonder if you could comment.
MR. DRUDGE: Would you care to give me another example? I did not report the Phil Hartman thing on my website. Another example could help me.
MR. HARBRECHT: Well, you just threw out, as you throw out things on your website all the time. And it was—it was just put out there with no corroboration. Who—who reported that?
MR. DRUDGE: I think one of the syndicated magazines just reported that. But my question is, again, what headline on my website would you call in that category?
MR. HARBRECHT: Okay. Fair enough. (Applause).
Could you—could you succeed as a journalist, if you worked for an organization which required an accuracy rate of 100 percent, instead of 70 or 80 percent?
MR. DRUDGE: I don’t know what organization that would be. (Scattered laughter.) (Applause.) I once gave a quote—you know, I do a lot of predictions. I have The Truman Show making $300 million. I once gave a quote that “Oh, I guess I’m 80 percent accurate, the body of my work.” Newsweek magazine, and then Karen Breslau, who I happened to see in the courtroom—in the courthouse hallways—she’s on the pay phone, she says, “Oh, Matt Drudge, my name’s Karen Breslau.” “Oh, I know you. You’re the one who made up a quote on me.”
She—she reported Drudge is going to have trouble with his lawsuit, because his—he claims his sources are, quote, “Eighty percent reliable.” I’ve never talked about the reliability of my sources. I said “Karen, you made that up!” She shrugged her shoulders: “Whatever.”
This is—this is mainstream press, this is—these are the—the—that bothers me. Recently, after the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, I was walking down Connecticut Avenue with the top editor at one of these national magazines. And he was trying to get one of my pals to give him more information on some story that the pal has some information on.
And the pal said, “No, no. You haven’t been very good on conservative things,” to the editor of the magazine. “I don’t think I’m going to help you. You know, you—you just take—you take, you know, stories and print them, and they hurt conservatives.”
The editor of this magazine, which I won’t name, says, “We just take what they give us.”
Now, if this is the standard—if this is the skyscraper up on Sixth Avenue that I want to dream about, I’d rather stay in my dirty Hollywood apartment. I just don’t take what people give me. I tend to at least try to frame it with an angle that would consider both sides—provocative stuff.
MR. HARBRECHT: Why then don’t you always call both sides when you report something?
MR. DRUDGE: I make it a point to call both sides. Unfortunately Mike McCurry is not taking my calls anymore. (Laughter.) It’s just absolutely amazing that he—the White House has now refused all comment on anything I’m reporting, whether it be Betty Currie on vacation, so I have been told, on some of the days Lewinsky was checking in to see her. No comment. “We won’t comment, it’s based on that dirty source.” They did this with the Kathleen Willey story—no comment. Anything I do. Al Gore is setting up a PAC—someone for Al Gore is setting up a PAC with a White House—no comment. Where is that coming from? George Stephanopoulos: “We’ve seen how discredited The Drudge Report is.”
That kind of stuff just rubs me the wrong way—and at their own peril—no comment.
MR. HARBRECHT: For someone who has been attacked by the mainstream press, your website provides easy links to all the establishment media. Why do you do that?
MR. DRUDGE: Well, because it’s—to me it’s—I started it with a place where readers could keep up—links to the various columnists. The links I have on my website I declare to be the most interesting people working in the business—all up and down—left, right and middle—I love to feature them. It’s just a click away. You don’t have to go through the front page—you go right to the column. A click away, you go to the AP Washington File—up to the minute.
I started it as a lark. It built itself after I started collecting these names on the website. And it certainly has changed the way things are done—for the pedestrian anyway. And I’ve been told quite a few people are reading it—from the top level in government down—for access—for quick access, unfiltered access—a click to Helen Thomas’s latest column, reintroducing a whole new generation to wire services and columnists—I love them all. So I don’t consider myself an enemy of the press whatsoever, but I do consider myself to be an untrained D student who happened to get lucky, but who happens to know a few things, and he has now has the ability to shout down the street, “Extra, Extra, This Just In.”
MR. HARBRECHT: What advice would you give to others, such as Jennycam, who claim—who are out to find fame through the Internet?
MR. DRUDGE: Well, you know, fame for fame’s sake is—you know, always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And you have to give them something they haven’t heard. There has to be a reason they’ll come to your website. If it’s just made-up fantasies, why bother? You know, if I’m so bad and if I’m so useless and I’m just a gossip hound, why was Sidney Blumenthal reading me the night before his first day at the White House? I don’t quite understand that. It seems to me I’d spend my time over at the New York Times, who gets everything right. Advice is to follow your heart and to do what you love. And I certainly am doing what I love. Again, I wrote the Drudge Report for one reader for a while—a couple of readers—5, 10, 15 readers. I had a thousand—the first couple of months I thought, oh, that peaked that out. Again, I’m up to these millions I never thought I’d see. And with the advent of Web TV and cable modems, I don’t know where this is going. Sixty million readers? What is civilization going to do with the ability of one citizen—without advertisers, without an editor—to broadcast to that wide group of people? The first lady says we need to rethink it. I say we need to embrace it. And it will take care of itself—it always has. It will get evened out.
MR. HARBRECHT: Here’s a question that just came up. With all due respect, in the past half hour you have been inaccurate 8 to 10 times—about history, government, the media. You said there were no suits approved by a president, no profits in early newspaper and radio. Do you think journalists should have any minimum educational requirements?
MR. DRUDGE: Hmm, I’ve done—I guess I’m going to the wrong libraries, because I can’t find any lawsuit—civil lawsuit approved by the president of the United States against a reporter. I can’t find it. I’d like to have that information for my litigation—put it in the court papers.
Again, I don’t maintain that I am licensed or have credentials. I created my own. I don’t know what the problem is with that. It seems to me the more freedoms we have the better off we are. And you know I don’t have a problem with chaos and new invention and confusion. I’m sure in the early days of electricity it was absolutely chaotic. The early days of cars the horse farmers probably said, “What are those things?”
It’s not where I come from. I come from a much more of an optimistic knowing liberty and freedom is the right way to go, knowing a new invention is afoot that is going to realize things beyond anything we dreamed of. I’m not that scared of it. But then again I’m not in elected office. You know, the president, the Congress, take this personally. They’re just the first to come through this Internet era. The person that sits in the Oval Office next will get my undivided attention.
MR. HARBRECHT: Are journalists obsolete who fail to include their e-mail addresses in their columns?
MR. DRUDGE: Well, you know, I’m getting so—that’s a hit or miss. I mean, I would advise interaction, simply because you’ll never know what you’ll learn by offering an e-mail address. As I said in the speech, you’d be surprised what the average guy knows. Some of my best sources have turned out to be people who happened to be in the room that shouldn’t have been in the room but who have come forward. I would provide as much contact with the public as you can. Again, I’m getting so much e-mail now I can’t possibly read it. So it’s a mixed blessing. But I would try to be as open as you can and offer an e-mail address—most of them do. I have correspondence with the top newspaper reporters in the business through e-mail, and it’s a fun relationship—it’s better than the phone. You could be doing other things at the same time.
MR. HARBRECHT: There were two recent episodes in our business where stories in the reporting of the Monica Lewinsky case, where newspapers put out pre-published stories online that turned out to be half-baked, frankly. Do you foresee a separation of media practices where future journalists accept more your style and methods, or accept the methods of appropriate journalism?
MR. DRUDGE: Appropriate? I guess you’re referring to the Dallas Morning Newsstory and the Wall Street Journal story. Mistakes are made. Mistakes are made all the time. I am not that alarmed by these mistakes. I think they tend to correct themselves. Just because they’re on the Internet doesn’t mean they’re less powerful, say, than if they are broadcast on CBS. I don’t distinguish it. I don’t think the rush to publish is any different than the rush to get it ready for the evening news. It’s the same kind of rush. It’s our history. Think about the Philadelphia newspaper that had 12 editions a day. What was that rush like? Probably a lot of sloppy stuff. But this is the kind of tradition we have. It’s kind of sloppy. And, again, I don’t advocate being sloppy, but that is our roots.
I have been doing some research on a book I’m writing—I hope to write—on populist journalism, and incredible history of reporting—quickly, fast, going up down the streets, screaming, “Extra, extra.”
The problem I’m seeing immediately is if other Drudge Reports pop up—and they will—it is romantic to have one person running down the street screaming “Extra, extra,” but if you have a thousand it could start looking like an insane asylum. So if indeed we start having tens of thousands of people all reporting news, hundreds of channels reporting news, all the different cable channels—click, click, click—I think people will grow disinterested. But again, they’ll rally around something else. So I leave this to the free marketplace. Every reader I have comes to me. I’ve never placed an ad. They read me because they want to. The vice president will log on, hit my website because he wants to, et cetera.
MR. HARBRECHT: Since when is the rationalization “We’ve always been sloppy” a justification for tarnishing a great institution? Does the right of every citizen to shout, “Extra, extra, this just in,” outweigh maintaining a professional ethic of journalism?
MR. DRUDGE: Professional. You see, the thing is you are throwing these words at me that I can’t defend, because I’m not a professional journalist. I am not paid by anyone. So you are shutting the door in my face again, and I don’t quite understand what that’s about, because that is not the facts. I can print something without an editor. This is where we are now. I don’t know exactly why that’s so scary. I again put my name on everything I write, unlike a few other columnists in this room.
If I am here to defend what I am writing, why isn’t that enough? Why isn’t that enough as a freedom of press, the freedom of speech, to carry water? I think it is. I just don’t throw out reckless stuff at all. I do great pains. There’s been plenty of stories I have killed with problems attached to them. So I just don’t buy that argument. (Applause.)
MR. HARBRECHT: One more time: Where do you receive your funding? I wonder if you could address that one more time please.
MR. DRUDGE: It’s not Richard Mellon Scaife. (Applause.) I had some money saved up from my gift shop days at CBS—a late bloomer. I have a small apartment, $600 a month rent. I drive a Metro Geo. I take the A Train sometimes when I’m coming out of New York to the airport. I don’t need much money to do a start-up business like this. Anyone for any reason can launch a website—little or no money—Internet connection, local phone. The modem lets you cover the world. The modem lets you read what’s happening if there is an earthquake in Alaska seconds after it happens. I think that’s fun and dramatic—for free—by a medium that was built by taxpayer money. So perfectly realized. And, again, let the future begin. (Applause.)
MR. HARBRECHT: Matt, thank you for coming into the lion’s den today. (Applause.) I have a certificate of appreciation for you speaking at the National Press Club; “Reliable Sources,” which is our 90th anniversary history of the National Press Club—(laughter)—till the end, till the end; and our chalice, the National Press Club mug.
MR. DRUDGE: Thank you.
MR. HARBRECHT: For our final question today, what is the biggest mistake you have made so far?
MR. DRUDGE: That’s a really good question. I’ve made a few mistakes. Ever doubting my ability was my biggest mistake, because in the beginning I didn’t think much that I had the right to report things. But I was wrong. Boy, was I wrong.
Whenever I tend to think, you know, “Oh, I probably shouldn’t be reporting on the president of the United States, respect the office.” I respect the office so much I want to cover it. And you know I maintain who is telling more truth this summer, me or the president of the United States? (Applause.) So I don’t have many regrets. I don’t have many regrets. I don’t have many regrets in that area, except for doubting that this was my God-given right and as an American citizen, and embracing it, and saying liberty is just wonderful, thanks to the people who have come before me who have stood up for it. And thank you. (Applause.)
MR. HARBRECHT: I’d like to thank you for coming today, Mr. Drudge.
MR. DRUDGE: Sure.
MR. HARBRECHT: I’d also like to thank National Press Club staff members Kate Goggin, Joanne Booze, Pat Nelson, Melanie Abdow-Dermott and Howard Rothman for organizing today’s lunch. I hope you all enjoyed it. Thank you very much for coming. (Sounds gavel.)
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