An awkward moment of
silence followed, and then polite applause. Matt Drudge stepped
up to the podium. He was only thirty-one years old, a young man
dressed in old man's clothes: a cream-colored suit with unfashionably
wide lapels, a blue shirt and striped tie, and tortoiseshell glasses.
He was pale with a somewhat asymmetric face and small but intense
dark eyes. He somehow appeared more vulnerable without his trademark
fedora, which made him look more like a vaudeville character than
a pasty-faced, self-described "computer geek" with a slightly receding
"Applause for Matt Drudge
in Washington at the Press Club," Drudge joked. "Now there's a scandal."
He was nervous at first, but just as his voice was about to falter,
he reached over and grabbed his fedora and placed it on his head.
With his talisman, this relic that evoked populist tabloid journalism
of Walter Winchell's days, Drudge found his voice. For the next
forty minutes, he spoke passionately--if not always eloquently--about
his love of journalism, about the importance of the unfettered flow
of information, about how scandals, while sometimes ugly, were important
to democracy and to "individual liberty." Drudge spoke of being
a loner, a little guy in a business dominated by conglomerates,
about the importance of persevering to tell the truth, even when
it embarrassed and infuriated powerful people.
"'Freedom of the press
belongs to anyone who owns one,'" he said, quoting the legendary
journalist A. J. Liebling. The Internet, Drudge's medium, was a
great equalizer, he insisted. Now, everyone who owned a laptop and
a modem could be a publisher and a reporter, a "citizen reporter"--as
Drudge called himself. He looked forward to the day, he said, when
everyone in America would have an equal voice and the country would
be "vibrating with the din of small voices." The Internet was going
to save the news, he declared: "It's freedom of participation absolutely
Many journalists in the
crowd were unimpressed. It was that elitism, those rules, they maintained,
that had long kept lurid, irresponsible stories like Drudge's out
of the press. The real reason that Matt Drudge had come to Washington
that day, most of them knew, was that he was being forced to testify
in his own defense in a $30 million libel lawsuit. Drudge had inaccurately
reported that Sidney Blumenthal, a former journalist who had become
an aide to President Clinton, had beaten his wife. Soon after he
posted the erroneous item, Drudge posted an apology and correction.
But he had made plenty of other bloopers, as well: He had posted
items saying that Clinton had a bald eagle tattoo in his genital
region, that Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr had seventy-five
pictures of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky together, and that
Hillary Clinton was about to be indicted. He once estimated that
he is accurate eighty percent of the time.
"Could you succeed as
a journalist," someone in the crowd wanted to know, "if you worked
for an organization which required an accuracy rate of one hundred
"I don't know what organization
that would be," Drudge shot back.
There was some embarrassed
laughter, and then applause. Despite Harbrecht's pronouncements
about high standards of journalists, Matt Drudge and everyone else
in the room knew that by the late 1990s, the media was in a state
of absolute crisis. The always fuzzy line between news and gossip
had become a complete blur. Tabloid topics and sensationalism repeatedly
overshadowed serious news. It wasn't Drudge's mistakes that angered
many in the crowd; it was the stories he got right: Clinton's trysts
with Monica Lewinsky; the semen-stained dress; the infamous cigar.
This Book on Amazon
The above is
excerpted from Dish. Copy Right. By Jeannette Walls. All
rights reserved. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by Permission.
Above Text ©
2002, HarperCollins Publishers.
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