Scapegoating Matt Drudge

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

It's apparently Matt Drudge Day in the progressive blogosphere, jumping off WaPo reporter Chris Cillizza's post about the right-wing Internet gossip.

Cillizza argues that The Drudge Report has become more pro-McCain and anti-Obama, though Cillizza is quick to dismiss those who would offer the obvious explanation:

What explains the change in tone? It's easy to lapse into the tired old logic that Drudge is nothing more than a conservative mouthpiece returning to his roots as election day nears.

I don't believe any serious observer actually doubts that the content of The Drudge Report is skewed in favor of conservatives. Of course it is. But because that's so obvious, reporters think it's dull, so they insist on trying to find some other explanation for the fact that -- yet again -- Drudge seems to be favoring the GOP.

There are certain basic facts about The Drudge Report that are all but undeniable:

1) Drudge's site leans right

2) Drudge often gets things wrong and peddles absurd and false claims

3) Despite 1 & 2, "real" reporters frequently take their cues from Drudge

Everybody who has been paying attention for the past decade knows those three things. More often than not, when reporters write a story about Drudge, they include at least one of those three points -- and sometimes all three. They're such common knowledge that reporters who want to write about Drudge are bored with them, as Cillizza apparently is, and desperately flail about trying to find some new angle.

They never succeed, though, in part because they avoid the elephant in the room raised by those three facts -- the fourth all-but-undeniable fact about Matt Drudge:

4) Reporters know 1-3 above, but don't change their behavior

That's what's interesting about The Drudge Report -- what it tells us about the rest of the media. Exploring the reasons why that is true -- and what it says about political journalism, and how to change it -- might make for an interesting article.

Certainly more interesting than yet another pointless effort to read the mind of the mysterious Matt Drudge.

And when you start thinking about what The Drudge Report tells us about the rest of the media, you have to wonder if Drudge is really their leader -- or just their scapegoat, as I argued last December. Think of it this way: If Matt Drudge didn't exist, would Mark Halperin spend his time writing detailed, substantive comparisons of the candidates' positions on executive power, health care, and financial services deregulation?

Seems pretty unlikely.

UPDATE: Greg Sargent:

What's more, another topic that Drudge-ologists will never dare to broach is the question of whether reporters and editors should take their cues from a confirmed serial fact-inventor. Is this, you know, a bad thing? What does it say about the business? Don't the same reporters and editors who proclaim Drudge's influence make editorial decisions to follow him when they do? Isn't one of the dirty secrets of the profession that reporters and editors on occasion actually tailor their stories to get Drudge links?

If Drudge is going to consume our attention, how about a real discussion of Drudge and what the Drudge phenomenon says about the journalism profession -- one that goes beyond the narrow question of how influential he is? The last thing we need is yet more auto-pilot Drudge-worship.

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