Media critics have recently postulated that while Matt Drudge may have once set the media's agenda, his influence has waned and his efforts to inject himself in the media's coverage of the presidential election have largely fallen flat. This election season, Drudge has posted a long series of items that were false on their face or turned out to be false, making the strong case that, if his influence is not in fact waning, it should be.
In the past few weeks, media critics have postulated that Matt Drudge's influence in setting the media's agenda -- which the Politico's John F. Harris and Time's Mark Halperin argue in The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008 has been great -- has waned this election cycle. In his continuing efforts to drive media coverage, this election season, Drudge has posted a long series of items that were false on their face, misrepresented reports he linked to, or were subsequently exposed as false. As reporter and blogger Greg Sargent wrote in an October 31 post at Talking Points Memo, “Multiple times this cycle, Drudge has pushed stories that have gone belly-up.” Whether or not Drudge's influence is in fact waning, these items, examples of which Media Matters for America has compiled below, make a strong case that it should be.
October 29 -- World Series
Drudge advanced Sen. John McCain's October 29 suggestion that Sen. Barack Obama was “delay[ing] the World Series” with his purchase of 30 minutes of network airtime on October 29. In fact, as Media Matters documented, The New York Times reported in an October 28 article that “Fox executives have said that they, and not the Obama campaign, had initially asked Major League Baseball to move the start of Wednesday's game to 8:35 p.m. from 8:20, to make way for his infomercial. But as it turns out, such a delay was not necessary anyway; none of the World Series games has started before 8:30, and two started after 8:35.” Politico's Ben Smith also quoted a Fox broadcasting executive who reportedly “negotiated the ad buy” as saying: “By no means did they [the Obama campaign] push to get us to accommodate them with Game Six [of the World Series]. ... We're just missing the pregame, which isn't a big deal for us. It was a business decision.”
Drudge featured the following false headline: “2001 OBAMA: TRAGEDY THAT 'REDISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH' NOT PURSUED BY SUPREME COURT” :
In fact, as the YouTube audio that Drudge linked to demonstrates, during a 2001 interview on Chicago Public Radio station WBEZ, Obama did not say it is a “tragedy” that the Supreme Court has not pursued wealth redistribution. The “tragedy” Obama identified was that the civil rights movement “became so court-focused” in trying to effect political and economic justice. Obama stated: “And one of the -- I think the tragedies of the civil rights movement was, because the civil rights movements became so court-focused, I think that there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing, and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change.”
October 23 -- Pittsburgh “attack”
During the afternoon of October 23, Drudge seized on McCain campaign volunteer Ashley Todd's allegations that a black man mugged her and, after seeing a McCain bumper sticker on her car, carved a “B” into her cheek. At 2:54 p.m. ET, Drudge reported Todd's allegations as fact, posting on his website: “SHOCK: MCCAIN CAMPAIGN VOLUNTEER ATTACKED AND MUTILATED IN PITTSBURGH,” along with another headline reading: " 'B' CARVED INTO 20-YEAR OLD WOMAN'S FACE... DEVELOPING..."
Drudge did not initially link to a news report for this claim. From the Drudge Report at 2:54 p.m. ET on October 23:
Todd's claims were proven to be false on October 24, when Todd reportedly told police she made up her story. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on October 25 that "[a]lmost from the start, Pittsburgh police were skeptical about a young woman's claim that she had been mugged and a 'B' carved into her cheek by an attacker who was provoked by the sight of a John McCain bumper sticker on her car."
The Post-Gazette added that Todd's story “quickly became political fodder on the Internet and spread around the world, fueled by the presidential campaign and Ms. Todd's political connections as a field representative for the College Republican National Committee and McCain volunteer. But in less than a day, the international story of a McCain volunteer being attacked, traumatized and disfigured for her political beliefs deflated into a sad tale of a troubled woman with a history of mental problems.” The Post-Gazette wrote of Drudge:
[Todd's friend Dan] Garcia took the widely published picture of Ms. Todd with her injuries. He said he took several photographs with a digital camera to document what had happened. He said he only gave copies of the photos to police and Ms. Todd's employer, the College Republicans. One photo appeared on The Drudge Report on Thursday, setting off a storm of media attention.
The Post-Gazette wrote in an October 30 editorial that the “Drudge Report made 20-year-old Ashley Todd an object of political fascination around the country.” Financial Times associate editor John Gapper wrote in an October 29 article: “It was a shocker in the tradition of Mr Drudge's scare stories and hyped-up trivia about Democratic candidates in US presidential campaigns, to go with past items about [former Sen.] John Edwards' $400 haircut and [Sen.] John Kerry's windsurfing. This time, however, it was not merely tendentious but false.” Gapper added: “The Ashley Todd affair was the latest in a series of failures by Mr Drudge to recapture the magic of the past, when the Drudge Report had an unrivalled grip on the media agenda.”
October 16 -- Gallup shock
Drudge displayed the following lead headline: “GALLUP SHOCK:? 49 OBAMA, 47 MCCAIN WITH LIKELY VOTERS” :
However, as Media Matters noted, Drudge selectively cited only one of three findings from an October 13-15 Gallup daily tracking poll of the presidential race -- the result that showed Obama holding his smallest lead over McCain. MSNBC's Morning Joe echoed Drudge by displaying the on-screen text “Gallup shock.”
New Republic contributor and statistician Nate Silver noted in an October 16 blog post that Drudge had “cherry-pick[ed]” polling results:
With seven different daily tracking polls to work with -- one of which releases three separate versions of its model each day -- there is a lot to choose from for those who might seek to cherry-pick results.
Slow news day, Matt? If this is a two-point race right now, I'll eat Drudge's fedora. None of the dozen or so other polls that were in the field this week shows a race that close. Nor do either of the alternate versions of Gallup's model, including the so-called Likely Voters II model that I find most credible. (Drudge, of course, had no interest in featuring the Zogby poll, as he had for the past several of days on his site, but which today showed Obama gaining ground.)
September 9-10 -- Lipstick on a pig
Drudge falsely suggested in lead headlines from September 9 through September 10 that Obama was referring to Gov. Sarah Palin when he said: “You can put lipstick on a pig; it's still a pig.”
As Media Matters noted, on September 9, Drudge placed the words “OBAMA: 'LIPSTICK ON A PIG, STILL A PIG' ” under a picture of Palin. Then, on September 10, Drudge posted the lead headline, “HOLY SOW!” under a picture of Palin:
Contrary to Drudge's suggestion, Obama did not mention Palin in at least the 65 words preceding his “lipstick on a pig” comment, as Media Matters noted. Indeed, Obama's preceding comments consisted of what he described as a “list” of McCain's policies that Obama said were no different from President Bush's. Moreover, the expression “lipstick on a pig” is common political rhetoric -- Obama had reportedly used the expression in the past, and McCain himself used it in 2007 in reference to Sen. Hillary Clinton's health-care proposal.
During the September 14 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources, host Howard Kurtz said: “I seriously thought about passing up entirely this ridiculous, trumped-up, phony lipstick controversy. No one really seriously believes that Barack Obama was talking about Sarah Palin when he used the well-worn barnyard phrase. Just about everyone knows it was essentially pushed along and made up by Drudge, Sean Hannity, and the New York Post, which endorsed McCain, by the way, in a front-page editorial.” Kurtz, CNN special correspondent Frank Sesno, and Houston Chronicle White House correspondent Julie Mason then went on to criticize the media for their reporting on the “lipstick” remarks.
Drudge furthered the myth that Obama did not visit wounded troops on his trip to the Middle East and Europe in July. A Drudge headline stated “Obama scraps visit to wounded troops...” and linked to a July 24 Associated Press article that reported “Obama scrapped plans to visit wounded members of the armed forces in Germany as part of his overseas trip, a decision his spokesman said was made because the Democratic presidential candidate thought it would be inappropriate on a campaign-funded journey.” From the Drudge Report on July 24 at 6:53 p.m. ET:
Additionally, a July 26 Drudge Report headline read “McCain camp: Obama shortchanged injured troops...” and linked to a July 26 AP article that reported “McCain's campaign on Saturday sharply criticized Democratic rival Barack Obama for canceling a visit to wounded troops in Germany. ... A new McCain ad that began airing Saturday in selected markets also chides Obama as disrespectful for making 'time to go to the gym' during his European visit while at the same time canceling the visit with wounded troops.” From the Drudge Report on July 26 at 6:56 p.m. ET:
However, as Media Matters documented, while Obama did not go to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, Obama did visit wounded troops earlier in his trip overseas. Indeed, the July 26 AP article Drudge linked to reported that the Obama campaign “noted that the Illinois senator had visited troops in Iraq and Afghanistan last week and had made numerous trips to Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center.” Obama also reportedly made phone calls to wounded soldiers at Landstuhl.
June 30 -- Obama, MoveOn.org
As Media Matters documented, Drudge revived the falsehood that Obama did not condemn MoveOn.org's “General Betray Us” ad about Gen. David Petraeus. Drudge ran the following string of headlines -- “Obama: I will never question others' patriotism...” ; “Criticizes MoveOn.org for 'General Betray Us' Ad...” ; "BUT DIDN'T VOTE TO CONDEMN AD..." From the Drudge Report at 1:55 p.m. ET on June 30:
The "BUT DIDN'T VOTE TO CONDEMN AD..." headline linked to a September 20, 2007, post on USA Today's On Politics blog, which noted that Obama “did not vote on” an amendment by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) that, in the words of the amendment, “repudiate[s] the unwarranted personal attack on General Petraeus by the liberal activist group Moveon.org.” However, while Obama did not vote on Cornyn's amendment, which passed, the USA Today blog post also reported: “The AP said Obama did not vote on the resolution even though he had voted 'minutes earlier' for an alternative that condemned the MoveOn ad as an 'unwarranted personal attack,' but also condemned attack ads that questioned the patriotism of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and former Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., both Vietnam veterans.” Indeed, Obama did vote for an amendment offered by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) that condemned the ad, as well as other attacks on past and present members of the armed forces.
March 3 -- “As far as I know”
But contrary to Drudge's suggestion that Sen. Hillary Clinton characterized the issue of Obama's religion as unresolved, Clinton did the opposite, as Media Matters documented. Correspondent Steve Kroft first asked Clinton, “You don't believe that Senator Obama is a Muslim?” Clinton replied, “Of course not. I mean, that's -- you know, there is no basis for that. You know, I take him on the basis of what he says. And, you know, there isn't any reason to doubt that.” Kroft then asked, “And you said you'd take Senator Obama at his word that he's not a Muslim.” Clinton replied, “Right. Right.” Only after Kroft went on to ask, “You don't believe that he's a Muslim or implying, right?,” did Clinton respond, “No. No. Why would I? No, there is nothing to base that on, as far as I know” [emphasis added].
Following Clinton's response to Kroft's third query on the subject, Kroft said, “It's just scurrilous --” to which Clinton responded, “Look, I have been the target of so many ridiculous rumors. I have a great deal of sympathy for anybody who gets, you know, smeared with the kind of rumors that go on all the time.”
January 22 -- Niagara Falls
Drudge baselessly suggested in a headline that the children's psychiatric unit at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center closed because Clinton was "[n]eglecting" New York:
In fact, The Buffalo News article that the headline linked to contained no mention of Clinton; rather, it reported that hospital officials attributed the closure to problems surrounding the way Medicaid is administered by Niagara County.
November 16, 2007 -- Clinton “spied”
Drudge advanced the anonymously sourced allegation that Clinton “spied on political rivals” -- an allegation the Clinton campaign has said is "categorically untrue." From the Drudge Report at 9:29 a.m. ET on November 16:
As Media Matters noted, in the book Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton, co-authors Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr. cited a single unnamed source describing events that allegedly occurred 14 years earlier to claim that during the 1992 presidential campaign, Clinton “listened to a secretly recorded audiotape of a phone conversation of Clinton critics plotting their next attack.” Despite the book's release in June, Drudge revived the anonymously sourced allegation months later.
November 13, 2007 -- Wolf Blitzer “warned”
As Media Matters documented, Drudge ran an anonymously sourced item that claimed CNN host Wolf Blitzer “has been warned not to focus Thursday's Dem debate on” Clinton and quoted an anonymous “top Clinton insider” saying, “This campaign is about issues, not on who we can bring down and destroy. ... Blitzer should not go down to the levels of character attack.” Drudge also ran the lead headline: “WOLF WARNED: NO GANGING UP ON HILLARY IN VEGAS!” :
However, Blitzer stated that Drudge's claims were “not true” during the November 13, 2007, edition of CNN's The Situation Room. During the broadcast, CNN commentator Jack Cafferty said to Blitzer: “I was clicking on 'The Drudge Report,' and there you are, big as life, in the middle of the Drudge Report this afternoon, with a headline suggesting that the Hillary Clinton campaign is trying to intimidate you before you moderate this big debate in Las Vegas. What's up with that?” Blitzer replied:
BLITZER: Not true. No one has pressured me. No one has threatened me. No one is trying to intimidate me. ... No one has even called me to try to pressure me or anything like that. ... I have no idea where it's coming from. I have no idea who generated this story, but I can tell you I have not felt any pressure whatsoever.
Cafferty then said to Blitzer: “What about Drudge just rushing this thing onto the website without knowing if it's true or not?” Blitzer replied: “Well, that's another story.”
September 18, 2007 -- “Health insurance proof”
Drudge featured the lead headline “HEALTH INSURANCE PROOF REQUIRED FOR WORK” under a picture of Clinton:
However, Drudge's headline was false, as Media Matters documented. The Associated Press article to which the headline linked did not report that Clinton's proposed health-care plan would require people to show proof of health insurance “for work.” Rather, it reported that in an interview with the AP, Clinton said: “At this point, we don't have anything punitive that we have proposed” for people who do not purchase health insurance as required by her plan. According to the article, Clinton also said, “We're providing incentives and tax credits which we think will be very attractive to the vast majority of Americans.” The AP article also stated that Clinton “said she could envision a day when 'you have to show proof to your employer that you're insured as a part of the job interview -- like when your kid goes to school and has to show proof of vaccination,' but said such details would be worked out through negotiations with Congress.”
In a September 18, 2007, post on Time's Swampland blog -- headlined, "Why Drudge is a Disgrace" -- political columnist Joe Klein wrote:
I know this is old news, but this guy is shameless. The headline, with a photo of a three-quarters crazed Hillary, is HEALTH INSURANCE PROOF REQUIRED FOR WORK but the linked story says this:
At this point, we don't have anything punitive that we have proposed," the presidential candidate said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We're providing incentives and tax credits which we think will be very attractive to the vast majority of Americans.”
She said she could envision a day when “you have to show proof to your employer that you're insured as a part of the job interview - like when your kid goes to school and has to show proof of vaccination,” but said such details would be worked out through negotiations with Congress.
How stupid does he think we are? Answer: Extremely dumbolic.
August 28, 2007 -- Clinton “supports national smoking ban”
A Drudge headline falsely claimed that “HILLARY SUPPORTS NATIONAL SMOKING BAN... ” :
As purported evidence, Drudge linked to an August 28, 2007, New York Post article with the headline, “Hill Eyes National Cig Curb.” However, as Media Matters documented, the article did not say Clinton supported a “national smoking ban.” The Post actually reported: “Asked whether the feds should impose a nationwide ban, Clinton deferred to local governments.”
August 21, 2007 -- “Obama wife slams Hillary?”
Drudge's lead headline stated “OBAMA WIFE SLAMS HILLARY?” :
The Drudge headline linked to an August 21, 2007, column by the Chicago Sun-Times' Jennifer Hunter about Michelle Obama's remarks that “if you can't run your own house, you certainly can't run the White House.” Hunter asserted of Michelle Obama's comment: “She didn't elaborate, but it could be interpreted as a swipe at the Clintons.” However, as Media Matters noted, Hunter selectively cited Michelle Obama's remarks in claiming that they could be about the Clintons. As Talking Point Memo's Greg Sargent noted, Obama immediately went on to discuss measures her family was taking to keep their children “grounded” while she and Barack Obama were campaigning, indicating that her comments were not a reference to rival candidates but rather a statement about the efforts they were making to ensure that their children will continue to “come first.”
After stating, “Our view is that if you can't run your own house, you certainly can't run the White House,” Michelle Obama continued: "[S]o we've adjusted our schedules to make sure that our girls are first, so while he's [Barack Obama] traveling around, I do day trips" in order to be “home before bedtime.” Atlantic associate editor Marc Ambinder wrote that one “recurring theme of her stump speech” is “the hard choices she and Sen. Obama have had to make about their work/family balance.”
Sargent wrote of suggestions that Obama was taking a swipe at Clinton: “The Obama campaign says this wasn't an attack on Hillary at all.” Sargent added that Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton sent him a statement saying: “The only family Mrs. Obama was referring to was the Obama family.” Ambinder further noted that in highlighting Hunter's column, “Matt Drudge has other designs, and you can bet that the cable news networks will follow.”
NBC political director Chuck Todd, deputy political director Mark Murray, and reporter Andrew Merten wrote in an August 21, 2007, blog post on MSNBC.com's First Read that Drudge's headline was a “manufactured controversy” and “appears to be a Drudge straw man” :
There's just one problem: This all seems to be a manufactured controversy. For one thing, what Michelle Obama said isn't anything new; in fact, it appears to be her stump speech. She said this on August 13, per the AP. And also on August 16, per the New York Times. In both instances, it appears she's talking about her own family and its values.
In short, this appears to be a Drudge straw man; the challenge for news divisions (including our own) is whether they actually bite.
August 1, 2007 -- Pakistan
A Drudge lead headline claimed “WAR: COMMANDER OBAMA WOULD SEND TROOPS INTO PAKISTAN” :
The headline linked to an August 1, 2007, Associated Press report about a foreign policy speech that day by Obama. However, Drudge's headline is a distortion of Obama's remarks. Obama did not say he “would send troops into Pakistan” ; he said that "[i]f we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and [then-Pakistani] President [Pervez] Musharraf won't act, we will," without elaborating on how he would act. Furthermore, Obama never said he would declare “war” on Pakistan, as Drudge suggested.
May 25, 2007 -- “Flak Jacket”
A Drudge headline read “McCain mocks Obama for not knowing how to spell 'flak jacket' ...” and linked to a May 25, 2007, Hill article that reported McCain “took a shot at Obama for making a mistake in” a statement that day in which Obama wrote “flack jacket” :
However, as Media Matters documented, “flack” is an alternate spelling of “flak.” Indeed, the phrase “flack jacket” with a “c” appears on dozens of military websites.
March 11, 2007 -- JFK of 2008
A Drudge headline read “HILLARY: I'M THE JFK OF 2008... ” :
The Drudge headline linked to a March 11, 2007, New York Post article with the headline “Hill: I'm the JFK of 2008.” However, as Media Matters noted, Clinton did not say she was the John F. Kennedy of 2008. Instead, Clinton was comparing the possibility of her becoming the first woman president to Kennedy having become the first Catholic president. Following is the portion of Clinton's March 10, 2007, speech during which she addressed Kennedy:
A lot of people back then [during former President Kennedy's 1960 campaign] said, “Well, you know America will never elect a Catholic as president,” but those who gathered here almost half a century ago knew better. ... So when people tell me, or when one of the pundits says that “I don't think a woman can be elected president,” I say, “We'll never know unless we try.”