What Happened To Matt Drudge? (8-28-20) https://t.co/lDq5W2DVGY
— (((Luke Ford))) (@lukeford) August 28, 2020
What Happened To Matt Drudge? II (8-30-20) https://t.co/NKPRYx3Li2
— (((Luke Ford))) (@lukeford) August 30, 2020
What Happened To Matt Drudge? III (9-1-20) https://t.co/Kau16IAqUF
— (((Luke Ford))) (@lukeford) September 1, 2020
* For those who had accompanied the Republican nominee to the debate, the sense of anticipation came with the full knowledge that the moments to follow in the debate would forever change the trajectory of each one of their lives. Perhaps no one understood that more than Steve Bannon, who had left his position as executive chairman of Breitbart.com when he was appointed chief executive of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. A Trump defeat would very likely relegate Bannon to a footnote in history, but a victory would vault him into one of the most consequential positions of power in the world. And Bannon knew it. He also understood that the chances of a Trump victory appeared to be more rooted in fantasy than political reality. RealClearPolitics polling showed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton with a seemingly insurmountable seven-point lead.
Still, the campaign wasn’t without hope. Internal polling showed a much tighter race with hopes resting on the belief that non-college-educated white voters were being underrepresented in major national polls.
Donald Trump was minutes away from going onstage. His advisers needed to pull Matt out of the audience right away for a quick one-on-one with their candidate, but there was a slight problem: Did anyone even know what Matt Drudge looked like?
Over the past decade, Matt had disappeared from the public eye. He openly brags that it’s been years since anyone has managed to snap his picture. If someone does pull out a phone in his presence, Matt covers his face with his hands.
His mysterious persona was consciously cultivated in the belief that the Drudge Report would be more powerful without a public face attached to it. “Let the Drudge Report be,” he told a friend before going dark. “Remove the face. Remove the target. Just let the Drudge Report stand for itself.” And Matt’s instincts would be proved right.
By October 2016 the site’s power had reached new levels. Only weeks earlier, during a radio interview, Texas senator Ted Cruz placed the blame for his electoral defeat on Matt Drudge. And Cruz wasn’t alone. Jared Kushner, who had forged a relationship with Matt months earlier, knew from his time as publisher of the New York Observer that the support of the Drudge Report was crucial to his father-in-law’s electoral chances.
But with only minutes to go until Trump hit the stage for what was expected to be one of the most consequential debates in American political history, a senior staffer asked, “Is there anyone who can pick him out of the crowd?”
David Bossie spoke up. “I know what he looks like.”
Bossie had met Matt several times in the late 1990s. The two had formed a mutually beneficial relationship over common enemies—Bill and Hillary Clinton. Bossie raced through the underground labyrinth of tunnels beneath the stadium until he emerged through an opening facing the audience. He scanned the crowd. Several rows up he spotted an unshaven man in his early fifties wearing dark glasses and a brown fedora.
It was Matt Drudge.
* Matthew Nathan Drudge was born on October 28, 1966, the only child of two liberal Democrats, Robert and Deborah Drudge.
* Matt grew up a latchkey kid. He was a contemplative child who was naturally drawn to meditation. Radio was an early passion for young Matt, and at night he narrated his own personal radio shows into a tape recorder before falling asleep to the talk radio voices crackling through the AM stations on his transistor radio.
* Matt would later describe his mother proudly as a “pioneering lawyer”; however, her career stalled just a few years after passing the bar. Following the divorce, Deborah Drudge fell ill, and in January 1980 she was forced to leave her job owing to “severe illness.”
She became a patient of Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal, who would later become prominent for having been the first to describe seasonal affective disorder and for pioneering the use of light therapy. Dr. Rosenthal prescribed a “radical new treatment” for Deborah that appeared to worsen her condition.
* Court papers reveal that the young man’s issues extended far beyond a rebellious attitude. Matt had been dealing with “emotional problems” since the divorce.
“Physically he’s in good shape, but emotionally he has problems and he’s getting treatment for that,” Claire told the court. On June 18, 1981, Matt was arrested for making “annoying phone calls.” He was taken to Montgomery County Juvenile Court, where his issues were blamed on his father, who resented him for being “disturbed.” Coupled with his mother’s health troubles, it was suggested Claire send Matt to a foster home.
The agonizing situation was described to the court by a relative testifying in support of Claire:
After he went to his diagnosis well he got is a problem of making annoying phone calls to a girl, so that’s what precipitated the testing, and as a result of the testing the diagnosis was that the boy was disturbed. Not that he has a mental illness but because of his life situation of his mother’s sickness and his father resents him that he is disturbed and needs treatment, and their recommendation was a boarding school if we could afford it or possibly a foster home if one could be found, that is one of the reasons we are here is for more money to hopefully send him through boarding school and if not the last choice will be a foster home.
* In the early ’80s, the American media landscape was dominated by the network newscasts and a burgeoning print newspaper market. Newspaper circulation was on an upward trajectory that would continue for the next eight years, with many big-city publications putting out multiple editions per day. The influence of print spread to the network newscasts, with headlines from that morning’s New York Times, Chicago Tribune , and other prominent dailies often used as crib sheets for the producers at ABC, NBC, and CBS, and would later feature as the lead stories for the nightly newscasts. And the Big Three were enjoying a wave of success of their own, riding a formula of viewer trust and familiarity. But a cloud of uncertainty was also hovering forebodingly over this balance of power.
* Newcomer Ted Turner’s twenty-four-hour news station CNN had launched on June 1, 1980.
Meanwhile, across the ocean, Australian newspaper tycoon Rupert Murdoch was spreading his media empire, having just put in bids to purchase the Times and the Sunday Times newspapers in the UK, all the while closely watching the experiment unfolding at CNN.
* The new decade also delivered exciting new advances in technology.
In San Francisco, a 1981 KRON newscast told the story of a radical experiment happening at the San Francisco Examiner that had the potential to revolutionize how the public gathered news.
“Imagine, if you will, sitting down to your morning coffee and turning on your home computer to read the day’s newspaper,” the newscast began. The story continues with a print newspaper subscriber named Richard Halloran, identified by the segment as a “home computer owner.” By placing a simple phone call, Halloran was able to access most of the newspaper without stepping foot outside his front door. “When the telephone connection between these two terminals is made, the newest form of electronic journalism lights up Mr. Halloran’s television with just about everything the Examiner prints in its regular edition—that is, with the exception of pictures, ads, and the comics.”
Eight newspapers, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post, had already joined the computer network, with more joining every week.
“This is an experiment,” said Examiner editor David Cole. “We are trying to figure out what this will mean to us as editors and reporters and what it means to the home user . . . And we are not in it to make money. We are probably not going to lose a lot but we are probably not going to make much either.”
The segment concluded with KRON newscaster Steve Newman presciently saying, “Engineers now predict the day will come when we get all our newspapers and magazines by home computer, but that’s a few years off.”
* Matt didn’t participate in extracurricular activities. He didn’t do his homework or go to football games or homecoming dances. He also didn’t join the school newspaper, but a few fellow students recall him reading the morning announcements broadcast over the school loudspeaker, including leading the Pledge of Allegiance. He said stuff to raise eyebrows and be provocative so that he could watch how teachers and other students reacted.
* After school the two usually ended up at Matt’s. His house was striking for its lack of personality and warmth. “There were no pictures on the wall. There were a few pieces of furniture, but no throw pillows on the couch or anything extra. Just the bare essentials,” Michelle recalls. Matt explained that his mom just hadn’t felt compelled to brighten the house up, telling Michelle that his mother was sad.
Matt’s mom was rarely home, but when she was, Michelle could tell that something was off. Michelle remembers Claire as a smallish, attractive woman with long brown hair parted down the middle, who looked like a hippie but without “that warm, easygoing hippie vibe.” There was something different about the cadence of her voice and the look in her eye. “She didn’t seem all there. She seemed to be struggling with something very serious.” When Michelle asked what was wrong, Matt just shrugged his shoulders, explaining that she was “still upset about the divorce.”
The other thing Michelle noticed was Matt’s strained relationship with Claire. “Matt didn’t like his mom,” says Michelle. “He talked down to her. He would sometimes just look at her and say dismissively, ‘That’s my mother.’”
On top of not feeling connected to his mom, Matt rarely saw his dad. “Except for me, Matt was a loner,” says Michelle.
As the relationship evolved, Matt began to use the notes to open up about his sexuality and his relationships with men. It hardly came as a revelation to Michelle.
“Most of the school thought of Matt as gay, so I wasn’t surprised at all. It was really no big deal to me,” says Michelle. “He was just so out there and never dated any girls, and the way he behaved and the things he would talk about . . . People just weren’t like that back then, especially in a football-oriented school like Northwood.”
While unfazed by Matt’s sexuality, Michelle was taken aback by how explicit the notes were in describing the details of his intimate relationships. On the bus rides home from school at the end of the day, Matt demanded that Michelle give him his notes back so he could destroy them.
Matt never dated classmates, but by the age of eighteen had already made himself a staple at the Washington, DC, gay club scene. Matt knew all the doormen, and even though Michelle wasn’t yet of age, he could get her in without a problem.
* At the clubs, Matt met men from all across the country. “Matt always dated older men,” Michelle remembers. “I remember him going down to North Carolina to meet with some man in his fifties. Even though he was still in high school, Matt would fly or take Amtrak to various destinations around the country and even Canada one time. Every year he would travel somewhere. He never told me how he paid to get there, but I always assumed the other person he was meeting was paying.”
Matt never drank or did recreational drugs at the clubs, but his dancing was epic. “Matt would dance the whole time nonstop. It was really remarkable. He would dominate the whole floor. He was that guy on the dance floor that you couldn’t turn your eyes from,” remembers Michelle. “Matt danced in a way I had never seen anyone dance before. He would go from side to side in these huge sweeping motions. He demanded space on the dance floor. You couldn’t stand next to him because he would knock you over. He was incredible. He would dance for hours and hours and come off the floor sopping wet from head to toe.”
One night Matt left a club late at night to meet up with Michelle, showing up at her door with his left shoe missing.
“Matt, where is your shoe?” she asked.
Matt looked down at his bare sock, then looked back up at her, smiling. “I lost it dancing.”
* Behind the scenes, Matt Drudge’s high school years were marked by increasing instability. Matt’s parents had become aware of his sexuality. Matt later confessed to a friend that they didn’t accept his lifestyle, and that they thought something was wrong with him.
* Matt’s “mental health issues” corresponded with the continual deterioration of his mother’s health, according to the Maryland Court Archives. In April 1982 Claire suffered a severe toxic reaction to a medication that caused her to be hospitalized. In June, Claire told the court, “I returned home, where I remain under doctor’s care. I have no financial means with which to meet Matthew’s special and urgent needs.”
With nowhere left to turn, Claire sent Matt to live with his father in Tyaskin, Maryland, on a soybean farm with his father’s new wife and her two sons. But after three weeks, the teenager was sent back to live with his mom.
According to Claire, “Robert Drudge rejected his natural son, Matthew, and returned him to my home, knowing that I am under doctor’s care and unemployed. His reason for returning Matthew to me after three weeks was that his wife comes first; her two boys come second, and Matthew comes third, that he did not assume any responsibility for him as his father because he has a new family; that he hopes everything turns out all right. Robert Drudge has not communicated with his son or me since that time.”
She continued, “As a result of these experiences, I believe that Matthew will require special attention in the form of psychiatric and social services as well as social educational services.”
After returning back to his mother’s care, records show that his treatments increased. In 1982 Matt received a “psychological evaluation,” a “psychiatric evaluation,” and at least twelve “individual psychotherapy sessions” at the Jewish Social Agency in Rockville, Maryland.
By September 15, 1982, Matt’s “emotional problems” had escalated. This time Matt was admitted into the facility for an extended stay as part of a psychological evaluation. It concerned Matt’s dad enough to provoke a rare visit.
“Matt told me he had pneumonia and that was the reason he was away,” remembers Michelle.
* Matt would later sum up his time in public education: “I don’t like authority and I didn’t like structure. My expertise in high school was cutting classes. Boy I knew how to do that. I never got caught. I got suspended a few times.”
In 1984 Matt graduated from Northwood High School ranked 341st out of 355 students.
* One of the female roommates had developed a crush on Matt, and the feelings weren’t mutual. And as tensions in the apartment began to rise, Matt found himself in a relationship with a man he had met in New York City, and it had turned abusive.
“Matt kept what was going on to himself, but we knew it wasn’t good,” a friend remembers.
Matt had nowhere to turn. His mom was struggling with mental illness, and his dad had all but disowned him. Michelle hadn’t heard from Matt in several months. She had become worried and decided to reach out. Matt answered the phone, sounding panicked.
“Hey, I’ve been trying to reach you. How are you doing, Matt?” she asked.
Matt answered, “Well, I’m getting my ass beat by my boyfriend, and I have no place to go. So that’s about it, so, bye.”
He hung up on her.
After just a few months, Matt fled the New York City apartment in the middle of the night. He didn’t tell anyone, not even Seymour, where he was going.
Seymour recalls, “We just woke up and Matt was gone.”
* In 1987 Matt moved again, this time leaving Takoma Park for Los Angeles, where he found a small one-bedroom apartment for $600 in a section of Hollywood “they’re always promising to clean up but never do.” He adopted a six-toed cat named Cutie. From his ninth-floor apartment at the corner of Hollywood and Vine, Matt found himself in the entertainment capital of the universe . . . with a view of CNN’s local headquarters and the high-rise where E! Entertainment’s offices were located.
Matt’s goal in Los Angeles was the same as it had been in New York City. He knew he had ability. He believed he understood more about the entertainment agency than the writers covering the beat, so now all he needed was for someone to notice.
He walked the famed Sunset Strip, sometimes stopping at Ronald Reagan’s brass star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to wipe the epithets off, or at World Book & News at the corner of Hollywood and Cahuenga to note any interesting tidbits. One day, while perusing the news rack, Matt spotted an advertisement in Variety for a job as a runner for the game show The Price Is Right. He interviewed and got the job. The pay was five dollars an hour.
The job proved fortuitous. Not only did it earn him enough money to pay his rent and afford his steady diet of thirty-nine-cent tacos, but it also gave him his first real glimpse into Hollywood. And Matt was finally being noticed. He soon impressed his bosses at the game show and was promoted to the CBS Studios gift shop. Once there, he was bumped up the ladder again, this time to assistant manager, where he became responsible for all the books and purchasing. The higher-ups were so enamored of his work ethic that they flew him from Hollywood to New York City to show CBS’s New York employees how to expertly manage their store.
* Matt’s father, Robert, had married for a third time in 1989, this time to a woman named Rita Foust, also a Maryland native. Rita recalls that during their two years of marriage Robert didn’t have a single interaction with Matt. She says she never asked Robert why the two never spoke, only that “it was a very strange family. Very reclusive.”
But Robert did have a fixation that he would soon share with his son—computers. He had bought one in 1991 and had “spent hours messing around on it,” according to Rita. “He got very into it,” she says. “He took up programming and writing code and became very good at it.”
By early 1994 Robert Drudge had reconnected with his son, paying a visit to his Los Angeles apartment. He became convinced that Matt was spinning his wheels at his gift shop gig. Robert hoped to jump-start his son’s career, and possibly provide an outlet for him to focus his seemingly boundless energy and intellect.
“Matt’s mind goes a thousand beats a second and then the next second there’s something else,” Robert would later say.
On the drive back to the airport after his visit, “sensing some action was needed,” Robert made a detour to a strip mall off Sunset Boulevard. It was there that he purchased his son his first computer, a $1,500 486 Packard Bell. He thought it would be good for Matt to apply his mind to something new and different.
“Oh yeah,” Matt thought. “What am I gonna do with that?”
* But it was 1920s-era columnist Walter Winchell who would become Matt’s biggest influence. Winchell had made a name for himself by printing private, often salacious, information about famous people for the struggling New York Evening Graphic.
* Matt would later acknowledge the columnist’s influence, but with a caveat: “To me it’s only the Winchell spirit that I’m gravitating toward, as opposed to the man. He put himself in the center of situations. I do just the opposite. I remove myself from the fray and monitor everything from above.”
* In July 1997 Matt stopped by Brock’s house to celebrate his thirty-fifth birthday holding a bouquet of yellow roses. “Jesus, I thought, Drudge thinks we’re going on a date,” Brock would later write of the incident in Blinded by the Right, which detailed his departure from the conservative movement.
Brock’s account continued, “After dinner at the famed West Hollywood restaurant Dan Tana’s, he suggested we go bar hopping along the gay strip on Santa Monica Boulevard, which Drudge navigated like a pro. At a bar called Rage I accepted his invitation to dance, but I was much more interested in checking out two guys who were dancing nearby. When the couple disappeared, I asked Drudge if he had seen where the pair had gone. ‘Yeah,’ Drudge quacked, ‘I saw what was going on and I stepped on one of their feet really hard to get rid of them.’ The gesture was sweet, in a way, but also scary, and I quickly called it a night.”
Brock claimed he soon received an email saying, “Laura [Ingraham] spreading stuff about you and me being fuck buddies. I should be so lucky.” Brock decided it was time to unceremoniously end his relationship with Matt.
* Longtime conservative operative Barbara Ledeen couldn’t believe her eyes when the man showed up at her door with an order for her to appear in court as a witness in a lawsuit between Sidney Blumenthal and Matt Drudge.
“I didn’t know Matt Drudge,” said Ledeen. “But I knew enough to know that we needed help.”
Ledeen and her husband, author Michael Ledeen, may have never met Matt, but they had more than enough experience with Blumenthal, whom they described as “vicious” and “vindictive” for his attacks on their conservative advocacy work. After receiving the subpoena at their home asking them to turn over “all kinds of information,” Leeden called her friend, libertarian activist David Horowitz.
“You have to help Matt Drudge,” she said to Horowitz.
Horowitz, who had founded the libertarian Individual Rights Foundation, had never met Matt, either, but after being contacted by Ledeen, Horowitz believed it was a noble cause. Horowitz agreed to allow his foundation, which mainly fought speech codes on college campuses, to represent Matt’s defense.
Horowitz remembered, “Matt and I had breakfast. At the time I don’t think he realized or appreciated the real danger he was in with this lawsuit. The goal was to destroy Drudge, and even if Blumenthal knew he couldn’t win the case, he could easily drain Drudge dry.”
“He grudgingly accepted our help,” added Horowitz.
With Matt’s permission, Horowitz went to work creating a defense fund, which raised money through direct mail and internet appeals to pay the lawyers’ fees. He then set up a meeting with Matt and Individual Rights Foundation lawyers Manny Klausner and Patrick Manshardt. Manshardt was excited to take the case, seeing Matt Drudge, and all the Drudge Report represented, as important for the future of internet freedom.
* On October 8, 1997, [George] Conway reportedly emailed Matt again, introducing himself as “a friend of Laura” with an “exclusive” about Paula Jones’s claim (which was later dropped) that the “distinguishing characteristic” of the president’s anatomy was a curvature caused by a malady known as Peyronie’s disease.
* Lucianne Goldberg advised Linda Tripp to reach out to Michael Isikoff in late September, asking him if he would be willing to meet at the walk-up condo of Goldberg’s son, Jonah. Isikoff showed up at the Manhattan apartment on October 6, where he found Goldberg and Tripp waiting with a tape player in hand. Goldberg told him they had the Lewinsky tapes and suggested that Isikoff listen.
Isikoff politely declined, answering, “As a journalist, it would put me in a bad position to do that.”
In point of fact, the seasoned reporter was worried that by listening to part of the tapes he would be inserting himself into the story. Isikoff remembers, “There were pretty strong guidelines that you don’t get involved. That is a violation. There were strict guidelines handed down. That was the culture I was raised in. It was a sort of seat of the pants split second. It was pretty clear this was an ongoing process—they were trying to get me to coach them. It appeared to be an effort to make me a part of something that I was ethically obligated to stay out of.”
They spent the next hour talking and then gave Isikoff the name of the other woman: Monica Lewinsky. Again, Goldberg insisted he listen to the tapes. Tripp reached for the recorder and pushed the play button.
“Wait,” said Isikoff. “I’m not sure I should be doing his. It probably isn’t a good idea for me to listen.”
Tripp hit stop on the tape player. Whatever was on the tapes, Isikoff told them, he would need more corroboratory documentation if he was going to write an article alleging that the president of the United States was having an affair with an intern. He assured them he would keep working, and then left the apartment.
“He ran out of there,” recalls Goldberg. “I think he had a car waiting for him outside to take him to appear on Hardball.”
Over the next several weeks, Tripp and Goldberg continued to stay in touch with Isikoff, feeding him information and waiting for the story to break. But as the days went by, Goldberg’s crew was growing impatient.
Since the first day of his presidency, conservatives had been trying to prove Clinton was corrupt and unfit for office, but every time they thought they had him, the football would be yanked back and they would be left tumbling through the air catching nothing but wind. But this time, they believed it would be different.
The day before Clinton was to give a sworn deposition, Paula Jones’s legal team was notified of the tapes and their content. On January 17, 1998, Clinton gave a sworn deposition denying having a “sexual relationship,” “sexual affair,” or “sexual relations” with Lewinsky.
The president’s sworn testimony directly contradicted the information on the tapes. They finally had him, they thought. Now they needed to get the information out. And fast.
On the evening of January 17, Isikoff called Moody and Goldberg to let them know the story wouldn’t be running. The editors at Newsweek made the decision that the taped conversations amounted to hearsay and were not enough to publish a story that could lead to the impeachment of the president.
“Isikoff was very excited,” recalls Goldberg.
For Goldberg, it was more evidence of the leftist media protecting their own. She was determined to make sure the story wouldn’t get squashed. A friend suggested she call Matt Drudge.
Matt had been following the Clinton case closely with a member of Goldberg’s inner circle having already leaked bits and pieces of the story, but now, for the first time, he was hearing the entire story—along with Newsweek’s role.
“I did know Matt Drudge, but I hadn’t met him. And I was with friends who trusted him. And there was no other place to go. Isikoff had been fiddling for months. My friends told me, ‘Hey, you should call Drudge.’ So that is what I did. I picked up the phone, called Matt Drudge, and gave him the story,” says Goldberg.
It was shortly before 10:00 p.m., eastern time, when Goldberg picked up the phone to dial Matt in Los Angeles.
In Goldberg’s words, “I began to tell Matt the story and he was like a kid in a candy store. Drudge loved it. He was like, ‘Oh, boy this is great.’”
Less than an hour later, Goldberg got a call that the story had been posted on the Drudge Report. “I couldn’t believe how quickly it went up. I said, ‘You watch, this will change journalism forever.’”
* Having published [the Clinton-Lewinsky story], Matt Drudge sat alone in his Hollywood apartment. He began sobbing. He realized that from that moment forward his life was never going to be the same.
* In the months that followed, the historic weight of what he had done set in on Matt. He began to believe that he was in danger and that something nefarious could happen to him. If ever the Clinton deep state, which he had spent years obsessing over, had a reason to spring to life—this was it.
Was he being followed? At times he believed he was.
Had his computer been hacked? He didn’t think so—but he told friends that he was sure someone had tried.
Maybe, he thought, the police would come barging into his Hollywood apartment with a warrant for his arrest for some trumped-up charges? He told friends he worried that one day he would arrive at his car to find it surrounded by police after someone had planted a bag of cocaine in the trunk.
His attorney Patrick Manshardt remembers, “Drudge seemed more worried that the powers that be would do something terrible to him—arrest him, eliminate him, frame him. That seemed to be his concern. He was concerned there was some sort of deep state action that would be used against him. He was serious.”
* After the speech and Q&A had concluded, [Doug] Harbrecht [of the Washington Press Club] retreated to his upstairs office where he quickly discovered how the public had felt about his job performance.
“It immediately began,” recalls Harbrecht, who for the first time had found himself being labeled unfair and biased for his treatment of Matt. “We started getting emails from all over the country. That was when I found out what the meaning of the word ‘troll’ was. I got slammed, right down to my aunt and uncle. Rush Limbaugh spent time on his radio show laying into me. I would prove a perfect elitist foil.”
“Matt Drudge’s speech became the most commented event that the Press Club had ever had, but it wasn’t until five years later that I read that speech and realized how brilliant it was,” Harbrecht adds.
As members of the news media slowly filtered out of the room, they were accompanied by a cascade of murmurs and sly grins. These were men and women with journalism degrees from some of the most prestigious schools in the country and working for some of the most hallowed media institutions in the world. For generations, they had built their reputation as guardians of information who sought accountability from the powerful, and in their eyes, had more than proved their worth several times over. From Watergate, to the Pentagon Papers, to the Iran–Contra affair, they took their oath to uphold the public trust as sacrosanct.
Now, in a single speech, this Matt Drudge, an uneducated interloper, had looked them in the eye and rendered their entire world irrelevant. To those assembled, the speech and Matt’s vision of the future was as arrogant as it was obnoxious. And most important, it was wrong. As far as they were concerned, the newspapers and network news were at the top of their game, and they weren’t about to go anywhere. If anything, they were growing. However, this new fad of internet news was nothing but a flash in the pan, most believed.
“Enjoy your fifteen minutes,” a Washington Post reporter was heard laughing before walking out the door.
* New opportunities begat more new opportunities. In one example, a New York brokerage firm offered to put up millions of dollars to finance an online venture with Matt and former Clinton pollster Dick Morris. Matt refused, telling friends he was already financially comfortable. He had moved on from his old Packard Bell to a new black Fujitsu laptop, traded his beat-up Geo Metro for a Corvette, and upgraded his cramped ninth-floor Hollywood apartment for a luxury apartment on Whitley Avenue between Highland and Vine.
Heading for dinner one night, Matt handed Ann Coulter two hundred-dollar bills to pay the taxi driver and told her to keep the change.
“He’s constantly giving money away,” the conservative columnist said in an interview with the Washington Post. “He doesn’t know what to do now that he’s making money. It’s hilarious . . . He’s simultaneously larger than life and sort of childlike,” said Coulter. “When you ride in the Drudgemobile, he’ll play tapes of himself on the radio, and he’ll laugh uproariously at his answers. You end up laughing at him laughing at himself.”
* More bad news came after Matt learned that MSNBC reporter Jeannette Walls had begun research for an upcoming book that promised “a comprehensive, serious exploration of gossip and its social, historical, and political significance,” and a look into the major players, including Matt Drudge.
For years, Matt’s private life had become the subject of online “rumor campaigns” in internet chat rooms. “They’re spreading that I’m a child molester, I’m gay, I’ve been mentally institutionalized . . . even rumors of drug use and pornography,” he told the Washington Post. “All the charges and counter charges on me at some point become just a blur.”
A source had informed Matt that Walls’s book planned to out him to the public and his conservative audience. Matt fired off a preemptive attack on March 3, 2000, posting an all-caps headline: “MSNBC REPORTER: DRUDGE HAD SEX WITH EGGS.”
The article continued, “MSNBC reporter Jeannette Walls is telling associates that she has obtained information linking Matt Drudge with a sexual preference for eggs. ‘He likes to have sex with eggs,’ Walls told an insider. ‘He likes them smeared all over naked male bodies.’ Yet another MSNBC exclusive, Walls is also reporting to MSNBC associates that Drudge likes to ‘have sex, with his clothes on, in the shower.’ Do you have any other Drudge sex stories?”
On March 7, 2000, Dish: The Inside Story on the World of Gossip was released with the opening chapter, “Citizen Reporter,” divulging modest details of Matt’s homosexual lifestyle, albeit without any mention of eggs.
New York Daily News gossip columnist George Rush called Matt for comment. “You are in this book and the author suggested that you are gay,” Rush told Matt.
“He was quite defensive and denied it,” said Rush, who had first met Matt in March 1997 at a party at the Chateau Marmont.
Rush called Walls to let her know that Matt denied the claims made in Dish. In response, the author forwarded Rush an email thread she had obtained between Matt and one of his alleged lovers that showed proof of a physical relationship. Rush reached back out to Matt with the evidence, but when confronted with the email, Matt went into overdrive to discredit the reporter.
“Oh, that’s fake,” said Matt. “Anyone can fake an email by copy and pasting.”
He then changed the heading on Rush’s email and sent it back to him.
“See,” he said. “Easy.”
Matt went on to claim Walls’s entire account was fabricated. “Jeannette, dear, slow down and come up for some air,” he wrote on his site. “You are becoming a laughingstock. Even by MSNBC standards.”
Replied Walls, “I’m not passing judgment. But I think his duplicity is relevant to his character as someone who has built his career on exposing others’ private lives.”
“I go to bars,” he later told the Miami New Times. “I go to straight bars, I go to gay bars. [Walls] never said there was sex; she said there was dating. She never had enough to go that far.”
Asked if it bothered him to be portrayed as gay, Matt answered, “No, because I’m not . . . It’s not an issue with me . . . I think I told the Daily News something like, “My youth is a blur. That’s a good out.”
Matt again found himself on the defensive after an avalanche of negative reviews greeted the October 2000 publication of his book, Drudge Manifesto. It had been hyped as “the most sensational, the most outspoken, behind-the-scenes story of the year,” but critics gleefully slammed the 247-page book, which included forty blank pages, thirty-one pages of fan mail, and nine pages of poetry.
A particularly brutal Wired reviewer wrote, “Drudge spends so much time assuring us that he deserves to be taken seriously, it’s only natural to come to the opposite conclusion. He deserves to be taken as seriously as the crud on the bottom of your shoe.”
Jack Shafer wrote for the Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Drudge attempts to chronicle his pioneering internet life and times in Drudge Manifesto. But I can’t really recommend. His collection. Of sentence fragments. To anybody seeking an intelligible account of. How Drudge. Gave American journalism. A much-needed kick in the tuchas. Besides Mr. Drudge’s sentence-fragment tic, he RunsWordsTogetherForDramaticEffect as if under the spell of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, making readers struggle to follow his tale.”
* But Matt’s friends began to wonder [by 2001] if something was wrong. They worried that what used to be small glimpses of paranoia were taking a greater hold of Matt’s psyche. It didn’t help that the Drudge Report tip box had become riddled with hate. He claimed some people wanted him dead. Other messages referenced his sexuality.
After an eavesdropper spotted him in a Los Angeles coffee shop and fed an item on his private conversation to the New York Post, Matt began to think there were spies everywhere.
In another example, a camera crew took to the roof of an adjacent building to shoot into Matt’s apartment. Matt vented to friends that the Clinton people would never let it go.
* After spending the two years following his Lewinsky scoop frequenting the interview circuit, friends at the time recall a difference in Matt. His need to be reclusive intensified. He had cut down on his public appearances. He was slower to respond to longtime friends on AOL Instant Messenger. On the increasingly rare occasions Matt did talk to the public, he refused to divulge any details about his life. What started off as a quirk in his personality was now becoming his personality.
Picking up on the changes, Paglia asked, “You’ve been guarded about your personal life, and rarely make the usual media rounds. Why do you stay so mysterious?” Matt deflected from the question. “My private life would make my public persona a lot less interesting . . . Once you take the mask off Batman he seems a bit diminished.”
Andrew Breitbart was also starting to ask questions. He was helping to run one of the most influential websites in the world, still helming the nine-to-three shift like clockwork, but months would pass without any communication from his boss.
Breitbart’s friend, conservative talk show host John Ziegler, recalls the confusion. “Andrew was both mystified and amazed. Here he was, one of two people running one of the most incredibly powerful enterprises in the world, and they never spoke,” says Ziegler. “It was very, very rare for Drudge to communicate.”
Sometimes Breitbart would get an out-of-the-blue message from Matt that he would be gone for several days. When he asked where Matt was traveling to, he would be met with radio silence. “At one point Andrew thought he was in Europe. But he was always guessing,” adds Ziegler.
The one surefire way to get Matt’s attention was to miss a big breaking news story. Ziegler reflects, “If Andrew ever fell asleep at the wheel, Drudge would get really pissed at him and fire off a curt message.”
Despite the lack of communication, Breitbart continued working his morning shift with a religious fervor, waking up most days at 6:00 a.m., and then furiously alternating his attention between television news and the wire services, bouncing between different websites, all the while staying on top of emails and the Drudge Report tip box.
Breitbart once explained to Roger Simon, the author and creator of PJ Media, the conservative opinion and commentary blog, that he always needed to be plugged in because the secret to the Drudge Report’s success was speed. Even seconds mattered.
“Andrew had figured out how to get the early line for AP,” said Simon. “When AP was breaking, Andrew and Matt were jumping on AP faster than other people. That was part of their original plan. Speed was very important to them.”
However, the tension from always having to be plugged in was taking its toll on Breitbart, recalls Ziegler: “It was incredibly stressful. He felt like a goalkeeper. Just making sure nothing got past him. Andrew had to be wired in all the time. If he was going into his sports bar, he would be watching the Dodgers game while monitoring news.”
Stress over finances was also beginning to take its toll on Breitbart. He had long recognized the mistake he had made in turning down Matt’s offer to be a partner in the Drudge Report. It cost him millions of dollars, but the monthly personal checks from Matt were barely enough to cover Andrew’s expenses.
A friend of Breitbart’s remembers, “Andrew couldn’t figure it out. There was no reason for it. Sometimes he’d be killing it with traffic and the site would be making millions and millions of dollars and a check for just a few thousand dollars would show up in the mail.”
His friends encouraged him to confront Matt to demand an increase in pay and a contract, but Breitbart was reluctant. Matt’s increasingly reclusive behavior had made him nearly unapproachable. According to Ziegler, “In Andrew’s mind, it was as if Drudge had become this Howard Hughes kind of character.”
* By the mid-2000s, South Florida had become a small enclave for conservative leaders. In 2003 Matt’s circle of friends had continued to dwindle, but one relationship he kept was with conservative commentator Ann Coulter, who became his neighbor, moving into a penthouse in the same building.
Matt and Coulter would sometimes visit Rush Limbaugh’s gated oceanfront compound in Palm Beach, staying in one of his five guest-houses. Limbaugh’s brother, David, would occasionally help Matt with legal work.
Chris Ruddy, who had become inspired by Matt during their dinner together in the mid-1990s, had also planted his growing conservative media empire in Florida. After hearing Matt describe the scope of the Drudge Report’s readership during their dinner together in 1994, Ruddy went to his boss, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review publisher Richard Mellon Scaife, and proposed starting an internet newspaper.
“I saw the power and influence that he [Matt] had developed on the internet. He was a genius. I thought I could turn it into a business model,” says Ruddy. Scaife declined. Ruddy left the Tribune-Review and took stories that were not published online, printed them out, and began setting up an email list for distribution. Before long, he had ten thousand subscribers paying thirty dollars a year. That success led him to begin the conservative website Newsmax in 1998. Five years later, Newsmax was flourishing. Ruddy set up headquarters in West Palm Beach with a massive $8.55 million, 61,900-square-foot office building.
Ruddy was joined in South Florida by conservative headliners such as former secretary of education Bill Bennett, former Reagan adviser Larry Kudlow, and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Gay Gaines, a longtime GOP political operative, would host fundraisers where Limbaugh, Bennett, Kudlow, Gingrich, and other GOP bold names would stay up until two in the morning partying. Matt was always invited, but never came.
* In August 2002, actor Alec Baldwin told the Howard Stern Show that Matt had hit on him in a “creepy” way after a chance meeting in a hallway at ABC Studios.
“He came right up to me and he looked like he had a fork and knife in each of his hands. He said, ‘Do you have any Tabasco sauce? I want to drizzle it all over you,’” said Baldwin.
* A revealing New York magazine piece written by Philip Weiss, published on August 24, 2007, further stoked Matt’s paranoia. In the article, Weiss used quotes from Matt’s radio show, giving the story the feel of an interview. Twenty-four hours after the story hit the web, Matt removed the link to his radio show entirely from the Drudge Report. Ten days later, it was announced that a new anchor had been hired for the 325 stations that broadcast his Sunday night show and that Matt would soon be quitting.
A few days after the story was published Matt met up for drinks with a work-related acquaintance and confided that he was ready to go completely off the grid. “I’m thinking of just going dark. So there is no longer a face to the Drudge Report,” he said. “This page would do better if I disappear. If I don’t exist. If there is no target.”
* After arriving at the building, Matt first stopped at his mailbox in the lobby and pulled out a thick pile of mail. He told [Tracy] Sefl it was all lawsuits. He couldn’t care less. It was such a constant for him. “That was his life: come home, open the mail, chuck the lawsuits over on the counter,” said Sefl.
The apartment was sparse, sleek, and modern, with a refrigerator filled with cases of Diet Pepsi.
“I was very flattered that he invited me into his home. That spoke volumes. He once told me I was only the third woman, the first being his mother, the second being Ann Coulter, who had ever been inside,” says Sefl. “That’s not a list I ever thought I’d be on.”
* Breitbart’s morning shift for the Drudge Report was all consuming. Even while on the road for the book tour, Breitbart had to stay plugged in to the website. Matt was even more obsessive than he was, according to Breitbart, but shared that he did have at least one vice.
“Matt was a big gambler,” says Ebner. “He liked to go down to the seediest casinos, the ones that were off-strip. He would go and play the high-end slots. The hundred-dollar slots. He would sit there for hours pulling the lever.”
* Hollywood, Interrupted had further launched Breitbart’s profile into the public sector among the conservative base. But his growing name recognition and his bestselling book weren’t enough to pull him out of the financial debt he had accumulated from a series of costly home renovations and other expenses. The personal checks sent monthly from Matt’s personal checking account no longer sufficed.
After the 2004 election Breitbart was approached by Arianna Huffington to be one of four partners to help launch a new website, the Huffington Post.
* A friend of Breitbart’s recalls the conflicted feelings Breitbart had over the thought of parting ways with the Drudge Report: “Breitbart had high anxiety about going to the Huffington Post, but he needed the money.”
Breitbart rationalized that if he handled the blog side and stayed away from news aggregation then he wouldn’t be directly competing with the Drudge Report, and would, in turn, manage to avoid Matt’s wrath. Breitbart held his breath and took the plunge, telling friends, “I think it will be okay with Matt.”
On April 25, 2005, the New York Times ran a piece that stated, in part, that the Huffington Post was a direct challenge to the Drudge Report. “In fact,” the story stated, “she has hired away Mr. Drudge’s right-hand Web whiz, Andrew Breitbart, who used to be her researcher.”
The reporter reached out to Matt, who emailed back that he was “excited” for Huffington. “The internet is still in its infancy,” he said. “It’s wide open.” But privately, Matt was seething.
* Shortly after the Huffington Post launched on May 9, 2005, the website not only took a leftward tilt but also heavily relied on news aggregation, making it a clear and direct competitor to Drudge. The relationship soured. By that June, Breitbart was out. He made another disastrous business decision when he decided to take a small buyout instead of the percentage he was originally promised, which would have been worth millions if Breitbart had waited.
Breitbart went back to work for Matt, knowing that he wasn’t going to pay him more, but offering “four or five ideas on how to make money.” Idea number one was to buy a subscription to the newswire services. To Breitbart, it made perfect sense. On any given week the Drudge Report would link to hundreds of wire stories, sending traffic, along with the advertising revenue that accompanied it, to third parties. If they bought into the wires, Breitbart reasoned, that money could be kept in-house.
“The idea was to have ten wire services and have them all under Breitbart.com,” says a friend of Breitbart’s. “If you were someone who wanted to be inside the news, this would be the ultimate news junkie page.”
Matt shot the idea down, telling Breitbart, “Then the Drudge Report would become a business, and the Drudge Report will never be a business.”
But Breitbart came back with a counteroffer: What if he fronted the money himself to buy the wires under his name? Would Matt then agree to allow him to link to the wires he owned?
Matt signed off on the deal. Breitbart moved forward with purchasing a subscription to the wire services, telling friends he took out loans totaling $150,000 for the subscription. In the summer of 2005, he launched Breitbart.com, “providing up-to-the-minute wire service stories.”
Publicly, Breitbart said that he “wanted to create the single best place where I could go as an avid news reader to get headlines the second they hit the internet so I don’t have to go to forty sites.” When asked if there had been an agreement with the Drudge Report, Breitbart told reporters, “I’m grateful for the traffic that is sent my way.”
The new arrangement would dramatically change the composition of the Drudge Report. On August 17, 2005, Breitbart.com went live. On August 29, 2005, Breitbart peppered the Drudge Report with links from Breitbart.com forty-eight times, according to an analysis by Kalev Leetaru, a researcher at the University of Illinois Cline Center for Democracy. By flooding the Drudge Report with links to Breitbart’s wire page, Breitbart.com went from obscurity to boasting 2.64 million unique visitors in its first month of operation, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.
Publicly, Matt said he was happy to assist his friend, telling CNET News, “For the wire stories, I’ve always looked for places with low graphics, without a lot of spinning Java tops on them . . . When I send my readers someplace, I want it to be convenient for them to get there.” He added, “I want to help him out. He has always wanted to do this. This is his idea and hopefully he can make a living from it.”
Breitbart had other revenue ideas. He entered into a pay-per-click financial arrangement with Reuters that further altered the page. From January 1, 2005, to October 14, 2005, the Drudge Report linked just twenty-nine times to Reuters. In the period following the deal, from October 15, 2005, to December 31, 2005, the Drudge Report linked to Reuters.com 229 times.
Each Reuters link was embedded with an HTML tag that allowed the news agency to track how much revenue Breitbart had been generating by the traffic sent their way. While Matt never explicitly said that Breitbart wasn’t allowed to use the coded links, he voiced his displeasure in other ways.
“Drudge didn’t like it,” says Ziegler. “He would go on and replace the coded links with links that had no code. It made Andrew furious. Matt was so passive-aggressive. Breitbart would be like, ‘That bastard did it again! That bastard took down my links!’”
It wasn’t the only pay-for-play arrangement. On January 26, 2006, Breitbart and his wife were sued by the Minnesota-based internet advertising firm Gen Ads for $75,000 for allegedly being in violation of their own agreement to take advantage of Drudge Report traffic. The court papers outlined a process of how Breitbart was able to manipulate the Drudge Report website to line his own pockets. According to court documents, after the August 2005 launch, Breitbart.com almost immediately became one of the most trafficked sites on the internet, with 2.64 million visits in its first month of operation. Nearly all the traffic originated from his own referrals while helming the Drudge Report.
The advertising agency was happy with the traffic until it learned that Breitbart had broken the agreement by promoting a third party: “In November 2005, Gen Ads learned that BL had entered into an advertising agreement with Reuters, a third party, for the placement of multiple links on the Breitbart Site to promote the Reuters site.
“Indeed, Andrew was negotiating the agreement to place Reuters Advertising at the time he was negotiating the Advertising Agreement and LLC Agreement with Gen Ads.”
In other words, financial arrangements for posting a story on a news site raised ethical concerns.
Journalist Greg Beato describes the arrangement as a black eye for Matt. “Drudge really used to emphasize his editorial independence. So the fact that there were these seemingly paid editorial links to Reuters.com on DrudgeReport.com looked like an ethical breach to me. Basically, it was pay-to-play.”
Breitbart had expected to cash in on the deal, but instead, he told friends the legal battle put him $300,000 in debt.
* However, in a conversation with Chris Ruddy, a despondent Breitbart opened up about why he left the website he had helped build. “He said he had broken a lot of stories for Matt and never felt he got the full credit he deserved,” recalls Ruddy.
Unbeknownst to Matt, Breitbart had been privately plotting to directly compete with his mentor. He had been thinking about an idea to create a home page that could not only gather views independent of Matt but would also confront the conservative kingpin head-on. “Matt will never allow another home page to be created in a conservative space that could actually compete with Drudge,” Breitbart would tell friends. “Never.”
* In May 2011, Matt brought veteran journalist and Washington Times reporter Charles Hurt into the fold. The trio had the website humming like never before. During his five- to six-hour shifts, Curl would replace 50 to 75 percent of everything on the page with fresher and newer stories. At noon, Hurt would come and take off the rest of the old stuff. Then at 6:00 p.m., Matt took over and worked until 11:00 p.m. or later.
By the time Curl got back behind the wheel the next morning, about 25 percent of the stories he had posted were still standing. Those would be the first he would take off. Then the cycle restarted. Over the course of twenty-four hours, there would be up to 150 links flowing on and off the page.
A few weeks before the 2012 election, and just as the news cycle was heating up, Matt announced to a small group of people that he would be leaving the country. When asked where he was going, Matt wouldn’t respond.
Matt had ended his embargo on Breitbart links, but the bad blood continued. In early 2012, after Breitbart completed the first draft of his book Righteous Indignation, which included an entire chapter about the near-decade period of his life he had spent working on the Drudge Report, he called Matt ahead of publication to give him a heads-up about the book and the passage about their time together. Breitbart explained how the chapter would be an ode to the Drudge Report, with fawning praise for Matt.
“I want you to pull the chapter,” Matt told him. “All of it.” Breitbart said, “But this is part of my life. I spent ten years with you. I can’t just pretend like it never happened.”
Matt wouldn’t budge—or read the chapter. Breitbart did as Matt asked and pulled the chapter. “Andrew was hurt,” a friend remembers.
In February 2012 at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Curl met up with Breitbart, where the two briefly discussed the unique nature of working for Matt Drudge. “It’s the weirdest job in the world,” Breitbart told him. “You’ll never talk to your boss—and no one will tell you what to do. It’s crazy.”
* In January 2016 Matt gave away the 4,600-square-foot house that he had paid $700,000 cash for in January 2013. He surrendered the property to a man with whom he had shared the same addresses since 2004 for a total of $10, according to Miami-Dade County property records. The house had been stockpiled with survivalist stuff, according to a friend.
Matt told his neighbor Kevin Tomlinson, whom he befriended in Florida, that he needed to keep moving because he “believed that he was always being watched. That people were out to get him.”
Tomlinson adds, “Matt thought there were eyes everywhere.”
In one instance, Matt told Tomlinson he had been chased by the Clintons. Another time he said, “They are stalking me, so I’m hiding out in Poland.” He would say, “They are watching me. They know where I’m at. They are going to see the cars I’m driving and get my plates.”
“I was worried about him,” added Tomlinson. “I still am.”
In March 2015 Matt had bought a home in Arizona, spending $1.9 million in cash for a 2,939-square-foot bunker-like compound in the desert outside Phoenix. A neighbor says the house has remained so quiet, he isn’t sure anyone ever moved in.
Matt would spend a month living out of a cabana at the MGM in Vegas. Next, he would travel to Tel Aviv or Helsinki for two weeks. Then he’d spend a week in Washington, DC, followed by a month in Australia.
* Matt shouldn’t expect recognition from academia. [Kevin] Wallsten believes there is a “blind spot when it comes to Drudge. No one understands how he works in the media ecosystem. We as academics are loath to describe the influence of single individuals. We study systems and how individuals fit into a greater whole. This idea of one great man who can spark a revolution is often beyond the scope of academia.”
* By April 2017 Charles Hurt had left the Drudge Report to become editor of the Washington Times and Matt had hired Daniel Halper, the former Washington bureau chief of the New York Post.
In the Age of Trump, the news cycle has never been as juiced. The Drudge Report’s page views have continued their upward trajectory. From December 2015 to December 2018 there have been a total of 55,136,650,898 page views of the Drudge Report, with 146,000,000 average monthly visits, according to SimilarWeb. From January 2018 to January 2019, over eleven billion visits were recorded to the Drudge Report, according to Quantcast.
However, a lifetime of being hunched over a computer for as many as seventeen hours a day has taken its toll on Matt’s body. He experiences pain in his back, neck, and shoulder. His spine is curved, and he has one foot “that is turned out in a way.”
“Don’t try to live my life,” Matt once told a friend. “It’s horrible.”
Drudge Report watchers say there has been a noticeable slowdown leading into 2019. The page doesn’t update quite as quickly as it once did. Many can’t remember the last time the Drudge Report broke a major story.
Longtime Republican consultant and Reagan biographer Craig Shirley believes social media is taking its toll on Matt’s ability to crash a news cycle, saying, “Twitter now moves a story much faster than Drudge does.”