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Badmouthing Drudge Is Risky

Matt Drudge, whose Internet scoops arouse both fury and envy in the hearts of establishment journalists, reported on Sept. 2 that Gerald Levin, the chairman of Time Warner, told a senior White House official last month: “Drudge is a BLEEP…He represents the destruction of everything I believe in about journalism.” That is an interesting statement coming while CNN and Time, two major components of Time Warner, are still scraping the egg off their faces for their infamous story about lethal nerve gas being used in Operation Tailwind.

I put in a call to Mr. Levin to find out what beliefs about journalism had been damaged more by Matt Drudge than by his high-paid help such as Rick Kaplan, Peter Arnett and April Oliver who gave us the outrageous Tailwind story on CNN, and Walter Isaacson who published a companion article in Time magazine. Levin was unavailable, but his assistant, Nan Miller, asked if she could help me. She admitted having seen Drudge’s report, but she declined to confirm or deny its accuracy. When I commented that the Tailwind story had done a lot more damage to journalism than anything Drudge has done, she responded, “Well thank you very much for your call.” “So there’s no comment from his office on that?” I asked. “Goodbye,” she replied and hung up.

Levin is typical of those in the establishment media who badmouth Drudge instead of giving him credit for scooping them on story after story. For example, on September 2, NBC’s White House correspondent, Lisa Myers, broke the news on MSNBC (one of NBC’s two cable channels) that President Clinton had a sexual encounter with Monica Lewinsky in his study off the Oval office on Easter Sunday, April 7, 1996, a few hours after attending Easter services with his family.

Myers noted that the President was publicly mourning the death of Ron Brown and his staff, who had died in a plane crash in Croatia a few days earlier. The story was then carried on the NBC Nightly News and was discussed by Chris Matthews and his guests on CNBC’s Hardball program. One of his guests, Karen Tumulty, Time’s White House correspondent, said that the White House had known this story was coming for three days.

Matt Drudge commented in his report that night, “Of course White House staffers knew the sex/church story was coming. They read it in the Drudge Report.” He said a senior NBC producer had admitted that he was aware that this story was on the Drudge Report three days before NBC reported it. The NBC story was virtually identical to the Drudge account. Drudge said the producer went silent when asked why NBC had not given him credit.

Apparently NBC held the story until it got confirmation from White House sources. Some reporters thought the White House confirmation meant that Clinton’s spinmeisters were putting out damaging stories themselves with the intention of dismissing them as old news if Starr includes them in his report. It is more likely that the spinmeisters realized that denying the Drudge report would further damage their credibility when Starr’s report is released.