Rumours of Drudge bias are unfounded: the Report can't pretend Newt Gingrich isn't flawed
By Tim StanleyUS politicsLast updated: January 31st, 2012
Matt Drudge is the Howard Hughes of the Internet. Like Hughes, he lives in splendid isolation, communicating only through a small group of trusted friends. Like Hughes, his influence has quietly helped shape Republican politics for a generation. But while the eccentric Hughes used money to put his pals in the White House, Drudge has always relied on blogs and Tweets. The Drudge Report, which started life as an emailed gossip column, now receives millions of unique visitors per month. One study found that it drives more traffic than Twitter and Facebook combined.
Drudge’s claim to be the authentic voice of the conservative movement is now under attack. Last week, the Report was dominated by headlines attacking Newt Gingrich: “Gingrich Repeatedly Insulted Reagan” and “Now Dole Drops Stink on Newt” were prime examples. Radio commentator Rush Limbaugh called the coverage a “coordinated” attack on Gingrich, and many Right-wing bloggers concluded that Drudge had turned his site into an unofficial wing of the Romney campaign. Fred Thompson – a former Senator and influential Newtite – complained about “Romney’s staff … patting themselves on the back, talking about how mean and down they are. How they've got Matt Drudge in their back pocket. And how Romney is in on all of it.” The New York Times listed some of the outraged Tweets from conservative activists. One wrote, “Where the hell was all this effort into “exposing” a candidate when Obama was running? Drudge is officially irrelevant now!”
If Drudge has indeed gone over to the dark side (AKA the presumptive nominee), then he’s far from alone. Conservative stalwarts like Limbaugh, Herman Cain and Michael Reagan are stumping for Gingrich, but Romney boasts Ann Coulter, John Bolton and actor Jon Voight. Mitt has the support of several key figures from the American Right because 1) he enjoys relatively good numbers when run against Obama and 2) he’s actually very conservative. He is perceived as being a moderate because he's rather preppy and once supported abortion rights. But his platform in 2012 ticks all the conservative boxes: prolife, anti-gay marriage, tax cutting, budget balancing etc. Things are getting a little hysterical when Mitt is denounced as a proto-socialist bankrolled by the Mormons.
But it’s unlikely that Drudge really is taking orders from Romney Central. The Drudge Report is a news aggregate site – and it just so happens that a lot of anti-Gingrich news came out last week. Was Drudge supposed to ignore it? In the run up to South Carolina, Romney got hit by stories about Swiss bank accounts and job layoffs. So, it’s purely a function of the news cycle/cosmic karma that Gingrich got all the flak during Florida. And most of those stories were investigations into hyperbolic claims that Newt himself had made. It’s inevitable that if Gingrich goes on TV and claims that he invented Supply Side economics or got Reagan elected in 1980, a few old retainers were going to come forward to correct the record. Meanwhile, Drudge has been happy to run plenty of anti-Mitt links. One headline on Monday afternoon was “FRED [Thompson] DECLARES: Romney has 'DRUDGE in back pocket'…”
It doesn’t matter who Drudge is privately backing, the fact that the content of his site is of such concern to Fred Thompson proves that he’s far from “irrelevant”. On the contrary, he still wields enormous power. Its source is the Right’s declining faith in the mainstream media. Feeling that they are unable to get a fair hearing on TV, the Tea Party has placed greater and greater faith in Web based reportage like Drudge’s. But there is always a risk among partisans that they will mistake the reporting of sad truths for “coordinated” attacks. Newt Gingrich happens to be a weak candidate. Drudge can’t take the blame for that.
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