Why are the Drudge Report’s exclusives so often completely false?
Matt Drudge went live today with another one of his easily-proven-false exclusives: Senate Environment and Public Works Committee staff were being encouraged not to read his website because pop-up ads were spreading viruses and malware that didn’t exist.
My friends at Raw Story went digging into it, and sure enough, the nonpartisan Senate staffers who sent out the network security alert were right, and Drudge was wrong. Sahil Kapur got a statement from the Senate Committee that in addition to Drudge, staff were also asked not to load WhitePages.com for a time (note to Matt: that is not a source of news for your race-baiting headlines). Apparently CNet also reported, “For the second time in less than six months, visitors to the Drudge Report say they got malware in addition to the Web site’s usual sensational headlines.” And when you consider that both Gawker Media and the New York Times got gulled by very sophisticated badvertising operations in the past calendar year, it’s really just not a stretch that Drudge’s display or pop-up ads would get hacked too.
But what’s so remarkable here is how often this happens. Drudge has a habit of peddling not just links to faulty or false stories, but exclusives that are fatally flawed on a level with the MemoGate scandal that ended Dan Rather’s broadcast television career. Yet there seems to be no accountability, or even memory. When Drudge busts out an exclusive, he’s parroted by his guardian angels in the right media with little if any grains of salt.
The classic example of this is the case of Ashley Todd, the McCain campaign volunteer in the Pittsburgh area who Drudge attempted to transform into a white martyr of Candidate Obama’s ways. Weeks before the November 2008 presidential election, Todd told police that she had been mugged by a black man who carved a ‘B’ for Barack Obama into her face. Of course, she made the whole thing up, and had actually carved the ‘B’ into her own face (backwards, one might add). Wonkette famously called her ‘Cut Nut,’ and she entered a probationary program and psychological counseling. Drudge was first on the scene.
Then I had my own case of ghostbusting Drudge. In April 2007, he exclusively reported that Michael Ware, a CNN reporter critical of the Iraq War, had disrupted a press conference given in Baghdad by Senator John McCain. Except I found video which proved he had not, and a colleague from another news outlet who later verified that Ware had failed to even ask a question during the presser. Matt didn’t correct his error. He just yanked the story from his site. Like it had never happened.
Drudge remains a top aggregator of news, but evidence emerges over and over again that whenever he tries to be a journalist and report original news, he’s often wrong – 100% your facts are backward wrong. And he doesn’t correct the record or admit that he was in error. And his traffic isn’t hurting because of it – 9 million-plus monthly visitors according to Quantcast.
So why is he so often wrong? Apparently because he can be. There’s no accountability in there. No fellow travelers on the right castigating him for spinning another yarn. No higher ups coming down hard and firing him when his big story blows up because it was pieced together without any ethical concern for facts. No advertisers pulling the plug because they fear being associated with a faulty, fact-lacking brand. Treading off of his big get 12 years ago that opened up the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Drudge keeps his audience no matter what he misreports, deliberately or not. And his exclusives rile up his core readers who will believe anything he posts and forget about it as they march on through the predictable course of their worldview.
This, alas, seems like the doleful future of media in some ways. Once you build an audience, it’s difficult for you to lose it, no matter what you do. And for this reason, the truth, and the reporting of truth, suffer.
But maybe there’s one thing to hope for: If the Drudge Report spreads enough viruses that its mysterious editor insists don’t exist, maybe people will stop going to his website.