It's a Drudge World, After All by Steve Silberman 4:00am 23.Jan.98.PST Drudge, Drudge, Drudge. One can only imagine the particular kind of loathing the Dickensian music of that name must inspire in White House staffers by now. Sure, the Lewinsky scoop was all-but-bursting out everywhere before Matt Drudge published the allegations to his Drudge Report Web site and mailing list. Newsweek had it and fumbled it; the scandal was all over Washington. But one more time, it was Drudge - a walking caricature of the pale, oddly accoutered, obsessively plugged-in Net geek - who broke the story. And if Clinton goes down for this, Drudge will deserve the footnote. It's nearly forgotten history by now, but in the earliest incarnation of Wired News, Matt Drudge was a regular columnist. I hated his column. To run the Drudge Report on our nascent news service seemed, to me, to drag-and-drop the ugliest aspects of print journalism into the new medium. Drudge - with his tabloid mentality, his Hollywood datelines, his smarmy scandalmongering about old-media mega-celebrities like Madonna. Drudge - the self-styled "conservative" in a cartoon of a Walter Winchell hat. Drudge - with his mawkish hyperbole ("executives were running up and down 6th Avenue nearly screaming the news" of Ellen's coming-out ratings," he reported), his cracked crystal ball (Drudge's "veteran" source predicted that the shot of Dirk Diggler's mammoth penis would be chopped out of the final edit of Boogie Nights), and his endless self-serving citing of deep-throat sources ("top intelligence has the unedited tape..."). Worst of all, when I asked him why Wired News - his new employer - wasn't linked on his high-traffic Web page, he said, "Because I don't read Wired News. I only put links I use." (I had already figured out that Drudge didn't read us when I introduced myself - having bylined a story a day here for a couple of months - and he gave me one of those nonplussed, am-I-supposed-to-know-you? looks.) I was impressed by his honesty, but I still felt superior. I predicted that Matt Drudge's brand of reportage wouldn't fit in with the noble Wired News vision, and that his byline would soon disappear from our site. When he signed a distribution deal with AOL, it did. And then, of course, Drudge became a household word - at least around the White House. Dontcha just hate that? What I didn't realize was that Matt Drudge wasn't some kind of perverse, Net-irradiated mutation of an old-media meme: Entertainment Tonight crossed with the Weekly World News on methedrine. Drudge was the Internet - a walking homunculus of alt.fan-dom, conspiracy sniffing, and "unofficial" celeb-dish Web sites. Matt Drudge was the future, an embodiment of a frantic, redundantly networked world in which everyone knows everything at once - even things that aren't true. In Drudge's world, which is our world now, the act of uncovering what was formerly hidden - of getting the skinny, routing around bureaucratic firewalls, defying the spin-doctors to tap the loose-lipped confidant - is paramount. Second to the act of uncovering the dirt is the enthusiasm to spread it around. Garbage in, garbage out - and as quickly as possible. The velocity is largely the point. Living on hyper-instant time Drudge calls his product "hyper-instant news," news for those (like me) who spend hours a day online, who can't wait for their email programs to tick through another intake cycle. Control-M, control-M, control-M. After all, you might miss something, or - horrors - have to learn about it from one of those talking heads on CNN. "Ohmygod, So-and-So died!" I shout several times week in the newsroom, scanning the wires, or the Well. Immediately the appropriately aggrieved battery of email goes out, widely cc'd. What's the rush? So-and-So will most likely still be dead by the time an announcement is made on the radio. But I want my friends to hear it from me. What are they supposed to say? "Hey, did you hear So-and-So died? And boy, that Steve guy must really be well-connected." There was a great moment in one of Drudge's columns last March, when he was describing the chain of events triggered by another of Clinton's falls - this one, down golfer Greg Norman's steps. After the initial news flash, Drudge wrote, "There was a 26-minute void when nothing else was known." 26 minutes? On hyper-instant time, that's an eternity. Control-M: Still nothing more on that fall? When Allen Ginsberg was diagnosed with liver cancer last spring, I sat by a fax machine waiting for the press release from Allen's office that would grant me permission to break the sad news to the world. I had my piece already half-written and up on my screen, ready to be fired off to my editor as soon as the fax came through. As the slick paper eased through the machine, I felt a rush: Wired News was going to beat AP, UPI, CNN, and the Times, and I'd grab my own little footnote in Beat history. The only thing queering my buzz was that I'd loved Allen as a teacher and friend for 20 years, and I knew that every moment the world was aware of the poet's fatal illness was another moment when his phone would be ringing off the hook. No time for sentiment - this was news! Anybody's dossier In an interview with scholar James McKenzie 24 years ago, Ginsberg pondered how the spread of government corruption, and the extent of surveillance of private citizens by the CIA, the FBI, and the NSA in the name of enforcing drug laws, could be accurately "diagnosed." "Where's the X-ray machine for that?" the interviewer asked. "Well," the poet replied, "the X-ray machine is, you have to get access to all the computer material, find out who's on the computers, and see everybody's files. ... I think rather than attempting to destroy the computers and files, there should be a move to make all that information public, to open up the libraries of dossiers on everybody, so that anybody can see anybody's dossier - which means that not only can Nixon read my dossier, but I can read his." In a way, Ginsberg was describing the world we ended up with - Matt Drudge's world. And the corruption? The surveillance? Even Drudge's "top intelligence" agents may never root out the sources of those cancers in the body politic. But until then, we have Monica Lewinsky to talk about. Copyright 1993-97 Wired Ventures Inc. and affiliated companies. All rights reserved.
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