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Drudge Report Report
Jan 23, 1998 :: Luke Seemann


Last week, Ken Bode, host of PBS' "Washington Week in Review," gave The Daily Northwestern his first interview as the new dean of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism.

One of his goals, he said, is molding a generation of responsible online journalists, not "Matt Drudge-inspired rumor mills who think 'widely rumored' is valid attribution."

Drudge is an Internet muckraker in Hollywood who has never attended a day of journalism school. But for several years he's made a name for himself with the Drudge Report, an online newsletter of juicy political and entertainment news. Trophies of his include being the first to report Connie Chung's firing at CBS and Jack Kemp's vice presidential nomination

He's also being sued for libel by a Clinton aide, who Drudge had reported was accused of wife-beating. Drudge claims to have been set up by Clinton's staff, but TV talking heads, including Bode now, have used the suit to ridicule Drudge.

Saturday night, less than four days after Bode's comments, Drudge sent out the mother of all Drudge Reports: "Newsweek kills story on White House intern." The dispatch reported that an intern at the White House had claimed an affair with the President and that Newsweek elected not to break the story.

But for the next three days, Drudge continued to send out updates, including, Sunday night, a copy of the intern's resume.

Meanwhile, former White House staffer George Stephanopoulos appeared on ABC's "The Week Rewind," and, rather than denying the allegations, dismissed them completely, simply because they had been reported by Drudge.

And White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry continued his policy of answering absolutely no questions about The Drudge Report. "I've heard calling it a report is too generous," he quipped.

Finally, late Tuesday night, a full 72 hours after Drudge's scoop, The Washington Post broke the story for the mainstream media.

The Washington Post reported essentially the same information as The Drudge Report, plus a few soundbites from major players.

Both publications also the same number of sources in their breaks: none. "Sources said" instead of "widely rumored," though.

But The Washington Post was taken seriously. Media swarmed in. Subpoenas flew. The President appeared on public radio and television to profess his innocence.

But because it was on the Internet and because it used unnamed sources, The Drudge Report caused no public sensation.

The Washington Post, of course, is the paper that busted open Watergate. It's also the paper that once won a Pulitzer in 1981 for a "story" that a reporter had completely fabricated.

A full 72 hours. In Internet-years, that's about five months. By either count, an eternity in not just today's media, but in this century's. And the delay reproves a pet theory of mine: If it's not in print, it doesn't count.

Source or no source.

-- Luke Seemann is an irregular contributor to He was once a White House intern, and is currently responsible for Stubb ex Machina.



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