Dredging Up Drudge Satire: Ex-Maryland cyber-slinger's mud on the president and others has made him a Web celeb. But let's dig deeper.

January 28, 1998|By ROB HIAASEN | ROB HIAASEN,SUN STAFF Sun staff researcher Jean Packard contributed to this page.

In the world according to Takoma Park's Matt Drudge, truth is better and faster than fiction, and three-fourths truths are the best.

"My stories are about 80 percent accurate," cyber celeb Drudge has said. "I get antsy when people take my stuff seriously," he told "Nightline's" Ted Koppel earlier this month.

Well, Matt, the nation is antsy over your e-mail scoop this month. The Drudge Report, his flashy Internet newsletter, first spilled the bytes about former White House intern Monica Lewinsky claiming she had an affair with current White House president Bill Clinton. As we all know now, independent counsel Kenneth Starr is investigating Lewinsky's story in connection with some real estate deal in Arkansas. There's talk of immunity, impeachment and dresses and denials.

And to think Matt Drudge, a D student from a Maryland high school, had it first on his Hollywood-based digital gossip column.

Who is this downloading dude?

For starters, this self-proclaimed computer geek with the fedora looks more like the old Brody character on "Homicide" than he resembles some Edward R. Murrow cyborg. Drudge, 31, has no journalism or business experience, which has promptly led him to a successful business in cyber-pseudo-journalism.

"Moved when circumstances warrant," the Drudge Report attracts a "reported" 50,000 readers any given hour. Drudge receives about 800 e-mail messages a day, so it's no surprise Drudge hasn't returned our snappy e-mail.

Well, Cyber Boy, two can play at this game. We are proud to debut "The Dredge Report" (at right) on this obsolete, slow-footed thing called a newspaper. But readers be warned, this report is about 80 percent accurate.

THE DREDGE REPORT

(Copyright 1998, R. Hiaasen, a B-plus student in high school)

**** WORLD EXCLUSIVE ****

"Drudge Gate '98"

(must credit The Dredge Report)

As a service to our new readers, "The Dredge Report" has dredged up what we in the business call "facts" about Matt Drudge. In dredging up facts, we also stumbled upon "errors," which will also be published. We are not in the business of letting our informants' work go to waste!

To be fair (a quaint notion), Drudge has been pretty darn accurate pretty much some of the time. Over its three years of patriotic service, the Drudge Report has been the first to report: Connie Chung's firing at CBS; Jerry Seinfeld demanding $1 million an episode; Jack Kemp's vice presidential nomination; and the Monica Lewinsky affair.

But Drudge inaccurately reported actor Tom Cruise's sperm count (off by about 1.2 million). He has also spread the word that Paula Jones saw a bald-eagle tattoo during her alleged encounter with President Clinton. In truth, the tattoo is a tasteful depiction of the McDonald's golden arches.

And we should mention the Blumenthal Blunder. "My bad," as Drudge would say.

Last year, Drudge said on the World Wide Web that Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal had "a spousal abuse past." Drudge then wrote what we in the business call a "correction." Blumenthal then filed what is called a "lawsuit." Rattled by his error, Drudge managed to regroup enough to be the subject of a flattering interview in Vanity Fair. He's got a book deal or two brewing, too.

Drudge is a self-avowed conservative who's "Clinton crazy." He drives a Geo Metro and lives with two cats. Unmarried, Drudge works in his boxer shirts, wears horn-rimmed glasses and rarely ventures from his computer compound at Hollywood and Vine. Now there's a dashing image.

Drudge's father is a social worker in Washington; his mother, lawyer. Drudge - which means a person who does hard, menial, or tedious work - is truly his last name. After nearly failing high school, Drudge worked in a Washington grocery store ("Produce can be very boring," he says). After he moved to California in the mid-1980s, Drudge's father bought him a $1,500 Packard Bell PC.

Empowered, Drudge left his $30,000-a-year job at the CBS gift shop in Hollywood, and began devoting his time to trading cyber gossip. To hone his investigative skills, Drudge looked through trash cans at CBS and lifted internal memos and stuff. Drudge's hero is Walter Winchell - the radio and print gossip king of the 1920s and '30s. This explains the fedora.

One crumb of gossip led to a whole loaf and the Drudge Report was in business. How does he do it? What makes Drudge click? In his own words, let's look inside one of the great, sophisticated computer minds of this waning century:

* "I don't have an editor. I write whatever I want and 50,000-plus readers will see it within an hour."

* "I've always been a media pig."

* "The stuff I work on I believe are true when I'm writing it."

* "I think I have an incredible level of credibility."

* "They can't shut me up. What will they do? Unplug my mouse?"

In a *World Exclusive*, "The Dredge Report" has learned that Drudge has learned many more secret stories. At the risk (oh, who cares?) of scooping the scooper, here are the stories Drudge is working on:

* President John Kennedy was killed by a lone assassin named Sidney Blumenthal.

* Kevin Costner's "The Postman" will set box office records.

* A DNA trail has linked ABC's Cokie Roberts to Motown legend Smokey Robinson. Well-connected sources say Newsweek is sitting on the "Smokey-Cokie Scandal" until a few, itsy-bitsy facts are checked.

* The Drudge Report will report that Al Gore is "strongly considering" a presidential bid. Al Gore's running mate will be Sidney Blumenthal.

For our part, "The Dredge Report" has exclusively learned that Matt Drudge of Takoma Park will become one rich computer geek.

And that, as we say in the business, is a fact.

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