“What happened to Drudge?”A lot of people have been asking that question lately. If you talk to conservatives these days, you’ll hear that Matt Drudge’s eponymous news aggregation site has gone over to the dark side—that Matt’s joined the anti-Trump resistance. And now, Rasmussen Reports, an arguably reputable polling operation, is calling Drudge out on Twitter, even suggesting that the site has been sold.
The whole kerfuffle appears to have begun at the end of November, when the Bongino Report, touted as a Trump-friendly alternative to Drudge, launched. Bongino taunted Drudge with a pair of tweets:
Rasmussen heralded Bongino’s announcement, retweeting a now-deleted post from the Drudge Report account blasting the new site.
Then on Saturday, Citizen Free Press, another conservative news aggregator, announced on Twitter that they’re the “new Drudge Report.” Rasmussen responded with a bombshell worthy of a great big Drudge siren: “We don’t think Matt is there anymore, CFP. Word is he sold, just waiting for confirmation. Now that will be a story.”
The barbs from Rasmussen kept coming throughout the weekend, with Rasmussen alternately praising Drudge for going the extra mile to promote polls that surveyed “likely voters” to pleas of “we miss you, Matt.” The whole Rasmussen feed reads like a jilted lover weeping over unrequited love. Or weeping over lost Drudge links and the pageviews they bring. (Make no mistake: the traffic a coveted Drudge link generates can make a website’s week — or month or year.)
On Sunday night, whoever is running Rasmussen’s Twitter feed backtracked a bit on the suggestion that the site has been sold but doubled down on their assertion that Matt Drudge is no longer running the site: “We have no special knowledge of why The Drudge Report has changed so noticeably. But it has. Today we published 3 short ‘Backstory’ Tweets highlighting why we believe Mr. Drudge is no longer managing the site. See our timeline for all 3.”
So what’s going on? Anyone who’s been following Drudge for the last 25 years (!) has noticed an editorial shift at the site over the last year or so, with the aggregator regularly dropping the hammer on Trump, focusing on negative news about the president—especially as it relates to the Meuller report and impeachment proceedings—and increasingly linking to mainstream media outlets.
Last fall, when I included the Drudge Report in my “Top Conservative Websites” list, the comments section filled up with sentiments like this:
- Drudge has turned. Conservativism is right, true, correct and need never apologize. Wishy, washy tweeters need not apply.
- Drudge? This surprised me because Matt is only using liberal sites for his “news.” Liberty Daily is the only conservative game in town for agragators [sic].
- As conservative you know PJ can’t be trusted more so when Drudge listed as #1. Drudge has been a far left liberal site for the last year if not longer.
- Drudge is NOT a conservative site. He sold out to “the clicks” back around the time Messiah Obama was inaugurated. He’s rooting on Mueller and praying for an economic downturn (at least according to the items he links).
- Drudge? Conservative? Sold out, really. Phoning it in, misspellings, weird emphasis on Las Vegas news (does he live there?) I try not to check it, but it’s informative to see what narratives are being promoted to the mainstream.
While it’s fair to say that Trump supporters by and large don’t have a lot of tolerance for criticism of the president, their complaints about Drudge are not unfounded. Drudge has for more than a decade driven the media narrative on the right. What Drudge talks about Rush talks about… and Hannity and Levin and Bongino and everyone else in the right-leaning media. While to the untrained eye it may seem to be a scattershot of links plastered on a plain black and white page, the placement of the links and the framing of headlines reveal a sophisticated editorial point of view. It’s not like Drudge doesn’t cover positive news about Trump — this snapshot of the site on January 15 is just one of many examples I found on the Wayback Machine:
But Drudge has been especially keen in recent months to link to stories from left-wing MSM outlets that reflect poorly on President Trump in favor of… well, now, that’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?
BuzzFeed reported in August that Drudge changed horses in mid-2019, hiring a new ad vendor for the first time in 20 years, leading to speculation that Matt was selling out his principles for piles of cash — hoping to expand his base by attracting left-wing readers and respect from the MSM elites. Or something. While that’s possible, the site was raking in plenty of cash before the change, with revenue estimates ranging from $9 million a year to $30 million.
According to a Daily Beast report last month (citing unnamed “sources,” because that’s how they roll), Trump has been complaining about Drudge:
“What’s going on with Drudge?” Trump has been asking allies since Democratic lawmakers launched the impeachment probe in late September, according to a person with knowledge of his private remarks. Two other sources who’ve heard the president complain told The Daily Beast that Trump has asked those close to him why they think Drudge and his website have seemed “so anti-Trump” lately.
In recent weeks, Trump has even asked Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and a top White House official—who has had a friendly relationship with the site’s creator—to “look into it” and reach out to Drudge, the sources said.
Plausible, but is it true? Who knows, it’s the left-wing Daily Beast with their unnamed sources, so take it with a grain of salt. Drudge arguably helped push Trump across the finish line in 2016, driving the media narrative and rallying the troops to get him elected, so no one would blame the president for being a little salty about the turn of events at Drudge.
While Drudge may very well have made a turn to the left (or is holding some grudge against Trump) it’s just as likely that Matt is doing what he does best: playing the provocateur and stirring the pot. He’s always struck me as someone who, rather than being a hardened ideologue, enjoys the chaos and volatility of the political process and the power that comes with driving the news cycle. It would not surprise me one bit if he were to turn back to Trump in the lead-up to the 2020 election — for the lulz, as the kids say.
If that’s the case, he may have overplayed his hand this time: He may not be able to earn back the trust of Trump supporters who feel betrayed that Drudge appears to have joined the resistance now. The very readers who made him a very wealthy man are now turning to other aggregators for their news. While it’s doubtful any of those sites will be able to have anywhere near the success and influence the Drudge Report has enjoyed, lost readers mean lost revenue, and breaking trust with your faithful readers — even if it’s just for kicks and giggles — can backfire big time.
Keep an eye on President Trump’s Twitter feed this week—and get some corn popping.
(HT: Adam Ford at Disrn)
Follow me on Twitter @pbolyard