Matt Drudge

Q & A at the Washington Press Club

delivered 2 June 1998

Audio mp3 of Address

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MR. HARBRECHT: Well, Matt, for our first question, let me ask you: How does it advance the cause of democracy and of social good to report unfounded allegations about individuals and the Neilsen ratings?

MR. DRUDGE: Well, that's a good question. I mean, I don't know specifically what you're referring to. You know, I have some -- there's different levels of journalism; I'll concede that. One of my competitors is Salon Magazine Online, who I understand is the president's favorite website. And there's a reporter there, Jonathan Broder. He was fired for plagiarism from the Chicago Tribune. And I read that in the Weekly Standard.

But do I believe it? Because as much as I love the Weekly Standard, they have had to settle a big one with Deepak Chopra, if I recall. I heard that from CNN. But hold on. Didn't CNN didn't have the little problem with Richard Jewell? I think Tom Brokaw told me that, and then I think Tom Brokaw also had to settle with Richard Jewell.

I read that in the Wall Street Journal. But didn't the Wall Street Journal just lose a huge libel case down in Texas, a record libel, $200-million worth of jury? I tell you, it's creative enough for an in-depth piece in The New Republic. But I fear people would think it was made up.

MR. HARBRECHT: Well, Matt, I wonder if you would define the difference between gossip and news, then, please.

MR. DRUDGE: Well, all truths begin as hearsay, as far as I'm concerned. And some of the best news stories start in gossip. Monica Lewinsky certainly was gossip in the beginning. I had heard it months before I printed it. I didn't really check it out. I knocked on Lewinsky's door. She wouldn't answer the door.

At what point does it become news? This is the undefinable thing in this current atmosphere, where every reporter will be operating out of their home with websites for free, as I do. I don't charge. It's a question I'm not prepared to answer, because a lot of the legitimate news cycles - the Associated Press, for example, will issue news alerts, a recent one being an anthrax scare in the Nevada desert, where a group was targeting the New York subways. AP news alert. Berserk. It went all the way to Janet Reno commenting. It turns out it wasn't true. I think that was some gossip.

MR. HARBRECHT: Let's talk a little bit about the Monica Lewinsky episode for a moment. I guess one could say you did "out" that story by reporting that Newsweek had reservations about reporting it. The story came out. The American people made a judgment, and Bill Clinton's approval ratings in the polls have gone up 20 points. People consistently tell pollsters they don't want to know this kind of information. They don't want to know this kind of stuff. And they blame the news media and they hate us even more. Would you comment on that?

MR. DRUDGE: Well, I disagree with the question. Ask Geraldo or Chris Matthews if the American people dislike it. Their ratings are doing quite well. I think they just expanded Matthews to two hours. I disagree with that. This is a story that's developing, that's serious. When I broke the story, I had it for four days to myself exclusively where I was reporting details, quite frankly, Newsweek didn't have at that point.

So I did some original reporting with that. I barricaded myself in the apartment. I was terrified, because from my Hollywood apartment a story of this magnitude was being born. I remember I teared up when I hit the "Enter" button on that one that might, because I said, "My life won't be the same after this." And it turned out to be right.

I think it's - as the front page of all the newspapers say, this thing is yet to be determined. I hope the American people will not let someone who has lied potentially in office stay in office. But that's our call. You know, we've been here before and we've made these decisions before. We're letting the court do it.

If you've noticed, the tapes have not been played in public, the portions of the tapes I have heard. And the people who are in possession of these tapes, I believe, are letting the courts take care of it. Some of the tapes are quite graphic in details I have heard that I ensure you will take up several news cycles once aired. So I would - I'm not convinced this thing is DOA or the American people have dismissed it as private life.

MR. HARBRECHT: Do you see your methods and your medium as controversial in and of themselves, or are they contributing to the degradation of serious or hard traditional journalism?

MR. DRUDGE: Well, you know, the editor of Civilization magazine, Adam Goodheart, wrote a great op-ed in the New York Times talking about "Is this really something new, this type of fast reporting, this competitive, very competitive" - I'm part of the headline generation. He maintains it was a going back to our foundations when the press was found in quite a different atmosphere, when the press would report that the president's mother was a common prostitute brought over by the British army. Imagine if someone did that now.

We have a great tradition of freedom of the press in this country, unpopular press. If the first lady is concerned about this Internet cycle, what would she have done during the heyday when there was 12, 13 editions of a paper in one day? What would she have done with that news cycle? That's the foundation. That's what makes this club great is the tradition. And I think we have a tradition of provocative press. And I maintain that I'm the new face on that. I'll take that for a season.

But a lot of the stuff I do is serious stuff. I was first to report that the encryption was missing from a Loral satellite, for example, a couple of weeks ago. I didn't see the main press reporting that one. So not everything I do is gossip or bedroom. To the contrary, I think that's just an easy label to dismiss me and to dismiss the new medium. But I'm excited about the launch of this Internet medium. And again, freedom of the press belongs to anyone who owns one.

MR. HARBRECHT: How much do you embroider or make up in your online items?

MR. DRUDGE: Now, which person here asked that question? Well, no one's raising their hands.

None. Everything I print from my apartment, everything I publish I believe to be true and accurate. I put my name on every single thing I write. No "Periscope" here. No "Washington Whispers" here. I put my name it; I'll answer to anything I write. I'll make mistakes. I'll retract them if I have to; apologizes for it; try to make it right. But as I've pointed out, the main organizations in this country have let us down every once in a while and end up in trouble with editors. So I don't maintain that an editor is salvation.

There won't be editors in the future with the Internet world, with citizen reporting just by the nature of it. That doesn't scare me. There's a notion that sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will kill me. I don't believe it. I get maligned every day on the news groups. I'm still standing. I still have a smile on my face.

It's just the nature of this new thing. I mean, if I get defamed from Egypt, what do I do? Do I go to the World Trade Organization and ask for relief? This is the world we're going to be facing shortly, and I don't know exactly what the courts are going to do with this dynamic. I'm not too anxious about it however.

MR. HARBRECHT: Aren't you coarsening the public discourse?

MR. DRUDGE: I hope not. You know, these questions are pretty tough, and I think if you directed this type of tough questioning to the White House, there'd be no need for someone like me, quite frankly. I have fun with what I do. A lot of it's smiles. A lot of it's "Look, Ma, I can dance." A lot of it's preempting other newspapers. I cover politicians the way the - I cover media people the way they cover politicians. I'm reporting Jeff Gerth may be breaking something in a couple of weeks, for example. That's fun stuff. That's a new paradigm. It's where the media is unchecked. It's where they're not the only game in town, where the media now is a guy with a 486 out in Hollywood. How did a story like Monica Lewinsky break out of a Hollywood apartment? What does that say about the Washington press corps? It just baffles me. I haven't come up with answers on that.

MR. HARBRECHT: I think Monica Lewinsky was from Hollywood, wasn't she? How many sources do you require before posting an item?

MR. DRUDGE: Well, a little more than Bob Woodward's "Deep Throat" from time to time. Sometimes I'll go with one person. The Loral worker who came forward and told me the encryption was missing from the satellite - the biggest nightmare scenario for defense types - I went with that one. I thought that was pretty solid. The guy seemed sincere.

What I do is a formula where I follow my conscience - and this is upsetting to some people - but I maintain the conscience is going to be the only thing between us and the communication in the future, now. And I'm very happy with my conscience.

If we're - if you're looking at me and thinking about the Blumenthal case, I retracted that story within 24 hours. Even though he was demanding sources, I apologized for it in the pages of the Washington Post. He called the apology "drivel" - this from the White House adviser.

And you know, I woke up to a very strange headline - "Clinton-Gore approved of filing libel suit." It's the first time in American history that a sitting president of the United States has approved a civil action against a reporter - in our history. Well, I guess they locked some people up before we were founded. There's a room down the hall dedicated in that spirit.

But this is -- this is something new. And as we go, I think I'll prove White House resources have been used to fight this litigation. Joe Lockhart, the deputy press secretary, admitted he called USA Today from the White House Press Office to complain about an op-ed that was favorable to me. Tax dollars at work.

MR. HARBRECHT: How many leaked stories do you get from mainstream journalists, and would you speculate on their motivation?

MR. DRUDGE: That's a good question, because what I've been doing lately is breaking news that's about to be broken, coverage of the coverage of the coverage. But that's where we are, since the media is so powerful. The media is comparable to government - probably passes government in raw power. A lot of the stories are internal. They leak it to me wanting to get attention, wanting to get that headline. More times than not, I will not give it to them. It has to get - has to raise my whiskers. It has to be a good headline. I'm a sucker for a good story. I go where the stink is. I'm a partisan for news. If you got a story, I'll be listening outside when we're done.

MR. HARBRECHT: All right, you've got your hat on, and you seem to emulate in your dress and advocate in your presentation the good old days of the tabloids of the '20s and '30s. But does populism equal consistently good journalism?

MR. DRUDGE: I'll have to ask Tom Brokaw that. I don't necessarily think a populist means you're out defaming people left and right. A populist press is a press that cares about the country. Most of my sources are concerned citizens, in and out of government, who don't like the direction of the White House Press Office, for example. Or quite frankly, a lot of the people on the Hill aren't quite forthcoming answering questions.

I reported a great story about a website that had been set up, had been registered "Friends of Al Gore PAC." The billing address they used for this PAC was 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Someone had registered a political action committee from the White House, using it as a billing address. This is a huge story. I had it exclusively. I guess mainstream press don't know how to work the Internet and get the information. This is an example of a populist press. It's very concerning. That, to me, was violating quite a few laws. They said someone in the office had set it up, and they were told to bring it down, and it wasn't - bring it down. They changed the address eventually. I looked up the address. It was a graveyard in Denver. That's a populist press to me.

MR. HARBRECHT: Matt, what types of stories would fall into the category that you would not publish?

MR. DRUDGE: Hmm. There's quite a few stories I don't publish that come my way. For instance, specific descriptions on these Lewinsky tapes of the presidential anatomy, I'm not reporting. I've had it, I've held it back. This, to me, composed quite an interesting dilemma on a world stage, quite frankly. That is an example that I don't think furthers the story.

That Phil Hartman may have met his wife through a prostitute doesn't necessarily interest me. I'm an advocate. I love public policy. Those are the type of stories that get me - get me typing. I also like to have fun. I like to do ratings and box office, just to show that it's not really about the product. It's more fun to talk about Godzilla than to watch it, for example. So I don't have one straight category of things I rule out. I tend not to do drugs, I tend not to do serious stuff that would upset people in private lives. That's probably my criterion of drawing the line, which I get a lot of it. I simply hit the "delete" and keep moving. I get 10,000 e-mails a day. There's - odds are there's another morsel at the next - the next [inaudible].

MR. HARBRECHT: Where does your money come from? Explain the economics of The Drudge Report. How do you make a living from a free website?

MR. DRUDGE: Richard Mellon Scaife is not my benefactor, if that's the question. I haven't made a penny off The Drudge Report. It's been free. For the four years I've been doing it now, the website is free. There's not advertising on it. It was a labor of love, it continues to be. I sell the column, I have sold the column, first to Wired magazine up in South Park, San Francisco, and now to - [audio interference] - and I've just been hired to do a TV show, made some money that way. But I didn't get into this for money. And in the early days of newspapers, no one made any money, or radio, either. If that's the motivation, I just sit back and laugh when, for instance, a Slate starts charging. I'm not sure where their - [audio interference] - but that's how I make my money. Not much. I'm - still wear the same beat-up shoes I've had since the day I started this, still walk the same streets. So, that's -- I think this is not a cash medium yet. There's probably quite a few people making money on the hype of it, but the actual application of it? Don't quite see it yet.

MR. HARBRECHT: I just have to call this to attention, because it's something that used to drive people crazy about Richard Nixon [?], and you just did it, which is you threw out a sort of a juicy little tidbit about Phil Hartman here, saying, "but I don't really - I don't really have any interest in that kind of thing," when in fact that's exactly what is on your website all the time. And I call attention to it, because that's exactly the kind of thing that I think infuriates journalists about what you do. I wonder if you could comment.

MR. DRUDGE: Would you care to give me another example? I did not report the Phil Hartman thing on my website. Another example could help me.

MR. HARBRECHT: Well, you just threw out, as you throw out things on your website all the time. And it was - it was just put out there with no corroboration. Who - who reported that?

MR. DRUDGE: I think one of the syndicated magazines just reported that. But my question is, again, what headline on my website would you call in that category?

MR. HARBRECHT: Okay. Fair enough. Could you - could you succeed as a journalist, if you worked for an organization which required an accuracy rate of 100 percent, instead of 70 or 80 percent?

MR. DRUDGE: I don't know what organization that would be. I once gave a quote - you know, I do a lot of predictions. I have The Truman Show making $300 million. I once gave a quote that "Oh, I guess I'm 80 percent accurate, the body of my work." Newsweek magazine, and then Karen Breslau, who I happened to see in the courtroom - in the courthouse hallways - she's on the pay phone, she says, "Oh, Matt Drudge, my name's Karen Breslau." "Oh, I know you. You're the one who made up a quote on me."

She - she reported Drudge is going to have trouble with his lawsuit, because his - he claims his sources are, quote, "Eighty percent reliable." I've never talked about the reliability of my sources. I said "Karen, you made that up!" She shrugged her shoulders: "Whatever."

This is - this is mainstream press, this is - these are the - the - that bothers me. Recently, after the White House Correspondents' Dinner, I was walking down Connecticut Avenue with the top editor at one of these national magazines. And he was trying to get one of my pals to give him more information on some story that the pal has some information on.

And the pal said, "No, no. You haven't been very good on conservative things," to the editor of the magazine. "I don't think I'm going to help you. You know, you - you just take - you take, you know, stories and print them, and they hurt conservatives." The editor of this magazine, which I won't name, says, "We just take what they give us."

Now, if this is the standard - if this is the skyscraper up on Sixth Avenue that I want to dream about, I'd rather stay in my dirty Hollywood apartment. I just don't take what people give me. I tend to at least try to frame it with an angle that would consider both sides - provocative stuff.

MR. HARBRECHT: Why then don't you always call both sides when you report something?

MR. DRUDGE: I make it a point to call both sides. Unfortunately Mike McCurry is not taking my calls anymore. It's just absolutely amazing that he - the White House has now refused all comment on anything I'm reporting, whether it be Betty Currie on vacation, so I have been told, on some of the days Lewinsky was checking in to see her. No comment. "We won't comment, it's based on that dirty source." They did this with the Kathleen Willey story - no comment. Anything I do. Al Gore is setting up a PAC - someone for Al Gore is setting up a PAC with a White House - no comment. Where is that coming from? George Stephanopoulos: "We've seen how discredited The Drudge Report is." That kind of stuff just rubs me the wrong way - and at their own peril - no comment.

MR. HARBRECHT: For someone who has been attacked by the mainstream press, your website provides easy links to all the establishment media. Why do you do that?

MR. DRUDGE: Well, because it's - to me it's - I started it with a place where readers could keep up - links to the various columnists. The links I have on my website I declare to be the most interesting people working in the business - all up and down - left, right and middle - I love to feature them. It's just a click away. You don't have to go through the front page - you go right to the column. A click away, you go to the AP Washington File - up to the minute.

I started it as a lark. It built itself after I started collecting these names on the website. And it certainly has changed the way things are done - for the pedestrian anyway. And I've been told quite a few people are reading it - from the top level in government down - for access - for quick access, unfiltered access - a click to Helen Thomas's latest column, reintroducing a whole new generation to wire services and columnists - I love them all. So I don't consider myself an enemy of the press whatsoever, but I do consider myself to be an untrained D student who happened to get lucky, but who happens to know a few things, and he has now has the ability to shout down the street, "Extra, Extra, This Just In."

MR. HARBRECHT: What advice would you give to others, such as Jennycam, who claim - who are out to find fame through the Internet?

MR. DRUDGE: Well, you know, fame for fame's sake is - you know, always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And you have to give them something they haven't heard. There has to be a reason they'll come to your website. If it's just made-up fantasies, why bother? You know, if I'm so bad and if I'm so useless and I'm just a gossip hound, why was Sidney Blumenthal reading me the night before his first day at the White House? I don't quite understand that. It seems to me I'd spend my time over at the New York Times, who gets everything right. Advice is to follow your heart and to do what you love. And I certainly am doing what I love. Again, I wrote The Drudge Report for one reader for a while - a couple of readers - 5, 10, 15 readers. I had a thousand - the first couple of months I thought, oh, that peaked that out. Again, I'm up to these millions I never thought I'd see. And with the advent of Web TV and cable modems, I don't know where this is going. Sixty million readers? What is civilization going to do with the ability of one citizen - without advertisers, without an editor - to broadcast to that wide group of people? The first lady says we need to rethink it. I say we need to embrace it. And it will take care of itself - it always has. It will get evened out.

MR. HARBRECHT: Here's a question that just came up. With all due respect, in the past half hour you have been inaccurate 8 to 10 times - about history, government, the media. You said there were no suits approved by a president, no profits in early newspaper and radio. Do you think journalists should have any minimum educational requirements?

MR. DRUDGE: Hmm, I've done - I guess I'm going to the wrong libraries, because I can't find any lawsuit - civil lawsuit approved by the president of the United States against a reporter. I can't find it. I'd like to have that information for my litigation - put it in the court papers.

Again, I don't maintain that I am licensed or have credentials. I created my own. I don't know what the problem is with that. It seems to me the more freedoms we have the better off we are. And you know I don't have a problem with chaos and new invention and confusion. I'm sure in the early days of electricity it was absolutely chaotic. The early days of cars the horse farmers probably said, "What are those things?" It's not where I come from. I come from a much more of an optimistic knowing liberty and freedom is the right way to go, knowing a new invention is afoot that is going to realize things beyond anything we dreamed of. I'm not that scared of it. But then again I'm not in elected office. You know, the president, the Congress, take this personally. They're just the first to come through this Internet era. The person that sits in the Oval Office next will get my undivided attention.

MR. HARBRECHT: Are journalists obsolete who fail to include their e-mail addresses in their columns?

MR. DRUDGE: Well, you know, I'm getting so - that's a hit or miss. I mean, I would advise interaction, simply because you'll never know what you'll learn by offering an e-mail address. As I said in the speech, you'd be surprised what the average guy knows. Some of my best sources have turned out to be people who happened to be in the room that shouldn't have been in the room but who have come forward. I would provide as much contact with the public as you can. Again, I'm getting so much e-mail now I can't possibly read it. So it's a mixed blessing. But I would try to be as open as you can and offer an e-mail address - most of them do. I have correspondence with the top newspaper reporters in the business through e-mail, and it's a fun relationship - it's better than the phone. You could be doing other things at the same time.

MR. HARBRECHT: There were two recent episodes in our business where stories in the reporting of the Monica Lewinsky case, where newspapers put out pre-published stories online that turned out to be half-baked, frankly. Do you foresee a separation of media practices where future journalists accept more your style and methods, or accept the methods of appropriate journalism?

MR. DRUDGE: Appropriate? I guess you're referring to the Dallas Morning News story and the Wall Street Journal story. Mistakes are made. Mistakes are made all the time. I am not that alarmed by these mistakes. I think they tend to correct themselves. Just because they're on the Internet doesn't mean they're less powerful, say, than if they are broadcast on CBS. I don't distinguish it. I don't think the rush to publish is any different than the rush to get it ready for the evening news. It's the same kind of rush. It's our history. Think about the Philadelphia newspaper that had 12 editions a day. What was that rush like? Probably a lot of sloppy stuff. But this is the kind of tradition we have. It's kind of sloppy. And, again, I don't advocate being sloppy, but that is our roots.

I have been doing some research on a book I'm writing - I hope to write - on populist journalism, and incredible history of reporting - quickly, fast, going up down the streets, screaming, "Extra, extra."

The problem I'm seeing immediately is if other Drudge Reports pop up - and they will - it is romantic to have one person running down the street screaming "Extra, extra," but if you have a thousand it could start looking like an insane asylum. So if indeed we start having tens of thousands of people all reporting news, hundreds of channels reporting news, all the different cable channels - click, click, click - I think people will grow disinterested. But again, they'll rally around something else. So I leave this to the free marketplace. Every reader I have comes to me. I've never placed an ad. They read me because they want to. The vice president will log on, hit my website because he wants to, et cetera.

MR. HARBRECHT: Since when is the rationalization "We've always been sloppy" a justification for tarnishing a great institution? Does the right of every citizen to shout, "Extra, extra, this just in," outweigh maintaining a professional ethic of journalism?

MR. DRUDGE: Professional. You see, the thing is you are throwing these words at me that I can't defend, because I'm not a professional journalist. I am not paid by anyone. So you are shutting the door in my face again, and I don't quite understand what that's about, because that is not the facts. I can print something without an editor. This is where we are now. I don't know exactly why that's so scary. I again put my name on everything I write, unlike a few other columnists in this room.

If I am here to defend what I am writing, why isn't that enough? Why isn't that enough as a freedom of press, the freedom of speech, to carry water? I think it is. I just don't throw out reckless stuff at all. I do great pains. There's been plenty of stories I have killed with problems attached to them. So I just don't buy that argument.

MR. HARBRECHT: One more time: Where do you receive your funding? I wonder if you could address that one more time please.

MR. DRUDGE: It's not Richard Mellon Scaife. I had some money saved up from my gift shop days at CBS - a late bloomer. I have a small apartment, $600 a month rent. I drive a Metro Geo. I take the A Train sometimes when I'm coming out of New York to the airport. I don't need much money to do a start-up business like this. Anyone for any reason can launch a website - little or no money - Internet connection, local phone. The modem lets you cover the world. The modem lets you read what's happening if there is an earthquake in Alaska seconds after it happens. I think that's fun and dramatic - for free - by a medium that was built by taxpayer money. So perfectly realized. And, again, let the future begin.

MR. HARBRECHT: Matt, thank you for coming into the lion's den today. I have a certificate of appreciation for you speaking at the National Press Club; "Reliable Sources," which is our 90th anniversary history of the National Press Club till the end, till the end; and our chalice, the National Press Club mug.

MR. DRUDGE: Thank you.

MR. HARBRECHT: For our final question today, what is the biggest mistake you have made so far?

MR. DRUDGE: That's a really good question. I've made a few mistakes. Ever doubting my ability was my biggest mistake, because in the beginning I didn't think much that I had the right to report things. But I was wrong. Boy, was I wrong.

Whenever I tend to think, you know, "Oh, I probably shouldn't be reporting on the president of the United States, respect the office." I respect the office so much I want to cover it. And you know I maintain who is telling more truth this summer, me or the president of the United States? So I don't have many regrets. I don't have many regrets. I don't have many regrets in that area, except for doubting that this was my God-given right and as an American citizen, and embracing it, and saying liberty is just wonderful, thanks to the people who have come before me who have stood up for it. And thank you.

MR. HARBRECHT: I'd like to thank you for coming today, Mr. Drudge.

MR. DRUDGE: Sure.

MR. HARBRECHT: I'd also like to thank National Press Club staff members Kate Goggin, Joanne Booze, Pat Nelson, Melanie Abdow-Dermott and Howard Rothman for organizing today's lunch. I hope you all enjoyed it. Thank you very much for coming.


Book/CDs by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Published by McGraw-Hill (2008)

Also in this database: Matt Drudge - Speech to the Washington Press Club

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