“Why aren’t we seeing Hillary’s lovers?” Matt Drudge demanded.
“It’s a good question,” Alex Jones agreed.
“Excuse me,” Drudge rejoined, “where’s the cover-up on this? So many issues that are being suppressed on a daily basis!”
And so, granting his first extensive interview in perhaps a decade, the reclusive impresario of The Drudge Report paid a surprise visit this week to the Austin, Texas, radio and television studio of America’s most prominent anti-government conspiracy theorist—Alex Jones being the human embodiment of what historian Richard Hofstadter memorably called “the paranoid style in American politics.”
The 48-year-old Drudge apparently wasn’t even expected, showing up at Jones’s doorstep without an appointment; Jones seemed genuinely shocked by the visit, joking to his two million fans that he might even have heart attack. After all, the two had never met before.
A multimillionaire from his pioneering labors as the planet’s most popular practitioner—and inventor—of news-and-opinion aggregation in cyberspace, Drudge hardly ever appears in public despite his influence over the political Zeitgeist.
He’s the Greta Garbo of the Web.
Thus he resisted Jones’s entreaties to show his face on camera, boasting that hasn’t allowed his photo to be taken in eight years, and instead (as an indulgent Jones informed viewers and listeners) conversed with the radio/television host, unseen “in the shadows,” using a hand-held microphone.
Yet Drudge’s disembodied voice passionately shared his bleakest thoughts about the corporatization of the Internet, the alleged sickness of the American electorate, the dystopian reality of the news business and its complicity in the erosion of individual freedom—and, of course, the alarming prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency.
“You’ve got to be the greatest you can be! Now! Now! Before this country is so completely altered that we’re left with Hillary’s brain in the Oval Office in a jar!” Drudge fairly shouted. “That’s what we’re getting! She’s old and she’s sick! She’s not a contender!”
Speaking with evangelical fervor, Drudge went on: “They’re making her a contender with these propped-up Saturday Night Live things! It’s like a head on a stick!…She is not a viable, vibrant leader of this country of, including illegals, 380 million Americans”—a population estimate, like Drudge’s tone, hyperbolic in the extreme (officially, it’s fewer than 320 million). “So the media is trying to put us to sleep.”
Drudge—whom then-president Bill Clinton nicknamed “Sludge” in the late 1990s—has been a bête noire of the Clintons and their acolytes ever since he revealed (by scooping Newsweek on its own story, which magazine had initially declined to publish) that Bill had been cavorting with a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky.
Even before that, Drudge had established himself as a Clinton White House enemy by posting a libelous (and, needless to say, erroneous) claim that incoming presidential aide Sidney Blumenthal beat his wife—which resulted in Blumenthal suing Drudge, with robust support from administration officials.
“I’ve got a long history with these people,” Drudge told Jones. “They’re ugly. They play dirty. They sued me for $30 million last time around—a civil suit that was announced by the press secretary at the White House.”
He continued: “Hillary Clinton with the NSA? Good luck if you dissent! Snowden, I’ll switch places with you! You can come over here and rot in Hell—because that’s what it’s going to be.”
Drudge added: “I’m very pessimistic on this [presidential] race, because I’m not so sure it’s not gonna end up with the dreaded brain in the jar in the Oval Office once known as Hillary Clinton—who is hypothyroid. Anybody who is 70 years old, who is hypothyroid, you do not elect president, ladies and gentlemen! You don’t do it!”
While Drudge’s claim to medical expertise is less than persuasive—and the former secretary of state, who is campaigning energetically, was recently pronounced healthy—his genius (make that mad genius) is undeniable.
Self-taught and self-created, Drudge has long been recognized as visionary, albeit a decidedly quirky one.
He grew up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., and never graduated college. It wasn’t all that long ago, back in the early 90s, that he was toiling as a store clerk in the gift shop of the CBS studios in Los Angeles.
He launched his bare-bones web site in 1993, spicing it up with entertainment industry gossip, much of it from memos fished out of trashcans.
By the time I got to know him, in the late 1990s, Drudge was already notorious—and burnished his brand and celebrity by wearing a distinctive straw boater in various public venues ranging from the Vanity Fair Oscar party at Morton’s restaurant in Beverly Hills to the White House Correspondents Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton.
We were friendly when I was writing a gossip column at The Washington Post and the New York Daily News, regularly instant-messaging each other and occasionally getting together for lunch in Washington, New York and ultimately Miami, where prosperity—and his wish to avoid state income taxes—led him to a high-rise condo, and eventually a lovely house in a posh Miami neighborhood.
He was fun, always offering an original and occasionally implausible take on the news of the day; he was seemingly unaffected by the brilliant company he had started to keep—dinner parties at Rush Limbaugh’s Palm Beach estate, drinks with Harvey Weinstein in London, invitations to cocktails at Elisabeth Murdoch’s, and at least one meal at Patsy’s in Manhattan with then-Vice President Dick Cheney.
I recall Drudge once proudly refused George Clooney’s request to use an image of the Drudge Report for Clooney’s short-lived satirical HBO series about the nation’s capital, K Street—immune to the Hollywood star’s celebrated charms. “No means no, George!” he barked at Clooney over the phone.
Although Drudge seems to identify as a pro-life libertarian—and his web site plays a significant role in the Republican cosmos, especially during a presidential year—it always struck me that ideology was less important to him than uncovering the unexpected and causing trouble.
“I go where the stink is,” Drudge declared 17 years ago, at the height of the Lewinsky scandal, in a speech at the National Press Club.
He still often gets on a plane to far-flung locales—emailing reports occasionally from Amsterdam or from a suite at the Wynn in Las Vegas. But in recent years, Drudge, who sometimes mused about retiring from his all-consuming vocation, seemed to retreat into a bubble.
He began to streamline his work and social life, and apparently triaged everything but the essentials. I haven’t spoken to him in a very long time (though he and employees have been kind enough to accept and post the occasional story link from the Daily Beast).
“I cannot be controlled!” Drudge told Jones. “I’m a free thinker. I’m an American. I’m very concerned with what’s happening. So I just give it my all. I’ve learned how to take care of myself and detach from outcomes. Otherwise you can’t survive.”
Calling his web site “a figment” of his imagination—a characterization that, in a different context, might please his detractors—Drudge said he loathes Facebook and only grudgingly uses Twitter.
“This whole social media stuff is bogus,” he argued, declaring that the social media platforms are actually corporate monoliths, supported by giant investment banks, that “demoralize the individual.”
“I’m just warning this country that, yes, don’t get into this false sense that you are an individual when you’re on Facebook,” Drudge said. “No, you’re not! You’re a pawn in their scheme.”
Sounding a bit like Howard Beale, Drudge told Jones: “People are really sick…You know this in your soul, and this is why you get demoralized here on this very set…People are willing to be made over in the image of these corporations. There’s so much anger online.”
He elaborated: “It’s gonna get really ugly really fast. There’s automated news sites now. Google News! The idiots reading that crap think there’s actually a human there. There’s no human there! You are being programed…It’s the same corporate glaze over everything.
“I don’t see the world that way. I live in a world that’s free, colorful, vibrant, takes chances, bold, stands up to power! That’s where I’ve made my success.”
Still, Drudge predicted a future in which he might not be able to operate freely as Big Media starts imposing draconian restrictions on what online sites can and can’t link to.
He said a certain unnamed Supreme Court justice “told me to me to my face, ‘It’s over. Matt, it’s over for you. They’ve got the votes now to enforce copyright laws. You’re out of there.’ Which means time is limited. Time is not forever.”
Drudge added: “I’ve had a helluva run. I couldn’t have gone any farther. I have gone as far out of the galaxy as I can.”