Donald Trump fans have been fuming for weeks at conservative mega-aggregator Matt Drudge, alleging that his Drudge Report has backed Democrats’ impeachment push and ignored GOP arguments in favor of the president. And now, as a measure of their dissatisfaction, would-be internet media moguls are looking to make it big by creating Drudge Report clones and, potentially, stealing his visitors.
The owners of the conservative Drudge-style aggregator sites—with names like NewsAmmo, Rantingly, Liberty Daily, and WhatFinger—say they’ve seen traffic booms since outspoken conservatives began accusing Drudge of an anti-Trump bias. Gab, the social-media network popular with white-supremacist extremists, recently launched its own Drudge-style news aggregator site, Gab Trends, amid discontent from Trump supporters with Drudge.
“It’s what the internet is talking about right now,” Gab founder Andrew Torba told The Daily Beast in an email. “Not what Matt Drudge thinks the internet should be talking about right now.”
It’s unclear how much traffic any of the Drudge knockoff sites are receiving, although none of them appear to be getting anywhere near Drudge’s site, which received more than 80 million visitors in September, according to SimilarWeb figures.
They’re also unlikely to capture the influence Drudge has wielded over media and politics. Since breaking the news in 1998 of Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, Drudge’s site has brought him outsize power that goes far beyond the aggregation style that his newcomer rivals are attempting to copy. Stories highlighted by Drudge often end up making it on to cable news, and media outlets have long sought the mammoth traffic a link from the site can bring. In 2008, a Republican operative dubbed Drudge the “assignment editor for the national press corps” because of his power to influence media coverage. Even Hillary Clinton’s first presidential campaign sought to create a relationship with the conservative publisher, in hopes he wouldn’t torpedo her candidacy.
But conservative anger at Drudge has ramped up alongside impeachment proceedings into Trump, threatening his exalted status in the right-wing media ecosystem. Jim Hoft, the founder of the Gateway Pundit blog, has repeatedly urged Drudge to “come home.” Pro-Trump cartoonist Ben Garrison urged his fans to abandon the site, adding a cartoon of a meter with Drudge’s face swinging left.
“Who will be the NEW Drudge?” Garrison tweeted.
Howard Polskin, an observer who tracks right-wing media at The Righting, said the upstart aggregators could see some success if Trump supporters’ anger at Drudge continues.
“If criticism of Drudge keeps happening, it may create an opening for one of these sites to really become much more popular with an audience,” Polskin said.
Drudge is famously reclusive, and didn’t respond to a request for comment. Many of the operators of the Drudge clones, meanwhile, are entirely anonymous. The operator of WhatFinger—named because readers can react to news articles with a thumbs-up, a thumbs-down, or a middle finger—identified themselves only as a “loudmouth editor” named “Sgt. Pat.” The site’s editor claimed, without providing evidence, that traffic had jumped 75 percent amid conservative dissatisfaction with Drudge this fall.
“Our readers are libertarians and conservatives and they say Drudge is far too left wing now,” WhatFinger’s operator wrote in an email.
The sites trying to copy Drudge’s formula often closely resemble The Drudge Report’s notoriously low-tech layout and three-column design. Rantingly’s editor, who declined to give their name in an email to The Daily Beast but described himself or herself as a California resident who failed out of college “because I partied too hard,” said they still admired Drudge’s media acumen.
“I just think the story he’s telling right now is complete bullshit,” the site’s operator wrote in an email to The Daily Beast.
Rantingly and its upstart rivals have gained some foothold in broader conservative circles, earning shoutouts from the likes of Garrison. But Polskin doubts any of them will ever get anywhere near Drudge’s level of influence unless they can augment their links with original reporting. Each Drudge clone, after all, tends to look a lot like all the others.
Still, they appear to be cheap to operate. Rantingly’s owner said he’s the only person working on the site, while WhatFinger’s “Sgt. Pat” said the site relies mostly on volunteers.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of these sites falling by the wayside, unless they can do it so cheaply it really doesn’t matter,” Polskin said.