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People Top 5
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- December 28, 1998
- Vol. 50
- No. 24
A Wired Walter Winchell, He Spreads Gossip That All Too Often Becomes News
Sitting at one of the four computers in his tiny Hollywood apartment last Jan. 18, Matt Drudge, 32, pushed the enter button on his keyboard and unleashed the story of the year. Within days, the network news shows and Newsweek—which Drudge reported had been sitting on a cover story on Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky—were scrambling to catch up with the Drudge Report, his eclectic, five-year-old Web site. Since then, the Report, which is also offered by America Online, has been sizzling, some days logging more than one million hits. Although AOL pays him a meager $3,000 a month for his trouble, Drudge also earns money as host of a freewheeling weekly interview show on FOX News Channel and a weekly talk show on 77 WABC Radio. "Those Supreme Journalist types seem to think the news has to be Terribly Sobering," he says of his establishment competition. "I don't."
Dubbed "Town Crier for the New Age" by media watchdog Brill's Content, Drudge, a high school graduate from suburban Maryland (who cheerfully admits, "I can't type or spell, and my grammar is horrible") dares to print—er, post—what conventional media only whisper about. Among the fusillade of sensational stories that bleated from his modem this year was the first account of Monica's stained blue dress. His many critics insist the real stain is on Drudge's ethics. "I don't consider him a journalist or a reporter," says Jules Witcover, The Baltimore Sun's Washington correspondent. "He's a gossipmonger who offers no sources. He's more like a magpie." Brenda Starr, the comic strip, has immortalized him as sleazemeister Rat Sludge. And there's no doubt Drudge's instincts can be disastrously wrong. White House advisor Sidney Blum enthal filed a $30 million defamation suit after Drudge falsely reported that Blum enthal had a history of wife abuse.
Drudge, though, has every intention of remaining a digital gadfly. Now that his enterprise has started to turn a profit, the single troublemaker—"The media is [sic] my mistress"—could move out of his shabby digs and replace his dented Geo. But he won't. "I've set it up so I won't be beholden to any one" source of income, he says. "I'll have enough to live on for the next 10 years, so I can tell them all to go to hell."
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