Address Before the National Press Club – Matt Drudge | June 2, 1998
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. (Applause.)
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. (Applause.) 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. (Applause.)
MR. HARBRECHT: Matt, thank you for coming into the lion’s den today. (Applause.) 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—(laughter)—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? (Applause.) 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. (Applause.)
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. (Sounds gavel.)
The Internet: The People’s Media Jun 2, 1998
Editors Note: Politisite celebrated its 15th birthday in April, 2013 after being on the web since 1998