It was the kind of story that would once have had Matt Drudge deploying font sizes that newspapers used to reserve for declarations of war. On Oct. 14, Twitter and Facebook blocked users from spreading a New York Post article alleging that Hunter Biden had brokered meetings between his father, then the vice president of the United States, and executives at a Ukrainian energy firm where the younger Biden held an $80,000-a-month sinecure. The Post’s article included photos of what appeared to be an exhausted and intoxicated-looking Biden in various states of undress.
Yet the controversy over tech companies restricting the spread of a story unflattering to the Democratic presidential contender was nowhere to be seen in the upper half of The Drudge Report — once the most coveted and agenda-setting real estate in right-of-center media. “RECORD TURNOUT ALARMS REPUBLICANS … BIDEN +7 GA,” screamed the top headlines on Oct. 15.
“People have noticed that Drudge has basically become a liberal site over the past two years,” a senior figure in conservative media told me that week.
“Liberal” might be a stretch, but it’s hard to argue with the claim that The Drudge Report has changed over the past few years. At the very least, it became an anti-Trump site. “YOU’RE FIRED!,” the top story on Drudge read on Nov. 7 when Joe Biden’s Electoral College win was first projected, appearing above a full page of links celebrating the former vice president’s victory — Drudge screenshotted the headline in a rare tweet that same day. During the campaign, the site had touted any and all bad news for Drudge’s once-preferred candidate and sometimes-host at the White House — a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by the Media Critic-in-Chief.
“Our people have all left Drudge,” the president tweeted on Sept. 14. “He is a confused mess.”
Drudge has always been an enigma, but aspects of Trump’s critique appear to be accurate. The Drudge Report once cycled through 40-50 links in a single five-hour period. The page is now updated only once or twice a day and almost never reacts to breaking news, as if it’s being run by someone who simply doesn’t care anymore. Traffic has reportedly lagged, with Comscore data suggesting a 45% plunge in the year before this past September. In the glory days even a midpage Drudge link could pull a million views; the number is now down to the high tens of thousands.
Drudge pulled the report’s app from Apple’s and Google’s app stores, only to later link to it in the Drudge sidebar after switching ad brokers without explanation in mid-2019. And unlike in past years, when the page had multiple staffers working morning and afternoon shifts, Drudge watchers have no idea who, if anyone else, works for the site. The last reported employee was Daniel Halper, a former Weekly Standard editor hired on in 2017, though it is unclear whether he still works there. When reached by Tablet, Halper would not comment on any past or current involvement with The Drudge Report.
In interviews with over a half-dozen various former Drudge associates, about half suggested that the site may no longer be under his control. For these people, politics alone couldn’t explain all the changes at the site. The humor, the oddball stories about sex robots and exorcisms, and the obsession with weather events are all almost entirely gone, along with any pretense to original reporting.
One former confidante cited a story in apparently wide circulation among the small number of people who know or knew Drudge: In the early 2010s, this person said, Drudge fantasized that he would keep the DrudgeReport.com domain forever, and that the site would simply go black one day without explanation. Others asserted that Drudge, reportedly a globetrotting lover of expensive cars, hotels, and real estate, actually would sell for the right amount. Two floated the theory to Tablet that the site had been bought by a liberal billionaire.
Armin Rosen is a staff writer at Tablet, from which this column was adapted. The full version is here.
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