Dredging up the dregs with Drudge

Clinton was the first president that I really liked. I watched Clinton announce his victory live on TV due to a stomach ache and fortuitous timing as a child, and I liked the idea of having a president that seemed happy to be the president; as opposed to Bush the First, who seemed moments away from fixing himself a cup of Sanka.

Of all the things that Clinton did in office (balanced the budget, ate a lot of McDonalds, played saxophone) what is arguably remembered most is his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

So with a continual stream of “buzz” coming from the many mouths of Polycephalic Pundit Monster about Hilary Clinton’s potential presidential run it should come as no surprise that Ms. Lewinsky has once again come into the public light.

What IS surprising is that she did so in the pages of Vanity Fair last week.

When I?hear the name Lewinsky I?don’t think Vanity Fair, I?think Matt Drudge.

Matt Drudge, former 7-11 cashier and founder of The Drudge Report website, was the first to break the Lewinsky story in 1998. And on the Internet, no less!

Remember, this was a time when most people got online using AOL floppies.

AOL.

Floppies.

So where was Drudge for Lewinsky: Round two?

He spent the better part of a day on Lewinsky’s new interview, then switched over to a new centerpiece story, showing a silhouetted picture of president Obama leaving Air Force One with the vague headline “Obama warns of ‘dysfunction.'”

Portents of danger! Grab the kids and get to the safe room! Look at that creepy silhouette! You just know something bad is about to happen!

The story was about the president at a fundraiser saying politics needs to break out of the cycle of dysfunction. Not exactly a harbinger of danger; in fact it’s little more than boilerplate fundraiser speak.

The story below the centerpiece? “Man demands right to marry computer.”

And that, right there, the misleading headline about the president and the bizarre story about the computer’s husband, is the crux of Drudge’s success.

Drudge gained a lot of notoriety for breaking the Lewinsky story, and two years before that for naming Jack Kemp as Bob Dole’s running mate. But Drudge’s stripped down, three columns of black links on a white background webpage owes its pedigree to another source: Art Bell.

If you’ve ever been on a long car ride in the middle of the night and heard a radio show talking about how ghosts have taken over Area 51 after their war with the Reptiloids from beyond the moon then chances are you’ve heard Art Bell’s show Coast to Coast AM.

See, before the Internet, people interested in what crack pots had to say had to turn on the late night talk radio, of which Art Bell was the king.

Bell started West Coast AM as a political call-in show in 1978; in 1988 it moved from a regional to national radio show and renamed the show Coast to Coast AM.

When he went national Bell moved away from regular political stories and towards gun control and conspiracy theories, all the while his ratings continued to increase.

Then the Oklahoma City bombing happened.

Bell, someone that has never incited violence in his audience but aware of the cultural push-back against the anti-government movement, moved his show away from the more conservative rhetoric and started talking more and more about aliens, hollow-Earth theory and generally anything else that would be at home on “The X-Files.”

But the pairing that Bell had built into a national ratings powerhouse, the right wing rhetoric and the outlandish conspiracy theories, wasn’t going anywhere.

The Drudge Report, itself a mixture of gossip (some true, some not) and tales of the outlandish (the guy marrying his computer) was the direct spiritual successor of Coast to Coast AM. Where Bell had focused less on politics and more on aliens, Drudge took the opposite approach and focused more on politics … and while he may never specifically report about the paranormal Drudge’s long list of links includes 9/11 Truther hub World Net Daily and Infowars, a news website run by Alex Jones, a man who believes that “Ancient Aliens” show on the History Channel is to be taken seriously.

Just like the misleading story/photo combo about president Obama and “dysfunction,” its all about obfuscation. Drudge can have 99 percent of his links targeted to legitimate news sites but its that one percent that targets the wackos, presented shoulder to shoulder with real news, that gives them legitimacy and makes Drudge a tacit endorser of the kind of content generously described as “entertainment,” and fraudulently described as “news.”

Why do you think Fox News is so comfortable giving airtime to baseless accusations about the president that boarder on insulting? That’s a proven business model, and you don’t mess with success.

And it’s the same reason why, when Drudge first reported about Lewinsky’s interview in Vanity Fair, he made sure to include a link, above the centerpiece picture, with the conspiratorial headline “Lynne Cheney: Hillary Approved Piece to ‘Get It Out of Way’…”

I miss the conspiracies about aliens, I really do.