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Monday, January 18, 1999 Published at 12:09 GMT


Matt Drudge: A bookmarked man



By BBC News Online's Kevin Anderson in Washington

One year ago, the maverick with a modem, Matt Drudge, scooped the mainstream American media with a story about sex in the Oval Office.

With a reputation for a quick trigger finger and flawed fact-checking, Mr Drudge has launched several more online "exclusives" since he broke the Monica Lewinsky story.

The trial of the president
Senior staff writers at Time magazine like Karen Tumulty now track news developments on the Internet, paying particular attention to the Drudge Report.

"I have the Drudge Report bookmarked on my computer, as I would venture to guess every single reporter in Washington does," Ms Tumulty said.

The Internet provides another avenue for news to enter the mainstream.

"A rumour can be on the Internet one day. By the next day virtually everyone in America knows about it. Instead of us being the distributors of the news, we're actually chasing the news," she said.

Mainstream journalists initially dismissed the existence of Monica's blue dress, stained with the president's semen, but the Drudge Report gave it wide currency and was proved right.

'Press freedom belongs to he who owns one'

With his in-your-face challenge to the media establishment, Mr Drudge has touched off a discussion in the Fourth Estate.

Veteran Baltimore Sun Washington Correspondent Jules Witcover has referred to Matt Drudge as "(the) abomination of the Internet".


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He has "certainly been a public relations problem for the Internet," said Michael Kinsley, editor of Microsoft's online magazine, Slate.

He has an interest in the promotion of the Internet as a valid journalistic medium as he works to create a successful subscription-based online magazine.

But at the same time, Mr Kinsley wrote an article in Time magazine called "In Defence of Matt Drudge".

Mr Drudge once said: "You can cover the world with a modem. It scares the establishment. It doesn't scare me." He argues against a media elite. That is where Mr Kinsley and Mr Drudge agree.

"AJ Liebling said: 'freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one.' Thanks to the Internet anyone can own one," Mr Kinsley said.

'As accurate as grown-ups'?

But, at the same time, Mr Kinsley said in his Time article that the Drudge Report existed in a middle ground between the high standard of traditional journalism and no standards at all. Mr Drudge claims to be right 80% of the time.

An article in last November's issue of media magazine Brill's Content looked at the accuracy of the stories that Mr Drudge claimed as exclusives.

In the 51 stories that he claimed as exclusives from January to September 1998, the magazine found 31 were actually exclusive stories. Of those, 32% were untrue or never happened, 36 were true and the remaining 32% were of debatable accuracy or still unknown.

"My case is, he claims to be 80% accurate. There is room (in journalism) for a publication that is 80% accurate," said Mr Kinsley. "He would maintain he's as accurate as grown ups. That is not the case."



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