Forum: Luke Seemann05.26.98
Mainstream no different
from Internet muckraker
Two weeks ago, Ken Bode gave The Daily Northwestern its first interview of his tenure as dean of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism.

One of his goals, he said, is molding a generation of online journalists, not "Matt Drudge-inspired rumor mills who think 'widely rumored' is valid attribution."

Drudge is an Internet muckraker who himself has never attended journalism school.

But for several years he's made a name for himself with the Drudge Report, an online newsletter of juicy political and entertainment news that he disseminates from his Hollywood apartment. His mailing list is 100,000 strong.

He's also being sued for libel by a Clinton aide, who Drudge had falsely reported was accused of wife-beating.

Drudge claims to have been set up by Clinton's staff, but TV talking heads, including Bode now, have used the suit to smugly discredit him.

Less than four days after Bode's comments, on Jan. 17, Drudge sent out the mother of all reports Drudge: "Newsweek kills story on White House intern."

For the next three days, Drudge continued to send out updates, including, Jan. 18, a copy of the intern's resume.

Meanwhile, former White House staffer George Stephanopoulos appeared on ABC's "The Week Rewind," and, rather than actually address the allegations, attacked their source, Drudge.

And White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry continued his policy of answering absolutely no questions about The Drudge Report.

"I've heard calling it a report is too generous," he quipped.

Finally, late Tuesday night, a full 72 hours after Drudge's scoop, The Washington Post broke the story for the mainstream media.

The Washington Post reported essentially the same information as The Drudge Report, plus a few soundbites from major players.

Both publications also cite the same number of sources in their breaks: none.

Is "sources said" very far from "widely rumored"?

As we all know, The Washington Post was taken seriously.

Media went into a frenzy. Subpoenas flew. The President appeared on public radio and television to profess his innocence.

But because it was on the Internet and because it used unnamed sources, The Drudge Report caused no public sensation, and it has received very little credit for breaking the story.

The Washington Post, of course, is the paper that busted open Watergate in 1972.

It's also the paper that once won a Pulitzer in 1981 for a story that a reporter had completely fabricated.

If Bode is to attack Drudge for using unnamed sources, will he also attack the mainstream media for their use of the same?

Of all the salacious details we have thus far - love letters, a semen-stained dress, Good Book blowjobs - none has been attributed to named sources.

But that hasn't stopped the mainstream media or the talk show towers of babble from reporting them as fact.

Is this to say Drudge is a responsible journalist? No. But his practices are not as far from the mainstream as many would like to think.

And as the leviathan of corporate media continues to grow and consolidate, we need more rogue journalists like Drudge, H.L. Mencken and Hunter S. Thompson, not fewer.

-Luke Seemann is a Medill senior. He can be reached at [email protected].

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