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The World Turned Upside Down: How the Internet Empowers the Individual (38 of 45)

(This is excerpt No. 38 (of 45) from America’s Right Turn: How Conservatives Used New and Alternative Media to Take Power, by Richard A. Viguerie and David Franke.)

American politics took a dramatic turn when Matt Drudge told the world about Bill Clinton and Monica Drudge ReportLewinsky—something the establishment press was aware of, but hushed up because of its zeal to protect the liberal president.  But the impact was much wider than the affair itself, or even Clinton’s presidency.  The Internet made politics and political reporting accessible to everyone, not just the privileged few, and conservatives were eager to grab this opportunity to bypass the liberal “gatekeepers” at the networks and in the print media.

Today we take the Internet and its impact for granted, but we were still somewhat awestruck in 2004, when America’s Right Turn was published and the World Wide Web was still young.

The Media World Turned Upside Down

On January 17, 1998, the Internet made its debut as a world-shaking tool of political communication.  That was the day Matt Drudge used his Web site to introduce Monica Lewinsky to the world as the White House lover of President Bill Clinton.  Drudge’s expose started a chain of events that culminated in the president’s impeachment, and in the process, he placed the spotlight on an irrevocable change in the balance of power between the ordinary citizen and the political establishment.

Monica wasn’t the beginning of the Internet’s involvement in politics, by any means.  Drudge himself had been covering all the Clinton scandals for four years.  Jim Robinson’s FreeRepublic.com was the leading right-wing political site on the Web, and in 1997 Joseph and Elisabeth Farah started WorldNetDaily, the first independent newspaper on the Web.  But in 1998 the Internet was just beginning to penetrate mainstream America, and print media – notably The American Spectator – had been getting most of the spotlight for Clinton exposes.  Monica changed all that.

Drudge grew up in Takoma Park, Maryland, a politically far-Left suburb of Washington, D.C., also known as “the People’s Republic of Takoma Park.”  He graduated 325th in his high school class of 350, but loved current events and was hooked on talk radio.  “What a great place, Washington, D.C., to grow up in,” he later reminisced.  “I used to walk these streets as an aimless teen, young adult, walk by ABC News over on DeSales, daydream; stare up at the Washington Post newsroom over on 15th Street, look up longingly, knowing I’d never get in …”

Instead he headed west to Hollywood and became manager of the gift shop at CBS Studios.  He volunteered in the mail room from time to time.  “I hit pay dirt when I discovered that the trash cans in the Xerox room at Television City were stuffed each morning with overnight Neilsen ratings, information gold.”  He sensed the thrill of a scoop, but didn’t know what to do with his inside knowledge.

Then his father bought him a computer, hoping it might spark a desire for a more promising career.  Matt was a quick learn, and within two months he was posting his gossipy scoops on Usenet and AOL and doing some writing for Wired magazine.  “I collected a few e-mail addresses of interest,” he later recalled.  “People had suggested I start a mailing list, so I collected the e-mails and set up a list called ‘The Drudge Report.’  One reader turned into five, then turned into 100.  And faster than you could say ‘I never had sex with that woman’ it was 1,000 – 5,000 – 100,000 people.  The ensuing Web site practically launched itself.”

“Lewinsky almost fell through the cracks,” says Drudge.  “It was a stray e-mail that came in.  You just go for it.”  The results were far beyond anything he expected.  “I had something like 400,000 visits that Saturday when that thing broke.”  For three days he had the story to himself, and the whole world was clicking in.  “I barricaded myself in the apartment.  I was terrified, because from my Hollywood apartment a story of this magnitude was being born.  I remember I teared up when I hit the ‘Enter’ button on that one that night, because I said, ‘My life won’t be the same after this.’  And it turned out to be right.”  Then Rush Limbaugh read his entire reports over the air; then finally the establishment media acknowledged the story, which they had known about for weeks but had hushed up.

Speaking at the National Press Club a few months later, Drudge asked both himself and all those credentialed reporters listening to him:  “How did a story like Monica Lewinsky break out of a Hollywood apartment?  What does that say about the Washington press corps?  It just baffles me.  I haven’t come up with answers on that.”

Drudge vs. the media establishment

Throughout this book we have shown how the new and alternative media empower the individual citizen by bypassing the gatekeepers of the media establishment, those editors and news anchors who want to decide exactly what news you should be allowed to read or hear or see.  Direct mail, the fax machine, talk radio, cable television – each has given you stories and viewpoints you never would have gotten from Dan Rather or the New York Times. 

These new and alternative media have also given you new ways to communicate your wishes directly to other citizens and the politicians who are supposed to represent you, again by bypassing the gatekeepers.  In this case the gatekeeper may be a union chief who wants Congress to believe all union members think alike on a piece of legislation, when you know it isn’t true.  Or a Republican lobbyist who wants the Congress to cave in on an issue you consider critical.  Thanks to the new and alternative media, you now have ways to be heard.

None of these new and alternative media, however, empower you directly, as an individual, quite as effectively and forcefully as the Internet does.  Your modem is your equalizer, your cyber-Colt .45.  You have a direct line, with no intermediaries or filters, to any publication or Web site around the world, to other citizens who share your interests and viewpoints, to government bureaucrats, to your political representatives, to the stores you want to do business with, to people who want to buy something you’re trying to unload – you name it.

It is to Matt Drudge’s credit that he fully understands all this – the Big Picture beyond his own Web site.  He probably sensed it from the moment he sat down in front of that keyboard and monitor his dad bought him.  His address before the National Press Club on June 2, 1998, revealed how fully he comprehends this, with his sharp answers to the contemptuous questions presented to him afterward. 

“What’s going on here?” he asked rhetorically.  “Well, clearly there is a hunger for unedited information, absent corporate considerations.”  Zap!  Right off the top he slams the ball back at all those reporters facing him, who, with all their credentials and college degrees and corporate conglomerate bosses, let this gift shop clerk in Hollywood scoop them on the biggest story of the decade.

“We have entered an era vibrating with the din of small voices,” he continued.  “Every citizen can be a reporter, can take on the powers that be.  The difference between the Internet [and] television and radio, magazines, newspapers is the two-way communication.  The Net gives as much voice to a 31-year-old computer geek like me as to a CEO or Speaker of the House.  We all become equal.”

“And you would be amazed what the ordinary guy knows,” he added.

Then he rubbed their noses in it, citing major stories other than Monica that he broke in The Drudge Report.  And all the links on his Web site – another great innovation of the Internet era:  “This marks the first time that an individual has access to the news wires outside of the newsroom.  You get to read all the news from the Associated Press, UPI, Reuters, to the more arcane Agence France-Presse and the Xinhua.  I’m a personal fan of the Xinhua.”

Drudge continued:

And time was only newsrooms had access to the full pictures of the day’s events, but now any citizen does.  We get to see the kinds of cuts that are made for all kinds of reasons, endless layers of editors with endless agendas changing bits and pieces, so by the time the newspaper hits your welcome mat, it had no meaning.  Now, with a modem, anyone can follow the world and report on the world – no middle man, no big brother.  [Emphasis added.]

(Later interviewed by WorldNetDaily’s Geoff Metcalf, Drudge asserted, “We don’t need the gatekeepers: the Ted Koppels, the Peter Jennings, the Dan Rathers, Tom Brokaw.  They’re all the same anyway…. You don’t need these gatekeepers in Washington who are basically just feeding off each other and bouncing things off of each other.”)

Drudge acknowledges that each new medium scares the devil out of the old media.  But, he assured his National Press Club audience, “The Internet is going to save the news business.  I envision a future where there’ll be 300 million reporters, where anyone from anywhere can report for any reason.  It’s freedom of participation absolutely realized.”

 

America’s Right Turn serialization:

To order American's Right Turn from Amazon please click this link.

  1. “Media Monopolies Declare War on Conservatives”
  2. “What Conservatives Can Learn from the West’s First Media Revolution”
  3. “What Conservatives Can Learn from America’s First Media Revolution”
  4. “The Factors That Created a Grassroots Conservative Movement”
  5.  “More Factors That Created a Grassroots Conservative Movement”
  6. “Money in Politics:  Everyone Complains About It, but Every Political Movement Needs It”
  7. “Conservatives in the Wilderness: American Politics in 1955” 
  8. Conservatives in the Wilderness: Restless, but Lacking Leadership
  9. “How William F. Buckley Jr. Gave Birth to the Conservative Movement”
  10. “How Barry Goldwater Gave Political Voice to the New Conservative Movement”
  11. “Why There Was No Mass Libertarian Movement—Lessons for Conservatives”
  12. “1964:  This is What Happens When the Other Side Controls the Mass Media”
  13. “Thanks to Shamelessly Dishonest Liberals, Conservatives Have No Chance in 1964
  14. “How Conservatives Turned a Lemon (1964) Into Lemonade (the Future Successful Movement”
  15. Conservatives Test a New Secret Weapon
  16. “Conservatives Use Their Secret Weapon to Create a Revolution”
  17. “Conservatives Grow Under the Radar, Testing Their New Secret Weapon”
  18. “Why Direct Mail Is So Powerful for Insurgents—Like Conservatives”
  19. “Creating the Religious Right, and Electing Reagan, Using Alternative Media”
  20. “Phyllis Schlafly Showed Us How to Stop an ‘Inevitable’ Leftist Crusade”
  21. “Liberals Learn How to Use the Conservatives’ Secret Weapon”
  22. “What Conservatives Can Learn from the Man Who Built the Modern Liberal Movement”
  23. “Morton Blackwell Trains Tomorrow’s Conservative Cadre”
  24. “From FDR to Rush Limbaugh: The Talk Radio Revolution”
  25. “Talk Radio Demolishes Hillarycare, and Provides a New Battleground for the Culture Wars”
  26. “Why Liberals Fail—While Conservatives Succeed—on Talk Radio”
  27. “How the NRA Used Alternative Media to Save the Second Amendment”
  28. “C-SPAN Starts the Revolution Against TV’s Liberal Gatekeepers”
  29. “Fox Replaces CNN as King of Cable, Giving Conservatives a Voice on TV News”
  30. “Direct Mail: A Giant Step Forward for Political Democracy”
  31. “Why Direct Mail is the Smartest Form of Advertising for Conservative Candidates”
  32. “The 1970s: Healthy Growing Pains in the Emerging Conservative Movement”
  33. “Rush Limbaugh Becomes Talk Radio’s #1 Star; the “Tea Bag” Rebellion Becomes Its First Big Victory”
  34. “Cable TV—With Fox in the Lead—Becomes America’s Primary Source of Campaign News” 
  35. Political News and Impact: Newspapers Tumble—and Liberals Face Competition
  36. “Conservative Writers Get New Venues as Columnists and in Magazines”
  37. Conservative Authors Fire a New Weapon: Books with Ideas That Have Consequences
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