"Today Matt Drudge can influence the news like Walter Cronkite did," Mark Halperin said in a 2006 interview promoting his new book, cowritten with John Harris, who had not yet founded Politico. "If Drudge says something, it may not lead everybody instantly in the same direction, but it gets people thinking about what Matt Drudge wants them to think about." A late entry in the literature of the Drudge mythology, but a representative one: Drudge drives the news! All hail Drudge, the rascal.
Eight years later, his site looks and feels the same. The same people read it: The establishment crew maybe a little less; the paranoiacs maybe a little more. He has settled into a groove, now that Barack Hussein Obama is president, and it finally feels like we're starting to get to know the real Matt. Here is his coverage of the events in Ferguson, Missouri, according to the site snapshots at DrudgeReportArchives.com.
August 9th, Saturday: Drudge is on autopilot. Floating somewhere between these two links, which remained untouched about two days, are the words "race war."
August 11th, Monday, early morning: The situation has escalated. "LOOTING" makes its first appearance; so, too, does the Drudge favorite, Literally Burning America.
August 11th, noon: The first splash. The coding is dense: Unrest in the heartland; a non-white person taking something that isn't his. This coverage isn't early, exactly, but Ferguson wasn't front page news on most sites — this photo, and caption, are likely readers' first impression of the situation MO.
The accompanying link rail, on the left side of the page, is laser-focused Drudge: LOOTING; STOLEN; TORCHED; revolution. Businesses are under attack. This is the first appearance of the name "Trayvon Martin." Obama, too. "Post-Racial."
August 11th, final edition: An early Drudge narrative is now clear. It is a mixture of "white memory of LA riots" and "white memory of Trayvon Martin." Robin Williams has died, and Ferguson has been pushed off the top of the page.
August 12th, Tuesday, morning: The link list is still a harmonious orchestra of dog whistles: looting, riot, vandalism, fear, standing guard, shoe store. The list is now capped on both ends: A "knockout game" story above; stories about Hispanic people identifying as white, a racist-not-racist app for avoiding "sketchy" neighborhoods. A faint suggestion of black militancy serves as a footnote.
August 12th, midday: Drudge suggests that the hordes are now descending on Ferguson, to loot.
August 12th, final edition: Jackson and Sharpton appear on the page, where they are promptly mocked. Guns. The splash now reads:
August 13th, morning: Back at the top of the page.
Here Drudge's unease about the police intensifies. He begins to become incoherent. The police are fighting the protesters, who he loathes by default; but they are powerful, and represent the state. Imagine the protesters were mostly white, etc.
A few hours later: Off the top of the page. The new headline: "Doubtfire did it"
The link list shrinks, a new narrative crystalizes: Drudge has settled, for now, on state power. "Militarized cops." The Pentagon is involved now. Conspiracy.
August 13th, final edition: It is no longer possible to hold onto the standard Drudge narratives. Reporters have been arrested, there are now dozens on the scene. Drudge seems to freeze. He attempts to sum up America's history, as it relates to race, without violating his core principles: "T E N S E."
Race war. Sympathy for non-whites, insofar as they are unhappy with black leaders.
August 14th, morning: A new narrative path forward. Big government versus violent protesters. "Molotov." The splash is soon replaced by a story about "HILLARY'S HORRIBLE SUMMER."
And now here we are! Developing…, etc.
Drudge was early on this story—his favorite tropes were all there. Too many of them, in fact, in conflict with one another. So does Drudge still run the news, somehow, in 2014? Does he still "set the tone?"
— Matt Yglesias (@mattyglesias) August 14, 2014
— Dorsey Shaw (@dorseyshaw) August 14, 2014
*Halperin's quote to conclude the 2006 interview: "Matt Drudge is not doing stories on policy, on welfare, on healthcare. He's doing stories on the most salacious aspects of American politics."