This article was originally published by Salon on November 17, 1997.
The oddest feature of the affair that pits White House flak Sidney Blumenthal against Internet gadfly Matt Drudge is probably the most revealing: the failure of the press to defend one of its own.
Last August, Blumenthal filed a $30 million libel suit against Drudge for reporting a rumor that Blumenthal was once involved in a spousal abuse court case and then (though retracting the claim) failed to reveal his unnamed sources. I should state at the outset that I am the co-chair of the Matt Drudge Defense Fund, which is raising money to support his legal defense. What follows explains why.
Matt Drudge is a self-made entrepreneur who made his Web-basedDrudge Report a national media player, often quoted by the likes of Time magazine and the Wall Street Journal. While media conglomerates, in their glass-towered fortresses, deploy battalions of scribes across the globe, Drudge operates alone from his Hollywood apartment on a salary of $36,000 a year.
Such a mismatch should have made Drudge the underdog favorite in a case that would seem to pit a White House Goliath against an Internet David. But it hasn’t. One obvious reason is that little Matt Drudge kept scooping the big guys — on stories ranging from alleged White House scandals to Republican politics and network television changes — and big guys in the media really resent that. Drudge also played right into the hands of a journalistic establishment that resents this upstart new medium, the Internet. His apparent recklessness in reporting a rumor he couldn’t back up evoked images of journalistic irresponsibility and informational chaos generated by a free medium many find threatening.