It was the kind of story Matt Drudge had once had spread out character dimensions that newspapers used to reserve for war statements. On October 14, Twitter and Facebook blocked users publishing an article in the New York Post accusing Hunter Biden of intermediating meetings between his father, then the vice president of the United States, and the leaders of a Ukrainian energy company where the youngest Biden had a $ 80,000 a month sin. The Post article included photos of what appeared to be an exhausted and intoxicated Biden in various naked states.
Yet the controversy over technology companies limiting the spread of an unpleasant story to the Democratic presidential candidate was nothing to be seen in the top half of The Drudge Report – once the most coveted real estate and setting the agenda in the center right media. “RECORD TURNOUT ALARMS REPUBLICANS … BIDEN +7 GA,” he headlined the main headlines on October 15th.
“People have noticed that Drudge has basically become a liberal site in the last two years,” an senior figure in conservative media told me a week ago.
“Liberal” might be a strip, but it’s hard to argue with the claim that The Drudge Report has changed in recent years. At the very least, it has become an anti-Trump site. “IT’S FOUND!”, Drudge’s first story read on Nov. 7 when Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory was projected for the first time, appears above a full page of links celebrating the former vice president’s victory – Drudge took a screenshot in the tweet that same day. During the campaign, the site had announced all the bad news for Drudge’s once-preferred candidate and sometimes host to the White House – a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the Chief Media Critic.
“Our people have all left Drudge,” the president tweeted on September 14th. “It’s a confusing mess.”
Drudge has always been an enigma, but aspects of Trump’s criticism seem to be accurate. The Drudge Report once crossed 40-50 links in a single five-hour period. The page is now updated only once or twice a day and almost never reacts to the latest news, as if it was managed by someone who simply didn’t care about it anymore. The traffic has they would be lagati, with Comscore data suggesting 45% lead in the year before last September. In times of glory even a midpage Drudge link could pull a million views; the number has now dropped to tens of thousands.
Drudge pulled the report app from Apple’s and Google’s App Store, only to have links later in the Drudge sidebar after changing advertising brokers without explanation in mid-2019. And unlike in previous years , when the page had more staff working morning and afternoon shifts, Drudge vigilantes had no idea who, if anyone else, worked for the site. The last employee reported is Daniel Halper, former editor of Weekly Standard hired in 2017, though it’s unclear if he still works here. When it came to Tablet, Halper did not comment on any past or current implications with The Drudge Report.
In interviews with more than half a dozen various Drudge associates, about half suggested that the site may be more under their control. For these people, the policy alone could not explain all the changes on the site. Humor, strange stories about sex robots and exorcisms, and obsession with climatic events are almost entirely gone, along with any pretensions to original reporting.
A former confidant quoted an apparently widely circulated story among the small number of people who know or know Drudge: In early 2010, this person said, Drudge fantasized about keeping the DrudgeReport.com domain forever, and that the site would just go black one day without explanation. Others said Drudge, apparently a lover of expensive cars, hotels and real estate, would sell for the good amount. Two floated the theory for Tablet that the site had been bought by a liberal billionaire.
Armin Rosen is a staff writer on Tablet, from which this column has been adapted. The full version is here.