Thank you, Chris Cillizza for your thoughtful column.
Current DRUDGE Headline, Thurs 09/18/08, 0709 AM ET: Re-treading the e-mail hacking that Gawker did of Sarah Palin's e-mail. Now the Secret Service is on the case!
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Drudge-ology 101: McCain, Obama and Media Bias
Yesterday was a typical recent day on the Drudge Report -- the single most influential source for how the presidential campaign is covered in the country.
In the banner headline spot for most of the day was a picture of entertainer Barbra Streisand touting a Beverly Hills fundraiser for Barack Obama -- not exactly the sort of headline that the Illinois senator wants as chum for the cable channels 49 days before the election.
Two other stories never merited attention from Drudge: a claim by a senior aide to John McCain that the Arizona senator had invented the BlackBerry and a statement by McCain surrogate Carly Fiorina that neither McCain nor Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin would be equipped to serve as CEO of a major U.S. company. (((((which was on 'featured' on WMAL'S Chris Plante show in spades!)))))
(A quick note to preempt the inevitable argument that Drudge's influence is overblown. Tomorrow morning, take a minute to look at the stories Drudge is highlighting. Then, later in the day, watch a few cable channels to see what stories they are talking about. It will open your eyes.)
The emphasis on Obama's Hollywood ties and the omission of two negative McCain items is consistent with a broader trend over the past month (or so) that has seen the Arizona senator receive far better treatment from Drudge than he had during the primary season when, as several other acute political observers noted at the time, a number of tough stories for McCain regularly appeared on Drudge.
The increase in positive McCain stories featured on Drudge has coincided with more skeptical coverage of Obama's candidacy. In recent weeks, Drudge has featured in his center well spot: A picture of Obama shooting at a far off basketball hoop with a subtitle asking "Will he get his groove back?"; an image of Obama sweating on stage at the Democratic National Convention during the Illinois senator's acceptance speech; and heavy coverage of the "lipstick on a pig" comments.
What explains the change in tone? It's easy to lapse into the tired old logic that Drudge is nothing more than a conservative mouthpiece returning to his roots as election day nears.
"The Drudge Report penalizes mainstream media bias more effectively than any other venue," said one Drudge-ologist who was granted anonymity to speak candidly. "The more flags Drudge throws, the more site traffic he seems to get."
These Drudge-ologists (of which The Fix considers himself one) (((HighViz PR is another ))) note that the coverage turned in earnest after McCain named Palin as his running mate.
Palin, an unknown commodity on the national stage, was immediately greeted with a series of tough stories about her background (Bristol Palin's pregnancy, Troopergate, earmark questions).
The McCain campaign smartly turned those stories into an "us versus them" narrative all its own, alleging that the mainstream media was trying to destroy Palin because she didn't fit the press' image of what a vice presidential candidate should look like.
Drudge, believing that the media had gone overboard in its skewering of Palin, began playing up stories that highlighted Palin's crowds and the polls that showed that the Alaska governor had helped bring McCain back to even in national head to heads. (Two recent prominent links from Drudge that provide evidence for the above statements: this item from the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol about Palin coverage in the Post and this one reminding Newsweek of the favorable coverage they gave Palin in 2007.)
Palin -- and the mainstream media's coverage of her -- reminded us of another insight into Drudge: his strongest motivator is driving traffic to his site, not pushing some ideological agenda.
Palin, as The Fix can attest to, was and continues to be gold for blogs and Internet sites; love her or hate her -- and almost everybody, political or not, feels one way or the other -- Palin drives Internet traffic and conversation/comments like no one since, well, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The second part of that traffic equation is the belief among many people that the media is fundamentally biased. In a Pew poll conducted last summer 55 percent of the national sample said the press was biased in their coverage while 31 percent said the press was "careful that their reporting is not politically biased." In an ABC News survey conducted the day after Palin's speech at the Republican National Convention, 50 percent of those surveyed said the media had treated the Alaska governor fairly while forty one percent said they had not. Of that latter group, 39 percent blamed the unfair treatment on "political bias" while 15 percent said it was the result of "sexism." (Hat tip to Post polling director Jon "The Numbers Man" Cohen and polling analyst Jennifer "J-Bug" Agiesta for their help in harvesting that data.)
Couple Palin's natural appeal on the Web and the hint of media bias and it's easy to see the perfect storm of web traffic brewing and a smart explanation of the flood of more positive coverage for McCain and more negative coverage for Obama on Drudge of late.
"Matt Drudge is successful because he has a nose for news: Sometimes his choice of stories and photos reflect the current news narrative, but often it reflects Drudge's understanding of where it is going," explained Tim Griffin, a GOP attorney and strategist who was U.S. Attorney in Arkansas and has held senior roles at the Republican National Committee and White House. ((( and Tim has a damn fine blog! )))
By Chris Cillizza September 17, 2008; 6:30 AM ET
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