Drudge Match

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WASHINGTON: It's a battle between the forces of free speech and the White House armada -- or so the defendant, Matt Drudge, would like to paint it. Claiming the $30 million libel case brought by Sidney Blumenthal in Washington was a veiled bid to gag his investigative reporting, Drudge said: "I don't know how one goes to begin to fight a lawsuit that's being driven by the highest court in the land." Answer: Use guerrilla-style legal tactics, and hope the case itself will never be heard.

The first action by the columnist's attorney Manuel Klausner Wednesday was to try to move the trial to Drudge's home state of California. Judge Paul Friedman didn't rule on that one immediately, but some of his other pronouncements were less than hopeful for the defense: "Public figures," he said, "have the right not to be defamed." Strike one for Drudge, who falsely alleged last August that Blumenthal was involved in "spousal abuse".

In the short term, Drudge's chief source of support is that he has AOL in his corner. The forces of Steve Case, who pays $3,000 a month for the Drudge Report, moved Wednesday to have the suit thrown out on the grounds that they cannot be held responsible for its content. If that motion succeeds, the Web will remain a safe haven for rumor, gossip and innuendo, but Drudge could still be personally liable for what he actually said.