So Matt Drudge was right. Not about Bill Clinton's love child or John Kerry's affair, but he was right about this: "We are all newsmen now." Drudge hates the word blogger, yet his exclusive about the former President and intern Monica Lewinsky set out an animated-gif siren for an army of armchair pundits to follow. Today a flotilla of freelance fact checkers make life more difficult for the salaried employees of what has come to be known as the MSM, or mainstream media. With 10 million readers daily, Drudge, 39, has paved a generous path for the blogs; without his example, semipro scribes might not have unearthed "Rathergate." Of course, the price for such cyberscoops has been the coarsening of the evening news; Drudge has goaded traditional media into playing catch-up on sordid stories they once safely ignored.
But just because Drudge has followers doesn't mean anyone can fill his shoes. The fedora, acquired long before the profiles started and yet, one suspects, in anticipation of them, his whine, his obsession with injured pets Drudge may have seen journalism's future, but he's also a throwback to its past. It's easy to imagine him at an old Hearst paper, staging photos and conjuring wars. Now the source of a seven-figure income,drudgereport.com hasn't changed much in eight years. A ludicrous combination of gossip, political intrigue and extreme weather reports, it's still put together mostly by the guy who started out as a convenience-store clerk. Of his big break, he is both modest and defiant: "It took just two fingers, a modem and guts," he once told Miami New Times. "And not giving a (well, you know)!" Matt Drudge may have lowered standards, but in the MSM we still can't curse.
Founder of the blog Wonkette, Cox is a TIME.com columnist