The latest season of American Crime Story is shining a spotlight on the legendary online journalist Matt Drudge, revealing the internet news pioneer’s role in Bill Clinton‘s impeachment to a new generation.
Tuesday night’s episode of Impeachment: American Crime Story opened with a scene portraying Drudge’s ‘origin story’ as a clerk in a gift shop at CBS Studios in Hollywood.
Portrayed by Billy Eichner, Drudge is seen fishing through a studio dumpster for tidbits of company information as ominous music plays, before logging on to his massive desktop and dialing up America Online to send a news flash about Jerry Seinfeld’s $1 million-per-episode deal, at the time his biggest scoop ever.
Founded as an email newsletter for a few close friends in 1995, the Drudge Report website went on to become a massive success, pioneering the field of digital journalism and first revealing to the world Bill Clinton’s bombshell affair with Monica Lewinsky after Newsweek killed its version of the story.
Portrayed by Billy Eichner (left), online media pioneer Matt Drudge (right) features prominently in the latest episode of Impeachment: American Crime Story
Drudge fact vs fiction in the new series
Fact: Drudge got early scoops from fishing in the trash at CBS Studios, where he worked in the gift shop.
Though the show depicts him diving in an outdoor dumpster, he actually checked the bins in the Xerox room, looking for Nielsen figures that weren’t yet public.
Fact: Drudge did break the news of Jerry Seinfeld’s contract negotiations for $1 million per episode, at the time one of his biggest scoops.
However, he has said he overheard the tidbit on a sound stage, rather finding details in the trash.
Fiction: It’s unclear whether Drudge ever visited reporter Michael Isikoff in the Newsweek offices as the show depicts.
The confrontation serves to dramatize the tension between ‘old media’ and ‘new media,’ and Isikoff’s frustration at having details of his stories leaked online before publication was real, as was Drudge’s view of himself as a journalistic outsider.
Fiction: The show also depicts Drudge meeting Ann Coulter at a party hosted by Laura Ingraham.
It’s unclear whether that specific party ever took place, but Drudge and Coulter have long been close.
The new episode depicts a number of true facts about the life of Drudge, including his work at the CBS gift shop and penchant for seeking out news in the trash.
A number of incidents may have been dramatized, however. For example, in once scene, Drudge and Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff face off in the magazine’s offices.
It’s unclear whether the incident occurred in real life, though their rivalry was real after Drudge published a number of details about Isikoff’s stories before the they hit the presses.
Though he has become ever more reclusive in recent years, Drudge became a celebrity in his own right following the Clinton scandal exclusive.
Idolizing the 1930s columnist Walter Winchell, Drudge adopted his trademark fedora and raincoat, and patterned his site’s style on Winchell’s mix of hard news and entertainment gossip.
His website, a mix of aggregated links and juicy exclusives, became must-read material in Hollywood, DC, and newsrooms across the country, where reporters with early access to the internet would furtively check it throughout the day for tidbits.
A conservative who took glee in exposing hypocrisy in the Democratic Party and the media, Drudge inspired more strident right-wing sites such as Breitbart News, founded by his protégé Andrew Breitbart.
But in later years he also infuriated followers on the right with his willingness to criticize Donald Trump, who by last September accused Drudge Report of being ‘Fake News’ that was ‘no longer ‘hot”.
Eichner, best known for his role on Parks And Recreation and his comedy game show Billy On The Street, told the Daily Beast that the chance to portray Drudge was ‘a great role’.
‘I am in that age group of media-savvy people who used to run home and immediately check Drudge Report,’ said Eichner, 43.
‘These were the days before iPhones and before Twitter, and Drudge Report is really what you checked in order to see what the hottest breaking news was in politics and entertainment and pretty much everything. He covered it all,’ added the actor.
Fans are praising Eichner (left) for his portrayal of Matt Drudge (right in 2005) in the new series
Eichner, best known for his role on Parks And Recreation and his comedy game show Billy On The Street, called the chance to portray Drudge was ‘a great role’
After starting out focused on showbiz gossip, Drudge began to gravitate toward political news, and found a stream of steady tips from Republican congressional staffers
Drudge, who grew up in the suburbs of Washington DC, was a complete unknown before founding his news site in 1995.
He worked a series of odd jobs and moved to Hollywood in the late 80s, eventually taking a job managing the CBS Studios gift shop.
There, he picked up juicy tidbits about ratings and TV show hirings and firings, which provided fodder for his then-small email newsletter.
Drudge idolized the 1930s columnist Walter Winchell and adopted a fedora in homage
According to the biography The Drudge Revolution, Drudge really did dig through the garbage at CBS Studios for some of his scoops, fishing out Nielsen ratings that had not yet been publicly released.
‘Matt studied the schedule of the cleaning crew. He learned there was a short window of time in the morning after the Nielsen numbers were tossed into the garbage by the executive suits and before the crew would arrive to shred it,’ wrote author Matthew Lysiak.
‘He began posting the Nielsen ratings and other tidbits of information he learned on various internet newsgroups, including pilfering Friday night’s box office take for newly released movies, which he would release the very next day, ahead of the studios,’ Lysiak continued.
Drudge’s mother had been a staffer for Senator Ted Kennedy, and eventually he began to gravitate toward coverage of Beltway politics in addition to showbiz gossip.
When Republican congressional staffers learned of his conservative leanings, they began to feed him tips — and Drudge was the first to report that Bob Dole had selected Jack Kemp as his running mate in 1996.
On January 17, 1998, Drudge published the headline that rocked the nation: ‘NEWSWEEK KILLS STORY ON WHITE HOUSE INTERN’.
‘BLOCKBUSTER REPORT: 23-YEAR OLD, FORMER WHITE HOUSE INTERN, SEX RELATIONSHIP WITH PRESIDENT,’ the subhead read.
On January 17, 1998, Drudge published the headline that rocked the nation, revealing that Newsweek had spiked a story on Clinton’s Oval Office affair
A photograph showing former White House intern Monica Lewinsky meeting President Bill Clinton at a White House function submitted as evidence in the Starr Report
Drudge revealed that, hours before publication, Newsweek had spiked a story by reporter Michael Isikoff that would have revealed Clinton’s now-infamous Oval Office affair with a former intern.
Drudge Report timeline
1995: Matt Drudge founds the Drudge Report from his small apartment in Hollywood
1996: Drudge is the first to report Jack Kemp’s selection as VP on the Republican ticket
1998: Drudge reveals Clinton’s affair and is the first to name Monica Lewinsky
1998-99: Drudge has a short-lived weekly TV show on Fox News but quits in a dispute
1999-2007: Drudge hosts a weekly talk radio show, before quitting abruptly and disappearing from public view
The following day, Drudge revealed the intern’s name, Monica Lewinsky, reporting that she had been subpoenaed to give a deposition in the Paula Jones case.
To this day, Drudge’s source for the story remains a mystery. Was it Isikoff himself, frustrated at having his story killed? Or another source within Newsweek, or one of Isikoff’s sources who had learned that the story wasn’t going forward?
Drudge’s revelation set off a political and media firestorm that ultimately resulted in Clinton’s impeachment on charges of perjury and obstruction. The Democrat was not convicted in the Senate.
The scoop of a lifetime made Drudge a household name, and for a brief time he had a weekly television show on Fox News, but quit after 15 months, accusing the network of ‘censorship’ for refusing to allow him to show a misleading photo of fetal surgery to bolster his argument against late-term abortion.
Drudge also had a weekly radio show that aired for a number of years, that ended abruptly in 2007, when Drudge essentially disappeared from the public eye.
According to the biographer Lysiak, Drudge quit the radio show one day after New York magazine published a lengthy feature about him, which delved into rumors that Drudge is a closeted homosexual. Drudge denies that he is gay.
Soon after leaving radio, Drudge had lunch with a friend, and decided that it would be best if his website didn’t have a face associated with it, according to Lysiak.
‘He made a Batman reference,’ Lysiak told Jewish Insider. ‘And he’s been dark ever since.’
Drudge ran his website from a one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood for years before moving to Miami. His current whereabouts are unknown after he disappeared from the public eye
Drudge had been living in South Florida since 2001, after fleeing California’s high taxes, which he despised.
He reportedly still maintains the Drudge Report personally, running a bank of computer screens and watching multiple cable channels simultaneously throughout the day to keep up with the latest developments.
Ann Coulter, the arch-conservative columnist, remains one of the few confirmed figures in Drudge’s inner circle, and like Drudge, Coulter became hostile to Trump over the course of his presidency.
Coulter, who has made no secret of her disgust with Trump’s failure to build a border wall, told Vanity Fair that Drudge had similar grievances.
‘Drudge and I are both leaving Florida and we’re not telling anyone where we’re going this time,’ Coulter told the magazine last month.
Before his radio show went off the air in 2007, Drudge told listeners that there was really nothing all that mysterious about his life.
‘They keep saying, “Oh, the secret life of Matt Drudge…” There is no secret life here,” he said. ‘It is found literally on the website, because this is all I’ve been doing.’