Originally created 07/20/98

Navigator: Sailing the cyberseas



It happened again last Friday. Matt Drudge posted a tidbit on his Drudge Report Web site and set newsroom tongues wagging. "The NEW YORKER top job (vacated by Queen Tina Brown) may go to KNOPF editor-in-chief Sonny Mehta, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned. The hire will not be announced until Monday AM, according to one inside source."

Sure enough. On Monday the announcement was made. The new New Yorker editor: David Remnick.

Can't win them all, Matt. But the Hollywood-based gossipmonger doesn't seem to care if he wins or loses. He just loves to play the game -- even when it gets rough. Last August White House adviser Sidney Blumenthal sued Drudge for libel. You can follow the case, from the viewpoint of Drudge's lawyer, at a site called Blumenthal v. Drudge Update.

Love him or loathe him, Matt Drudge will go down as the first celebrity indigenous to the Internet. Granted he never could have become so famous without the amplification of newspapers, magazines and TV. But he was nobody before the Internet. And more important, he understands its power. He can massage the medium.

Truth be told, the Drudge site is understated. Besides an occasional incendiary headline or two and several graphs about the latest media noise, the page is just a glorified list of links to all kinds of media sites.

Yet a testimonial to Drudge's prominence are the sites that parody him. There's the Dredge Report and the Sludge Report, among others, but the most inspired knockoff is the Smudge Report.

The front page of the Smudge Report is full of direct slaps at Drudge's style: "Report Finds Many of the Fights on 'The McLaughlin Group' Are Staged!", "Ken Starr Indicts President for Not Paying Legal Bills Incurred From Defending Himself Against Ken Starr" and "Sen. Thompson to Hold Hearings on Booming Economy."

Smudge also is worth a pause because of its contentious and creative links. Gun Nut News, for instance, is a repackaged Yahoo! search using the words "shot" and "shooting." The result is sure-enough what Smudge intended.

Smudge is just one small voice but, as the original Matt Drudge told the National Press Club last month, "We have entered an era vibrating with the din of small voices. Every citizen can be a reporter, can take on the powers that be. The difference between the Internet, television and radio, magazines, newspapers is the two-way communication. The Net gives as much voice to a ... computer geek like me as to a CEO or speaker of the House. We all become equal."

As a hundred flowers blossom, so far Drudge is the one that smells the strongest.

GETTING THERE: Drudge Report, http:www.drudgereport.com; Blumenthal v. Drudge Update, www.frontpagemag.com/Archives/miscellaneous/mdupdate.htm; Dredge Report at aprilfools.infospace.com/FameSignup.htm?ProductSnippet/af/dredge-su.snp; the Sludge Report, www.bobsfridge.com/sludge.html, and the Smudge Report at www.smudgereport.com

-- Linton Weeks can be reached at weeksl@washpost.com