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Yes, Matt Drudge still matters. For now.

By Matthew Shaer / April 22, 2009

Matt Drudge, in Howard Hughes-mode.

Photo illustration by Jacob Turcotte

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What's the most influential website in the world?

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The answer has long been the Drudge Report, a right-leaning, glorified news aggregator headed up by Matt Drudge. Why is it so influential? Because, as Gabriel Sherman wrote recently in the New Republic, the Drudge Report "is read religiously by Washington's reporters, political operatives, and cable news producers... [and] it retains a striking ability to dictate what appears in the mainstream press." Think of the modern news machine like a stack of dominoes, with each block kicked forward by the last – from a newspaper like the Monitor or The New York Times to the tiniest of personal blogs. The Report may not stir up the most traffic on the web – it averages, according to some reports, a not-too-shabby 20 million hits a day – but it is the first domino to fall.

Prove it

If you don't believe us, sign on to Drudge tomorrow morning. Watch the stories that get major play. Wait two hours. Now turn on the television. Sit, stir, repeat as necessary. Sherman's angle is that Drudge is still the reigning force on the web, but that he has become a Howard Hughes-type recluse; he's rarely seen in public, and he's hard to actually track down. (I'm sure Drudge wasn't pleased by the minor dust storm/witchhunt kicked up in the media this month about his sexuality.)

'I think he is dead'

Sherman's story, titled "Underground Man," has been met with derision on the blogosphere. Witness the latest volley from Newser's Michael Wolff:

I do not think Drudge has disappeared. I think he is dead... [If Drudge] is not dead, he is definitely brain dead. There hasn’t been a breaking story on the site in months. Drudge, once one of the most vaunted gossips in the nation, clearly isn’t in the loop. Or he is just bored to death. He had been doing this for a decade. It is the same old Drudge Report, without improvement or variation.

In his Newser column, Vanity Fair contributor Wolff goes on to proclaim, "The Drudge prominence, at least in the mind of the New Republic, probably has to do with his alleged relationship with other high media profile conservatives, like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter."

Wolff is wrong

Well, no – it has to do with the power of one website to influence a whole host of websites, for better or for worse. Wolff is the head of his own, less influential news aggregator, so first, let's take his opinion with a grain of salt. But note also that Wolff never actually engages the implied argument of Sherman's piece: that Drudge steers the news. If that's the working hypothesis – and by general consensus, it is – it's up to Wolff to disprove it. Instead, he opts for snark. "Drudge doesn’t count for anything," he snipes. "He’s from another time—a leftover."

But he's right about this

Still, Wolff is correct about one thing: Drudge's independent investigations have really tapered off over the few years. Can the site exist solely as a clearinghouse? Or will Matt Drudge have to step up his output of independent content? Time will tell.

From the horse's mouth

Want something from the horse's mouth? Good luck. Drudge rarely does interviews. But here's an old one we dug up:

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