** Exclusive! **
SOURCES: WARREN BEATTY TO BLOG!
The Observer has learned that Warren Beatty, the 68-year-old actor and director, will likely join a lineup of liberal all-stars who will “group blog” on a Web site to be launched next month by columnist Arianna Huffington.
“I probably will,” Mr. Beatty said, on the phone from his production office in Los Angeles.
The “Huffington Report,” as Ms. Huffington has dubbed it, will also feature such boldface bloggers as Senator Jon Corzine, David Geffen, Viacom co-chief Tom Freston, Barry Diller, Tina Brown and Gwyneth Paltrow. If the name seems to echo that of the Drudge Report-the mega-site operated by the rightward-tilting unofficial editorial director of America’s news cycle, Matt Drudge-well, it’s supposed to. And Mr. Beatty approved of that.
“I applaud the effort to tell the side of the story that Arianna Huffington seems to be engaged in,” he said. Mr. Beatty was all too aware, he said, of the power Mr. Drudge has to steer the American media.
“I would say he does a very industrious job of finding the things that he feels could be exploited to further the political agenda of the far right,” said Mr. Beatty.
For his part, Mr. Drudge was deeply skeptical of a Web site operated by Hollywood liberals. And he rebuffed Mr. Beatty’s characterization of his site as slanted toward Republicans.
“I still refuse to be put into the category of feeding completely Republican talking points,” Mr. Drudge said. “That’s ridiculous. If they’re accusing me of doing Republican, we can assume all Warren Beatty is going to do is be putting out Democratic talking points.
“I look forward to the Warren Beatty News Network,” Mr. Drudge cracked, before asking: “So they really are serious about this, aren’t they?”
The Hollywooders appear to be. The partisan left has slowly been constructing outlets to counterbalance the partisan right’s perceived influence in radio and television (Air America; former Vice President Al Gore’s TV channel). Ms. Huffington, Mr. Beatty and Co., however, are aiming not at the margins but at the center of the media scrum: the news cycle itself, now being deftly nudged, goosed and spun by Mr. Drudge-daily, hourly, instantly.
“As the day follows the night, Drudge will inspire its opposite,” Mr. Beatty said.
Arianna and Clyde aren’t the only ones gunning for Mr. Drudge. On April 6, New York–based Gawker Media plans to launch Sploid.com, a British-style tabloid site meant to compile breaking news in a similar style to the Drudge Report. Gawker’s publisher, Nick Denton, described its politics as “anarcho-capitalist,” pitted only against “all the lazy incumbents who thrive on hypocrisy.”
A screenshot of Sploid, provided by Mr. Denton, showed a fairly literal interpretation of a U.K. tabloid sheet, complete with corpulent fonts and bludgeoning (yet merry!) headlines in a style seemingly ripped from Rupert Murdoch’s publishing playbook.
“We want to occupy the space between the whiny left and the ranting right,” said Mr. Denton, who said he considered Mr. Drudge a brilliant news editor whose site was likely unstoppable for the foreseeable future.
However, his own project-which will be edited by ex-Gawker editor Choire Sicha on the East Coast and a blogger named Ken Lane on the West Coast-would avoid what he saw as Mr. Drudge’s weaknesses, he said.
“It’s not a wonder that newspaper front pages have their agenda set by him,” Mr. Denton said, but “he has some blind spots. Occasionally, there’s a story that takes on the Bush administration that’s a good story. Occasionally there’s a funny, interesting, scandalous story that he won’t touch because it offends his audience. And he won’t take on the churches.”
He described Mr. Drudge’s recent lead story featuring the Pope lying in state above the word “Peace” as the “same reverential coverage of every newspaper across the planet.”
Mr. Drudge took issue with the criticism. “Oh, he would put ‘Hell’?” he asked. “I mean, c’mon, this is small-time. How do I take seriously ‘Sploid,’ ‘Gawker,’ ‘Wonkette’? How do you begin to take this seriously? It’s like ‘Supercalifragalisticexpialadocious: This is just in!’ … Too cute by half.”
In June, Mr. Drudge celebrates 10 years on the Web, having long since become the first draft of daily journalism in America. His site provides a pungent, sneering feed of the conservative, populist media mindset, whether serving as a launching pad for Swift Boat Veterans for Truth or mulling the weekend box office for Sin City and its alignment with the Pope’s death.
Mr. Drudge has stayed on top by being essential-a “utility,” he said-and always being there for his readers, day and night. He operates from anywhere he chooses, most recently from his new “newsroom,” a brand-new 2005 Mustang GT that he outfitted with a broadband connection. (He engaged in a recent instant-messenger conversation discussing his would-be challengers while sitting in the parking lot of a Chinese restaurant in his hometown of Miami.)
Until now, his dominance has never really been challenged by other independent operators. Other Web efforts have mainly focused on a single area of interest, be it Hollywood or Washington, instead of trying to be one all-encompassing clearinghouse. But here come Ms. Huffington and Mr. Denton with a new format to realign the factual firmament with a breaking-news zag for Mr. Drudge’s zig-hoping, ultimately, to become the news media’s leading sensibility.
Mr. Drudge said he doubted the market for news links would support more players.
“I don’t think that need is there,” he said. “I think I fill that need.”
Mr. Drudge observed that Ms. Huffington had “tons of charm and humor,” but he questioned whether she and her powerful Hollywood friends had the stamina or wherewithal to keep up with him.
“This isn’t a dinner party, darling,” he said. ” This is the beast! This is the Internet beast, which is all-consuming, as anyone knows who works in this business.”
It’s little wonder that Mr. Drudge accuses his adversaries of hanging out at parties. He said he once met Mr. Beatty at a book party in Los Angeles co-hosted by Susan Estrich celebrating a publication by lawyer Burt Fields.
“When he met me, he said it was the biggest thing since meeting John Wayne,” recalled Mr. Drudge, who called Mr. Beatty an “extreme charmer. Extreme.”
He added that Mr. Beatty’s wife, actress Annette Bening, glowered at him and asked, “‘How’s Sidney Blumenthal?’ with her Being Julia look.” (She was referring to the former Clinton White house aide who once sued Mr. Drudge for defamation.)
Mr. Drudge was dismissive of competitors, including the contingent he liked to call “Drudge Babies.”
“The road is littered with Wonkettes who have come and gone,” he laughed. “They lose interest and/or they can’t make it work. Or burn out.”
But Mr. Drudge was still pugnacious. Just name a popular Web site-then count the seconds it takes for Mr. Drudge to dismiss it.
“I don’t read Romenesko,” he said, referring to the media-news site run by the Poynter Institute. “It’s redundant to me. Every once in a while, someone will give him a memo that’s hot. Other than that, it’s redundant.”
What about the Note, the ABC News political Web site run by Mr. Halperin?
“Oh, please!” said Mr. Drudge. “That Mark Halperin-it’s like picking lint out of your navel. And really old, nasty lint.”
“I mean, they have sightings of me in New York City when I’m halfway around the world,” he spat. “I feel if they can’t get that right about me, I don’t know what to do.”
Mr. Drudge gleefully sent The Observer a number of links to traffic charts generated by Alexa, a service of Amazon.com, which measured the visitors to his Web site versus traffic to other Web sites like Wonkette and Gawker. They showed a giant blue spike for Mr. Drudge, with Mr. Denton’s blogs barely registering in comparison.
“Drudge is very good,” said Mr. Denton. “It will probably take us 10 years to catch up with his level of traffic. We’ll have 1,000th of the traffic, at least to begin with.”
Mr. Drudge was especially proud of a comparison to The New York Times. According to the charts, the Drudge Report surpassed The Times online during the period in which Terri Schiavo and the Pope dominated the news cycle. He said The Times had been slow to pick up on “the populist wave” of dramas like the Schaivo case.
Mr. Drudge said he didn’t read other blogs, but he admitted to enjoying Rosie O’Donnell’s blog entries-dubbed by Ms. O’Donnell as “the unedited rantings of a fat 43 year old menopausal ex-talk show host.”
“She’s the new Maureen Dowd now,” he said. “Oh, Rosie’s on fire. She’s the must-read. We read Dowd second. It’s true!”
(In an e-mail, Ms. Dowd said she didn’t read the Drudge Report. “I’m afraid I’ll see something about myself,” she wrote. “If he’s got something good, I know I’ll hear about it around the coffee machine.”)
Ms. Dowd may be an exception to the rule. Mr. Drudge’s influence on the rest of media runs on self-fulfilling prophecy: Reporters provide him with the good stuff-leaked memos, not-yet-published Times articles, breaking-news links-for a crack at the enormous audience that the good stuff draws to his site.
But to some, the rest of the press has been playing into Mr. Drudge’s hands. His former political friend David Brock, who runs the Web site Media Matters for America, compiled a 33-page dossier on Mr. Drudge, bullet-pointing his many alleged distortions and misreports.
“We try to function not as a Drudge, but as an anti-Drudge,” he said via e-mail, “which leaves plenty of room for a progressive knock-off of Drudge.”
Mr. Brock said he saw a place for Ms. Huffington’s project.
“I think it’s long overdue,” he said. “I’ve always felt that progressives have information and another entity could be fed. I think it could be very successful.”
Mr. Denton was more cautious about the idea of a liberal response to Mr. Drudge. “Unfortunately, a liberal tabloid is a contradiction in terms,” he said. “I don’t think it’s workable.”
If Ms. Huffington and her crew hoped to counteract Mr. Drudge’s impact, their first move seemed aggressive enough: According to a Washington Times item, they were in the process of hiring Andrew Breitbart, the longtime West Coast contributor to Mr. Drudge’s site, to run the Huffington Report.
Mr. Breitbart, who once worked as a researcher for Ms. Huffington before he worked for Mr. Drudge, declined to discuss his current status with Ms. Huffington, but said he was still presently working with Mr. Drudge. On Tuesday, April 5, he was set to appear on Dennis Miller’s CNBC show as an affiliate of Mr. Drudge’s. But he could be contractually annexed by Ms. Huffington.
“I think actually hiring Drudge’s guy is a smart move,” observed Mr. Denton. “I don’t know how much he did, but he knows the ropes.”
Mr. Drudge said Mr. Breitbart’s influence was a moot point, because “I’m the final edit. I have control on the Web site. I always have the final edit. My name is on the page.”
-Additional reporting by