Drudge Report Sets Tone for National Political Coverage

In the crucial congressional elections, now about five weeks away, one of the strongest weapons in the Republican arsenal is a man running a Web site out of his apartment in Miami. His name is Matt Drudge.

Drudge broke the Monica Lewinsky story and has had a tremendous influence on what you know about politics ever since.

From the comfort of his apartment, Drudge can send shock waves through newsrooms and campaign headquarters nationwide with breaking news often heralded by his trademark siren.

"If Drudge has a siren up, people know it's something they have to look at," said Mark Halperin, ABC News Political Director.

Democratic strategist Chris Lehane agreed.

"Literally, it goes up on Drudge and the phones start ringing," he said.

Mark McKinnon, one of President Bush's top campaign consultants, said he checks the site 30 to 40 times per day.

"When there's a siren, that's a three-alarm news deal," he said.

Republican operatives keep an open line to Drudge, often using him to attack their opponents.

"I know that we'd have meetings and that information would find its way to Drudge," McKinnon said.

And then the mainstream media often picks it up.

One classic example: the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. In the heat of the 2004 presidential campaign, the group made often unfounded claims about John Kerry's war record, which were pushed hard by Drudge and then investigated by major newspapers and TV networks.

A new book, The Way to Win, co-authored by Halperin, compares Drudge to Walter Cronkite.

"Today Matt Drudge can influence the news like Walter Cronkite did," Halperin told ABC News. "If Drudge says something, it may not lead everybody instantly in the same direction, but it gets people thinking about what Matt Drudge wants them to think about."

Though Cronkite was described as the "most trusted man in America" Drudge has estimated that 20 percent of his reporting is wrong. He was sued for falsely accusing a Clinton aide of beating his wife.

Drudge is also accused of favoring the Republicans.

"I'm a sucker for a good story," Drudge said. "I go where the stink is. I'm a partisan for news."

Drudge's coverage affects the media's political coverage, Halperin said.

"Matt Drudge is not doing stories on policy, on welfare, on healthcare. He's doing stories on the most salacious aspects of American politics," he said. "When that drives the dialogue, that's where the country heads, that's where our political coverage heads."

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