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In the Crossfire

Drudging up news on the Web

(CNN) -- What is the role of the new media? And will it one day take the place of traditional news sources such as newspapers and television?

"Crossfire" hosts Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson debate Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report Web site about the state of journalism and its place on the Internet.

CARLSON: I'm a reader of the Drudge Report. I think it's an excellent digest of interesting stories. But I remember you gave a speech to the National Press Club a couple years ago where you predicted the end of the old media.

DRUDGE: Mm-hmm.

CARLSON: And in those ensuing years, I've read the Drudge Report almost every day. And I've learned a lot of interesting things. A ton about the weather, a lot about cloning, a lot about the 4-year-old eaten by the iguana. I've liked every one of those. And I'm not patronizing -- I mean, I really have. But it has not replaced The New York Times or CNN as a source for other news, for a fuller account of news. And neither has the Internet. So aren't your predictions [incorrect] about the new media taking the place of the old?

DRUDGE: Oh, I don't know. Well, premature, I think you may be premature. How many years are we into the Internet revolution? Probably five, since Netscape was launched and it became simple with Windows. ... It took hundreds, maybe... 150 years for The New York Times and others to really catch up to speed to the prominence they have now.

It doesn't happen overnight. But I still do see a future where individuals do make a difference, reporting what they know, and what they believe to be true as opposed to corporations and gigantic newsrooms. ...

CARLSON: Well, then address that. One of the [truths] about the Internet is you don't make money from a Web site. How much do you make every year off the Drudge Report?

DRUDGE: Probably more than both you combined at this table.

CARLSON: Well, give us a pretty specific number

DRUDGE: It's nearly seven figures. And it's a great living because I don't have to share it with anybody. There's no production cost. There's no makeup artist. There's no music, and there's no lighting. It's ...

BEGALA: The hat's got to set you back a bunch though, right? Did you have a whole closetful of them?

Let me ask you about ...

DRUDGE: But it can be lucrative. This whole notion that the Internet's a dud is ridiculous. Otherwise, we all wouldn't have Web sites.

BEGALA: Well, let me ask you, though, about more traditional media, where you have tried and frankly not done as well. You had a radio show that got canceled. You had Fox television that I wanted to ask you about, that you and Fox parted company, a very bitter, acrimonious way.

And in November of '99, you told The Washington Post that the Fox executives were weak-kneed suits who allowed you free rein to attack Clinton but then cracked down on you when you wanted to show a photo of a 21-week-old fetus that had been shown apparently on "Oprah Winfrey" and other shows.

DRUDGE: You're taking -- no, that's not an exact quote.

BEGALA: Pretty close.

DRUDGE: Who's your -- did you prepare the fact sheet?

BEGALA: Sure I did, absolutely.

DRUDGE: My radio show was canceled? On Sunday night, I'm on 200 stations, including ...

BEGALA: Well, forgive my ...

DRUDGE: ... including WMAL and WABC and KFI in Los Angeles. Paul Begala, you have to do better if you're hitting the major leagues here.

BEGALA: I'm curious about ...

DRUDGE: This is not a Clinton White House where you spin lies. This is big time. This is satellite television.

BEGALA: Matt, did you ...

DRUDGE: And you're making these up as you go?

BEGALA: Did the Fox people tell you that you could have free rein to attack Clinton and then crack down on you when you wanted to show a photograph of a fetus?

DRUDGE: There was no dictation at the Fox News channel -- a lot like I don't believe there's dictation here. I hope they're not telling you in your ear right now to get tougher on me or whoever's calling the shots. We're not robots; we're individuals hopefully.

BEGALA: So did you correct that when the Post reported that on November ...?

DRUDGE: To try correct Howard Kurtz, that'd be a full-time job.

CARLSON: Now well ...

BEGALA: So you're more accurate than Howie Kurtz?

CARLSON: One of the ways you became famous was by attacking other reporters, including Mike Isikoff of Newsweek, whose story you essentially took and put it up on the Web site. I'm glad you did because it was a great story and great reading. But you have made somewhat of a career of slamming conventional reporters. Who do you like?

DRUDGE: I love Bob Novak. I miss him here tonight, Tucker.

CARLSON: He'll be back.

DRUDGE: It is -- I don't have many heroes in the press. It is a generation or two where I have to go back and look at some of the people that I adored for their moxie, for their -- Hunter Thompson, if he would ever sober up in the hills of Colorado.

CARLSON: But don't you see the difference between someone like Hunter Thompson ...


CARLSON: Hold on. Essentially a reporter and yourself, who's essentially runs a clipping service linking to other people's reporting, which I think is a valuable ...

DRUDGE: How, but, Tucker how ...

CARLSON: ... thing you do. Don't you think there's a difference between what you do and reporting?

DRUDGE: No, because I'm not a clipping service. And you know damn well I'm not. You come to me to get the first wave on everything, including that Newsweek story. I mean, to report ...

CARLSON: But they are other people's stories most of the time. That's all I'm saying.

DRUDGE: But hold on. How is it someone else's story to report Newsweek is not running a story? That is an original story.

CARLSON: Well, that is. But most of the time, you are the person who finds other people's stories and gathers them in one place, correct?

DRUDGE: No, recently [the Drudge Report] had a big media story that Peter Jennings is going to be asked to take a pay cut. That's an original. You turn a big media and salaries, that was an original story of mine. I mean, I guess if you expect me to break an exclusive that shakes the world every day -- a dirty dress, or a cigar, I mean, maybe I'm not up to that task. But every once in a while, I got to show my hand.

BEGALA: Well, let me show you, actually, what Mr. Isikoff of Newsweek magazine, whom Tucker referred to, had to say about you and ask you to respond. ... You can put it up on the screen here. "Drudge is a menace to honest, responsible journalism. And to the extent that he's read and people believe what they read, he's dangerous." -- Michael Isikoff, Newsweek. What is your response?

DRUDGE: Well, as he's probably refreshing the Drudge Report, I've been in his office. And he was fast to show me what his home page was. So ...

BEGALA: Which is?

DRUDGE: Well at the time it was me. That was a while ago.

CARLSON: But he still calls you dangerous, why?

DRUDGE: Dangerous, because I don't report to a boss that will spike my story, the way they did to him at The Washington Post and Newsweek. He was spiked twice. We call him Spiky in the vast right-wing conspiracy because he had the stories. And as opposed to being brave and say, "I quit and I'm going down Pennsylvania Avenue, and I'm going to tell the world what I know," he says, "No, I'm going to play it safe." And he stays in ... the safety of the suites.




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