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The Sludge of Drudge

February 25, 2010
Now for an incredibly petty personal vendetta.
I’ve finally had it with the Drudge Report.  I know I’ve said that many times before, but I keep finding myself going back there, either because it’s simply one of the best websites for linking to news stories available, or because I want to find out what the right-wing creeps are up to.  But the man never ceases to amaze me in the depths to which he will stoop to advance his highly partisan agenda.  
What he has managed to do is really quite remarkable--to assemble a tremendous engine of ideological propaganda without doing any journalism of his own, any writing of opinion, any altering of the facts, etc.  Everything on there is news that’s been reported by someone else.  Drudge has managed to harness the power of headlining as a way of distorting the truth even while telling it.  Recognizing that headlines often make a much greater impression on people than stories themselves (especially since many people are speed-browsing and will not actually read the stories), he has found three remarkably effective tools of turning his “news” into propaganda:

  1. Headline prominence.  Drudge gets to pick what the most important story of the day is for those viewing his site, whether or not it is actually of any genuine significance.  If Joe Biden picked his nose during a press conference, that will probably be the biggest headline of the day, complete with a little snapshot of the incident, to leave his viewers with the distinct impression that the main thing that happened that day was that Obama’s VP further showed himself to be an idiot.
  2. Headline wording.  Drudge often words his headlines in ways that are ludicrously out of line with the actual content of the stories to which they link.  He generally avoids outright untruths--if a story says that new home sales were down, his headline won’t say they were up--but he often comes quite close.  His preferred way of distorting headlines is simply by making them overstated and over-dramatized when it suits his purposes: a small glitch becomes a crisis, a misstep becomes a huge blunder, a small decline becomes a plunge, etc.
  3. Headline placement.  Drudge recognizes that by putting next to one another two headlines that are about stories having nothing whatsoever to do with one another, he creates a link between the two in the readers’ mind, which means that together they now mean something quite different from what each story in and of itself communicates, something which is most likely meaningless or untrue, but which suits Drudge’s purposes neatly.  A favorite of his in this regard is putting side-by-side headlines like “Global warming alarmists clamor for immediate action” and “Record cold in New York City this week.”  But he has recently become particularly fond of using this in his disinformation campaign about Obama’s health-care proposals.  The most egregious example came this morning, where in a sequence of headlines (at the top of the page) regarding Obama’s newest attempt at health-care reform, there was a headline about the appalling neglect of hundreds of patients and filthy conditions at a British NHS hospital, implying, of course that we can expect the same if Obama's plan succeeds.  It’s true that this week, formal inquiries have been launched regarding an egregiously ill-maintained and poorly-run hospital in Staffordshire, but this has nothing to do with Obama’s healthcare proposals.  It’s fine by me if you want to object to Obamacare, but for Pete’s sake, can we stop pretending that he’s trying to introduce the British system (never mind that most Brits seem quite pleased with their system)?!  Even the earlier form of the plan with the public option had very little in common with the British socialized healthcare system, but the latest version being proposed is a thoroughly privatized scheme, making comparisons to the NHS frankly absurd.
So, I am swearing off the Drudge Report.  I mean it this time. :-D

8 comments:

Is this really any different from most other news sources out there?

February 26, 2010 at 4:49 AM  

You have a point with the first two...obviously any news source exercises some discretion (or indiscretion) on these points, and it is often somewhat slanted (though rarely as silly as what you see on Drudge). It's on the third where Drudge really ramps up the propaganda factor...and I haven't really seen conventional news sources do that.

February 26, 2010 at 7:55 AM  

I hate to say it, but I think they're smarter than that. You just might not notice it all the time.

And the global warming/cold winter thing is something Fox was pointed out numerous times. To be honest, though, I am enjoying the entire situation; definitely some divine irony at play (Pastor Wilson's latest post on the subject woke me up to that).

February 26, 2010 at 3:55 PM  

Sorry, I had a point to the nitpicking and I forgot to state it. You should enjoy Drudge Report. The more obvious and ridiculous it is, the more fun it is to look at. Remember what you said about the side that's losing and how ridiculous they become in public discourse.

By the way, ever since you pointed that out, I've been hoping for a Republic majority so I can see the shift through clearer eyes. I can't wait.

February 26, 2010 at 3:58 PM  

Mr. Littlejohn,

1. You have accused Matthew Drudge of creating propaganda. How do you define propaganda?

2. Are there any news agencies out there that couldn't just as easily be criticized for the wrongs that you criticize Mr. Drudge for?

3. What are some online news sources that do not commit the wrongs that you accuse Mr. Drudge of committing?

Cheers,

JRM

February 27, 2010 at 11:53 PM  

Hey Donny,
Yes, Fox does the same thing, of course. In my mind, they're little better than Drudge. They just try to be a bit more professional about it. But yes, I will try to enjoy it...I wasn't really serious that I won't look at Drudge again. The reason it bothers me of course is not simply that Drudge does what he does--I could easily laugh at that--but because I know lots of people that lap it up. And that troubles me, and makes it rather less easy to just laugh off.

Jess,
1) Let's try this definition: "A one-sided presentation of a single viewpoint under the deceptive guise of presenting objective fact." In this context, one might also raise concerns about things like trying to bypass people's conscious reasoning and manipulate their subconscious.

2) Absolutely. Of course, as I acknowledged to Donny, nearly every public news source does this to some extent. Of course, I daresay that there are a number that don't do it intentionally--that do try to present things fairly and objectively, but can't avoid inserting their own slant. That, I am quite sure is not true of Drudge. I know that, because one time I sent in a message in Drudge's comment box about a case in which his headline was in flat contradiction to the story it linked to (it was something like "Hurricane season activity well below average" when in fact, the story described how activity was well above average); the next day, the headline was changed so that it technically did not contradict the content of the story, but still did its best to create the opposite impression. So, the point is that while all news sources fail to be completely fair and objective (an impossible ideal, at any rate), I have seen few that try systematically not to be, in the way Drudge does.

3) Again, none are perfect, or even close to it. My preferred sources are CNN.com and Bloomberg.com.

February 28, 2010 at 10:21 AM  

Mr. Littlejohn,

Fair enough.

Cheers,

JRM

February 28, 2010 at 4:32 PM  

Good. You're just one step away from using Colbert and Stewart as your sources. You're almost there, Brad.

March 1, 2010 at 3:11 AM  

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