. . . of online media manipulation isn’t exactly new. In fact, it goes back well before Romney’s 2008 campaign got underway in earnest. It seems to date back to sometime in 2005, when RNC operatives arranged a meeting between Matt Drudge and Matt Rhodes — a highly placed operative in the Romney organization.
Last year, a delegation of RNC officials flew to Miami Beach, where Drudge lives, for a dinner at the Forge steakhouse to introduce the Internet maven to Matt Rhodes, the party’s new opposition research director.
Due to Drudge’s now-close friendship with Romney’s chief aide and longtime GOP opposition researcher, it’s a safe bet Perry supporters won’t have many positive headlines to look forward to from the erstwhile gadfly. Having apparently been fully co-opted by the dread Republican Establishment, Drudge has been feeding the conservative online community a steady diet of pro-Romney headlines for years and, more recently, anti-Perry headlines — just to strike a balance, you see.
Just this week, for example, five of six Drudge headlines about Perry include bad news, from polling to policy: “PERRY APOLOGIZES FOR CALLING GOP VOTERS ‘HEARTLESS’… Iowa: Romney 21%, Bachmann 15%, Perry 14%, Paul 12%…POLL: CAIN ON TOP, PERRY PLUMMETS…PERRY: MY WIFE PRODDED ME TO RUN.”
Romney benefited from similar treatment from Drudge during his last run for the White House, when Drudge went hammer-and-tong against each of his opponents — reserving special scrutiny for Mike Huckabee:
A year ago, Rhodes signed on to Romney’s campaign. Since then, Drudge-watchers have noted Drudge’s consistent refusal to hype–and in many cases to even mention–negative stories about Romney. But now Huckabee threatens to blow Romney’s nomination strategy. Since last week, Drudge has unleashed a torrent of screaming, anti-Huckabee headlines, culminating in today’s “exclusive” (which cites one unnamed Democrat) about the Democrats’ supposed hope that Huckabee will emerge as the G.O.P. nominee.
Rhodes (or Rhoades — the correct spelling is unclear at this time) was brought back on board to head up Romney’s “Free and Strong America PAC” as executive director early in 2015. As Ben Smith noted at the time:
Rhoades, who’s moving to Boston, is a well-regarded guy whose return to Romney pretty much confirms what will surprise nobody: That he’s running in 2012. He’s also, incidentally, been valued for his relationship with a key player in any GOP primary, Matt Drudge.
And by June of this year, Romney had already established a dominant position in what has come to be known as the “Drudge Primary” — which is apparently modeled on the Cuban electoral process:
A survey of the past 13 months of Drudge headlines found only one debatably negative reference to the 2002 Olympics CEO (“Bachmann Outraises Romney”) — and a survey of aides to his rivals found a rising level of frustration at what one described as “favoritism” by one of the most important, if also one of the quirkiest, referees.
“One of the mysteries of Drudge is how he continues to be such a mystery. Never clear how or why he leans for or against candidates. But there is a lot of behind-the-scenes, very quiet and secretive mojo that goes on,” said Mark McKinnon, who, as a top adviser to John McCain in 2008, watched with dismay as Drudge gave top billing to questions about the Arizona senator’s health.
“It looks like someone in Romneyland has figured out the secret code,” McKinnon said.
Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with an outlet having a preference for one candidate over the other. Matt Drudge is certainly entitled to support whomever he thinks is the best candidate and for whatever reasons he chooses to do so. At the same time, though, conservatives who frequent the Drudge Report to glean information are entitled to know of his connections to people involved in campaigns irrespective of whether or not he feels his editorial decisions are affected by those connections.
This post is by no means a call to boycott the influential online news source. That would be as stupid as just about all boycotts are. Instead, it’s a simple reminder to those who read this blog that going to Drudge’s site in search of information on any candidate other than Mitt Romney is going to be a discouraging experience the vast majority of the time. So, when you see the bold red headline with flashing sirens announcing some explosion of support for Mitt Romney, or some manner of crippling blow to any other candidate, keep in mind that it’s been placed there with a specific purpose — and that is to further discourage you.
What’s disappointing about all of this, though, is the fact that from Matt Drudge’s earliest days posting Hollywood gossip on Usenet discussion boards, he’s set himself up as the answer to the biased media that refuses to air, and often actively suppresses, information that shows conservatives in a positive light. Since then, it appears that Matt Drudge has become the new boss . . . same as the old boss.