In The Drudge Revolution, last year’s unauthorized biography of Web wizard Matt Drudge, veteran journalist Matthew Lysiak goes where no one has gone before in detailing the life and times of the man behind the internet’s most famous black and white webpage, the Drudge Report. But the book is more than just the Horatio Algeresque life of Drudge, who overcame a childhood of domestic dysfunction, a poor academic performance in high school and a series of minimum-wage jobs to become America’s most influential news aggregator. It is the story of how the broader internet revolution made the means of media production available to the median members of society.
A quarter century later, Drudge’s Revolution remains ongoing, yet evolving. And while its latest permutation lies beyond the scope of Lysiak’s narrative, there is no need to look further than the book’s dedication page. For the next Drudge is a Drudgette, Lysiak’s 14-year-old daughter Hilde Lysiak.
Truly a cub reporter, the younger Lysiak began publishing her newspaper/website the Orange Street News not long after reaching the age of reason. Like Drudge, who was first given a computer by his father, Hilde Lysiak’s career trajectory was inspired by the actions of her old man. But unlike Drudge’s dad, Matthew Lysiak has never had to worry about his child lacking initiative. At age 9, Hilde Lysiak gained international media attention by breaking the story of a murder in her hometown after other local media outlets held back their coverage at the behest of the police. The parallels to Drudge’s career-defining scoop, breaking the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal after Newsweek refused to publish the story, are obvious. Equally similar is the abuse that both took from critics who sneered at the notion that big stories could reach the masses via little people circumventing the big media gatekeepers.
But that is exactly what Drudge’s Revolution heralded. This new reality was articulated by Drudge directly to the establishment media in a 1998 speech before the National Press Club. Doffing his familiar fedora, Drudge delivered his remarks to a skeptical Fourth Estate, telling them that in an age where technology permits anyone to be a reporter, corporate control of information would give way to “an era vibrating with the din of small voices.” Drudge was the first to use the internet to amplify his small voice into something stentorian. Regardless of what they said about him, the Drudge Report became required reading for everyone in the media. Matthew Lysiak describes an experience familiar to any follower of the Drudge Report. A story Drudge linked to on his website in the morning would be covered by talk radio and cable news throughout the day and then end up on the nightly network news programs in the evening. Lysiak neglected to mention that the same story would complete the news cycle by finding its way into the monologues of the various late-night comedians.
Where Drudge and the legacy media were most alike was in their willingness to advance narratives by the way in which they covered stories, particularly in their selection of which stories received any coverage at all. Drudge mastered this art and his coverage of stories that the dominant left-wing media neglected made the Drudge Report the sun around which the conservative media revolved. This is where Miss Lysiak represents a distinct iteration of Drudge’s Revolution. She combines the new paradigm of the citizen reporter with the old, but rarely realized, ideal of the impartial press. In 2019, Hilde Lysiak became America’s youngest ever commencement speaker when she addressed the graduates of West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media. In a speech analogous to Drudge’s National Press Club address, Miss Lysiak foretold a future where a new generation of reporters would eschew partisan theatrics and bring about a “golden age of truth.” Aided by her columnist/videographer older sister Isabel (the Lysiaks are the von Trapp Family of journalism), Hilde Lysiak continues to break stories on public corruption, the drug abuse epidemic, and the like, all with a scrupulous adherence to disinterested, fact-based reporting.
There is a market for muckrakers. Drudge is about to find himself portrayed in an upcoming television miniseries on the Clinton Impeachment. The movie rights to The Drudge Revolution have also been sold. Hilde Lysiak’s success proves that Americans still value objective reporting. Already the co-author of a series of children’s books based on her life and the inspiration for a mystery series on Apple TV+, the Society of Professional Journalists’ youngest member still struggles to be taken seriously by many in her profession. That is understandable. In a media saturated with child-like personalities, Miss Lysiak’s maturity is what sets her apart.
Paul F. Petrick is an attorney in Cleveland, Ohio.