Once a reliable place to find unflattering photos of Hillary Clinton, the news aggregator Drudge Report mocked both President Donald Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani in recent weeks.
Meanwhile Fox News, long seen as a booster of conservatism, has become a target of the president, who cheers every decline in ratings and is rumored to be considering starting a media company that would compete with Fox.
Have Drudge and Fox, like voters in Georgia, turned blue, or at least faint purple?
If so, it would be a remarkable change, given that a subset of Americans called “Fox News Republicans” have been the president’s most loyal supporters. And as far back as 2006, the website founded by Matt Drudge has been seen as powerhouse of Republican support, with ABC News reporting that year that “Drudge Report sets the tone for national political coverage.”
It’s clear that Drudge Report is no longer a booster of Trump, who has called the website “fake news” this year although it has been credited with helping him get elected in 2016.
It’s not clear, however, if Matt Drudge is still the owner, or involved on a daily basis. There’s been speculation the site has been sold, although others say Drudge still owns and manages the site he founded in 1995.
As for Fox, the network recently changed its slogan to “Standing Up for What’s Right,” which some people saw as a dig at Trump, and by extension, his loyal supporters. Trump voters also took issue with the network calling states for Biden on election night.
Given their other content, it’s unlikely that Drudge Report and Fox have radically shifted to the left. As they say in medical school, “when you hear hoofs, think horse, not zebra,” meaning the simplest explanation is more likely than the more uncommon one.
As such, it’s more probable that the news outlets soured on Trump — as some other prominent Republicans did — not on conservatism in general.
But the perception that Drudge Report and Fox News have abandoned their base is getting oxygen from people who want to compete with them.
Man of the Left?
Earlier this year, Ryan McMaken, writing on the blog of the Mises Institute, said Drudge Report has lost its edge, becoming instead a purveyor of predictable fare, spiced with “crisis porn.”
“It is now, for all practical purposes, a sister site to CNN.com or The Atlantic,” McMaken wrote.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson went farther, in July calling Drudge “a man of the progressive left.”
“At times, his site is indistinguishable from The Daily Beast or any other woke propaganda outlet posing as a news company,” Carlson told Matthew Lysiak, the author of a biography on Drudge, “The Drudge Revolution,” released this year.
Lysiak did not interview the subject of his book. Drudge is famously reclusive and rarely grants interviews. But he did speak briefly to Florida journalist Bob Norman after he showed up unannounced at Drudge’s home.
As Norman recounted in an article in Columbia Journalism Review, he never saw Drudge when he was at the house, but called him later and told him he wanted to talk with him about Trump. “You and everybody else,” Drudge replied. When Norman said Drudge Report was supportive of Trump in 2016, Drudge said, “That was three years ago.”
“That response seemed rather telling, a clear distancing from the president. But Drudge wouldn’t go further,” Norman wrote.
In addition to Drudge Report’s increasingly frequent skewering of Trump, others have noticed the website has taken the pandemic seriously, unlike some of Trump’s supporters.
As one person wrote on Twitter, “Fox may have shifted to the center since 2016. Drudge Report was the biggest game changer. DR single-handedly made me deathly afraid of COVID-19 between February and May of this year.”
Fox News, meanwhile, has regularly enraged the president with reporting that the president believes is biased against him. At one point, he said he was the “golden goose” responsible for the network’s historic ratings. (Fox surpassed the legacy networks in primetime for the third quarter of 2020, and in that same quarter, four of the five most-watched cable news shows belonged to Fox.)
And his anger was renewed on election night after Fox News was the first network to project that eventual President-elect Joe Biden would win Arizona.
According to the political website The Hill, the Trump campaign urged people to call Fox to ask them to withdraw the call. “The campaign also sent out talking points attacking the head of the Fox News decision desk and highlighting his past contributions to Democratic candidates,” Brett Samuels wrote for The Hill.
The president has urged his supporters to abandon Fox for other conservative outlets such as Newmax, and Mike Allen at Axios has reported that Trump wants to start a digital media company to compete with Fox. According to Allen, an unidentified source said, “He plans to wreck Fox. No doubt about it.”
To do so, however, would require convincing Trump supporters to abandon their principle source of news.
According to an October report from the Public Religion Research Institute, about 40% of Republicans say they trust Fox News more than any other news source, comprising what the institute’s founder and CEO Robert P. Jones called “a party within a party.”
And those “Fox New Republicans” were largely supportive of the president.
Nearly all Republicans who report trusting most in Fox News for television news approved of the job Trump is doing in office, including 82% who strongly approve, according to the PRRI survey. (Among all other Republicans, 78% approved of the president and 42% strongly approved.)
If Trump decides to compete with what he perceives as anti-Trump media, he’ll have company. Conservative podcaster Dan Bongino is offering Trump supporters an alternative to Drudge Report in his Bongino Report, launched last year.
A news aggregator like Drudge Report, the site recently had headlines including “Biden Campaign Manager Called for Mandatory Gun Seizures” and “RINO Mitt Romney Scolds Trump for Not Accepting Election Irregularities Without Investigation.”
In announcing the launch, Bongino, a former Secret Service agent and police officer, said on Twitter, “Drudge has abandoned you. I NEVER will.”
Bongino is regularly among the top 10 performing Facebook posts on a given day, according to the Twitter account that tracks them. He’s also a regular commentator on Fox News, which shows the challenge that Trump and his supporters face if they try to extract themselves from Fox and Drudge Report, given their longtime entwinement. When Trump criticizes Fox, for example, he’s criticizing the employer of his ally Sean Hannity, a top-performing Fox host.
But a Biden presidency may be what reunites the team. Recently, Drudge Report has been publishing flattering photos of Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. If the past predicts the future, that will change.
And a recent article by Sarah Ellison and Jeremy Barr in The Washington Post suggests that Fox News will soon be making Trump happy again when it casts a critical eye on the Biden administration.
“Fox thrives when it is in the opposition because they have a real-time bad guy to beat up on,” former CNN President Jonathan Klein said in the Post. “A Biden win would be great for Fox’s business.”