In the latest debate about Matt Drudge, Mark Halperin of Time magazine suggests that Drudge appeals to racism among a portion of his readers. I often agree with Halperin, but he misses the point.
Drudge does not appeal to racism. This is wrong about Drudge and insulting to his readers, and diverts attention from the big question: With so many wealthy liberals and Democrats, with Democrats controlling the presidency and Congress, and with Hollywood and New York full of brilliant, wealthy liberal stars and moguls, why does the right have such a media lead over the left?
Drudge may be the most influential media figure today. He is read with devotion by political operatives, news editors, television producers, beat reporters and government leaders. Some in Congress even try to prevent their staff from reading Drudge. Fat chance!
The hand of Drudge heavily influences what is read in the papers, viewed on television and debated in national politics. Where is the liberal Drudge? With Democrats controlling so much of the information flow from the White House and Congress, why does a conservative have a monopoly on “the Drudge factor” while liberal Democrats are reduced to reading Drudge, reacting to Drudge and dishing dirt against their opponents to Drudge? Why does Fox News have a huge ratings advantage over MSNBC, even after sweeping tides for Democrats in 2006 and 2008?
Why is conservative radio light-years ahead of liberal radio in audience share, with the hapless Air America a perpetual bankrupt? Some liberal hosts have built significant audiences. There is discrimination by corporate radio in some markets. But I won’t push the liberal Fairness Doctrine issue, because it is a cop-out that will not affect the larger liberal media failure.
There are progressive media beachheads. Arianna Huffington is one. Ed Schultz has moved into radio, television and now publishing with a populist book. Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow have planted important flags on television.
Imagine if President Obama had appeared on MSNBC and liberal radio with his 13 million person list as an audience for a rousing appeal for the public option!
Beginning with Ronald Reagan in the 1970s, conservatives found large media investors with a movement commitment to issues and marketing savvy that turned masses of movement voters into mass audiences for television, radio and publishing.
Conservative media became a voice for a movement. The movement became a fungible audience swirling from radio to television to books. Drudge, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Andrew Breitbart and others are not a voice for Republicans. They are a megaphone for conservatives.
Major liberal investors and Obama’s aides do not envision a mass movement translated into media power. White House aides often show contempt for the liberal base. The strongest sector of liberal media strength, the Internet, is often derided by insiders rather than respected as conservatives respect their base.
High-level progressives from Washington to Hollywood have untapped potential to create media power. Liberal investors, Hollywood stars and media moguls can do what conservatives do.
Until then, they should accept that Matt Drudge’s influence was achieved the old-fashioned way. He earned it.
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at email@example.com.