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Miami Beach appears to be treating Matt Drudge well. The man who fearfully barricaded himself inside his Hollywood, California, apartment for five days as his Drudge Report Website helped unleash the Monica Lewinsky affair upon the world hardly looks like a reclusive shut-in. Instead 34-year-old Drudge, as he enters Nirvana, a South Beach Indian restaurant, appears tan, rested, and just a hair short of buff. His trademark hard-boiled fashion affectations, which nodded to Twenties gossip reporter Walter Winchell -- vintage fedora, button-down shirt, loosened tie -- have been replaced by a faded T-shirt, a Guatemalan peasant-chic necklace, shorts, and sneakers. He still spends the bulk of his day hunched in front of his computer screen, surfing newspaper sites and wire services, sifting through thousands of e-mails. But now these online sessions are broken up by frequent dips in the Atlantic Ocean -- just steps from the $352,000 high-rise Beach condo he rents.
"I've been avoiding you," he says with a mischievous smirk, referring to the previous two weeks' worth of unanswered phone calls and e-mail requests for an interview. Settling in at a corner table, he remains wary. After a few questions about his new life in Miami Beach, he begins wagging his finger sternly: "I know your angle. I can see where you're going with this. “Drudge the conservative rebel'; “the conservative who's not really that conservative.'"
He continues sharply: "That's not true. I ama conservative. I'm very much pro-life. If you go down the list of what makes up a conservative, I'm there almost all the way. So just because I like Junior Vasquez doesn't mean I can't believe this country was built on life, not on a death culture."
Hold on. Junior Vasquez? Junior Vasquez, the reigning DJ king of gay circuit parties?
"Oh yeah, last year Vasquez did some of his best stuff ever," Drudge enthuses, launching into an informed rundown of house music's leading lights, praising Peter Rauhoffer and Hex Hector but deeming a recent all-night set from Danny Tenaglia at Club Space "a bit overrated." He's even more displeased with Thunderpuss, the duo who have moved from sweaty club faves such as "If It Don't Fit, Don't Force It" and the less oblique "Fuck Me Harder" to remixing chart hits from the likes of Madonna and Enrique Iglesias. "Thunderpuss is gone, completely finished," he declares. "Their past three or four records have been a debacle."
So meet Matt Drudge, staunch conservative, self-described soldier in the fight against the louche Clintonistas, passionate devotee of circuit house, and -- he notes with his spoon poised in the air -- a big fan of Nirvana's mulligatawny soup.
"This is all you're gonna get," Drudge admonishes New Timesphotographer Steve Satterwhite, instructing him to snap only head shots. It's nothing personal, he explains from behind a pair of dark sunglasses, posing inside his 27th-floor apartment as a breathtaking view of the Atlantic unfolds through the floor-to-ceiling windows around him. "I just feel really left alone in Miami," he says, which is the way he'd like to keep it. So no unmasked eyes, no identifying full-body photos, and definitely no mentioning his exact street address.
Drudge's apartment emits the vibe of a bachelor stockbroker's pad, someone with plenty of money but little free time to bask in it. The living room is largely empty and undecorated except for a massive television set. Personal effects are few: a Larry King videotape, a boom box for listening to tapes of talk-radio prankster Phil Hendrie, and scattered copies of his own best-selling book, Drudge Manifesto. Despite having lived here for two years, unpacked moving boxes still sit stacked against a wall.
Initial speculation surrounding Drudge's move to Miami had him covering his assets. Looming large was a $30 million libel lawsuit brought by Clinton White House aide Sidney Blumenthal after Drudge posted on his Website allegations that Blumenthal "has a spousal-abuse past that has been effectively covered up."
A Florida law exempts one's home from most legal judgments or bankruptcy settlements -- the apparent lure for fellow California refugee O.J. Simpson. But Drudge insists (and Miami-Dade County records confirm) that he owns no property beyond the Mustang convertible that has replaced his old Geo Metro.
Forget about Blumenthal, says Drudge. "It was the tax-free zone -- there's no state income tax here. I started making seven digits last year, and my $600-a-month apartment would end up costing me $90,000 in California if I would've stayed. It didn't make any sense to pay nine percent income tax. To then have blackouts on top of it is ridiculous!"
Besides, the lawsuit was settled in May, with Blumenthal not only dropping matters completely but actually cutting Drudge's lawyer a check for $2500 to cover some travel expenses. Though he crowed to the New York Timesthat the publicity from the lawsuit had rocketed him "from rags to riches -- and I got to keep them," his mood today isn't one of vindication. "They went out of their way to cover this lawsuit really aggressively, but it didn't come down the way they wanted it to," he says, pointing to the relative silence from major media outlets following the settlement's announcement. "There was nine seconds from Judy Woodruff on CNN after probably a couple of hours discussion on the lawsuit."