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The Drudge Retort

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which nodded to Twenties gossip reporter Walter Winchell -- vintage fedora, button-down shirt, loosened tie -- have been replaced by a faded T-shirt, a Guatemalan peasant-chic necklace, shorts, and sneakers.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 am a 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 Times photographer 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 Times that 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."

After two days of fuming, Drudge announced on his Website: "AFTER YEARS OF COVERAGE: BIG MEDIA SILENT ON BLUMENTHAL CASH SETTLEMENT," charging that "New York Times readers have been left with the impression that the lawsuit against Drudge is ongoing and will continue forever until Mr. Blumenthal is victorious."

Only a few hours later, Drudge posted an e-mail inquiry he received from New York Times media reporter Felicity Barringer asking to speak with him. And while he remains aggrieved that the resulting piece was barely more than 200 words, he boasts, "You try getting the New York Times to write about you only a couple hours after you've posted “Why aren't you writing about me?'"

Drudge may not want to be physically recognized, but as the Times episode demonstrates, he is obsessed with being known. In fact each morning begins with him logging on to Nexis -- a voluminous worldwide newspaper and records database -- to check on the latest appearances of his own name. "I love it when I pop up in the Jakarta Times," he quips.

Today offers a special treat beyond the daily use of his name as an adjective ("Drudgelike"): proof of his entrance into the cultural lexicon. He taps a few keys and brings up his first mention by a Bush White House official on the public record. Back in January Drudge had helped advance charges from Bush officials about outgoing Clinton staffers sabotaging their offices. The damage originally was purported to be little more than some magic-marker graffiti and a few missing W keys from some computer keyboards -- a playful scene similar to the mess left by departing Papa Bush staffers in January 1993. The Drudge Report trumpeted otherwise: "WHITE HOUSE OFFICES LEFT “TRASHED': PORN BOMBS, LEWD MESSAGES; LEGAL PROBE CONSIDERED." Several publications, as well as a host of conservative talk shows, ran with the vandalism story.

But a General Services Administration investigation later found that the "property was consistent with what we would expect to encounter when tenants vacate office space after an extended occupancy." A separate General Accounting Office inquiry also concluded there was "no record of damage."

Confronted with this evidence at a press briefing by several reporters who believed they'd been deceived, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer could do little more than stammer and backpedal. He'd been misunderstood; he certainly never accused Clinton staffers of any serious West Wing malfeasance. "Somebody was chasing Matt Drudge in the press corps here," Fleischer offered, "and Matt Drudge had put something up that said a full investigation had been launched by the White House.... I was trying to knock that down." Refuting Drudge was the only reason he'd brought the vandalism matter up at a previous press briefing.

One would imagine that Drudge would feel a little sheepish about being proven wrong, not to mention being used as a scapegoat by his erstwhile allies in the White House. Even more embarrassing, here was a dramatic example of exactly what his critics have accused him of doing: moving a politically motivated rumor from GOP circles out into the daily news cycle, regardless of its veracity. Despite all this, staring at his computer screen and taking in his boldfaced name in a transcript of Fleischer's comments, Drudge seems pleased simply to have been mentioned. It's confirmation that he still matters, that he's still a player in Washington circles, even if his relationship to the Bush administration is a bit ambiguous. After all, it's a lot harder to play the role of rebel outsider when your man now sits in the Oval Office.

"Bush is not good copy," he sighs, then adds with a raised eyebrow: "But his daughters might be." He continues musing aloud. "I say this as a conservative: Bush is so completely boring. There just aren't any angles there whatsoever. Between Bush and Al Gore, there's probably not much of a difference. At least not yet. Gore would've probably given a little better copy."

That's a jarring statement -- most liberals and conservatives alike would insist there's a world of difference between Gore and Bush, that it certainly matters who won the election, that the ability to generate "copy" is no way to evaluate the nation's leader. But good copy means good ratings. And for Drudge, ratings appear to be what it's all about.

Although Matt Drudge's name might be forever linked with Hillary Clinton's famously branded "vast right-wing conspiracy" to bring down her husband's presidency, his formative years were anything but political. A mock "last will and testament" written shortly before his 1984 Washington, D.C., high school graduation captures the mindset of an angst-ridden teen who couldn't care less about the Beltway.

"To my only true friend Ms. thing, Vicky B," Drudge wrote, "I leave a night in Paris, a bottle of Chaps cologne, and hope you find a school with original people. And to everyone else who has helped and hindered me whether it be staff or students, I leave a penny for each day I've been here and cried here. A penny rich in worthless memories. For worthless memories is what I have endured."

The next few years were scarcely more auspicious. Eschewing college, Drudge spent a month kicking around Paris, a year in New York City working at a supermarket, and then returned home to Washington, D.C., where he punched the clock as night-shift manager for a suburban 7-Eleven. Eventually Drudge made his way to Hollywood, looking for a job in the entertainment industry. The closest he came to the glamorous life, however, was working in the CBS studios gift shop, folding T-shirts and dusting off 60 Minutes mugs. It was a job he would hold for seven years.

"My father worried I was in a giant stall," he said during a speech before a June 1998 meeting of the National Press Club. "And in a parental panic he overcame his fear of flying and dropped in for a visit. At the end of his stay, during the drive to the airport, sensing some action was called for, he dragged me into a blown-out strip [mall] on Sunset Boulevard and found a Circuit City store. “Come on,' he said desperately, “I'm getting you a computer.'

"“Oh yeah, and what am I going to do with that?' I laughed.

"I collected a few e-mail addresses of interest," Drudge recalled of his initial 1995 forays onto the Internet, and the Drudge Report debuted as a string of juicy news articles he collected, then e-mailed to a small following. "One reader turned into 5, then turned into 100. And faster than you could say, “I never had sex with that woman,' it was 1000, 5000, 100,000 people. The ensuing Website launched itself."

The end result was a starkly designed, link-studded site that mixed Hollywood gossip with Capitol Hill buzz. Considering the tenor of the times, it wasn't an odd juxtaposition. Supermarket tabloids such as the Star and the National Enquirer were then competing with daily newspapers for dirt on President Clinton.

Six years later the formula endures: Links to stories detailing the latest drug arrest of actor Robert Downey, Jr., and opening-weekend box-office speculation on Pearl Harbor compete for space with Timothy McVeigh execution coverage and Senator Jeffords's bolt from the GOP. The blend is spiced up by the occasional Drudge-penned "exclusive."

"The reason I hit it big is because I got lucky with the president," Drudge says. "But [during] all that Lewinsky stuff, I was doing great stories on science, TV -- all of it. The Lewinsky stuff was getting big headlines, so that's how I became defined." He notes that he's never shied away from a good story on George W. Bush. "I had a great headline a year and a half ago -- Bush: Whites Only -- about a racial covenant on a house Bush had sold so no blacks could move into it."

While Drudge bristles at the perception he's one-dimensionally pro-Republican, mention of his protracted "war" with Clinton draws a sparkle to his eyes. "When I look back on it, to imagine that the president would be saying my name over and over again in grand jury testimony, having that bounced around on satellites all over the world -- it's pretty surreal," he recalls. "And it took just two fingers, a modem, and guts." He then adds with a snarl: "And not giving a shit!"

That sentiment is precisely what alarmed many in the media, particularly when Drudge made headlines in August 1997 with his spousal-abuse allegations against journalist Sidney Blumenthal. Reading the Drudge Report at home before his first day on the job as a Clinton advisor, Blumenthal reacted with outrage, and Drudge admitted soon afterward to the Washington Post there was no substance to the story. He said he'd been used by "top GOP operatives" to carry out a character assassination, adding ruefully: "I think I've been had." Blumenthal remained unmoved and filed his well-publicized $30 million libel lawsuit, claiming not only a desire to defend his family's honor but the very craft of journalism itself.

"[Drudge] is a menace to honest, responsible journalism," concurred Newsweek's Michael Isikoff, who had already seen several of his sources on a purported Clinton-Kathleen Willey sex story leak material to Drudge. "And to the extent that he's read and people believe what they read, he's dangerous."

An important subtext to all this is the realization that a good five months before Monica Lewinsky became a household name, Drudge -- flying solo out of his tiny Hollywood apartment with nothing more than a home computer -- already was being read regularly throughout Washington's corridors of power. "They engaged me in a fight, and the Blumenthal lawsuit just exploded it," he marvels. "To know people in the White House are reading the Drudge Report!" Or as he crowed to the National Press Club: "If I'm so bad and if I'm so useless and I'm just a gossip hound, why was Sidney Blumenthal reading me the night before his first day at the White House? I don't quite understand that. It seems to me I'd spend my time over at the New York Times, who get everything right."

If Blumenthal's intention was to financially destroy Drudge, President Clinton's enemies gleefully rose to the challenge, providing the online muckraker with a pro bono legal defense crew. The New York Observer's Joe Conason and former Newsweek general editor Gene Lyons, in their The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton, describe those presidential enemies as "a loose cabal, if not quite a “vast conspiracy,' involving long-time Clinton adversaries from Arkansas and elsewhere: an angry gallery of defeated politicians, disappointed office seekers, right-wing pamphleteers, wealthy eccentrics, zany private detectives, religious fanatics, and die-hard segregationists who went beyond mere sexual gossip to promote rumors of financial chicanery, narcotics trafficking, and even politically motivated murder."

Among that network's ranks were colorful characters such as Nixon-era dirty trickster-turned-literary agent Lucianne Goldberg and American Spectator editor R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., as well as the funding largesse of notorious Pittsburgh billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife. This close-knit group jumped from issue to issue -- Travelgate, Troopergate, Whitewater, Vince Foster, Gennifer Flowers, Kathleen Willey, Paula Jones -- looking for something, anything, with which to undermine the Clinton administration.

With its growing public profile, the Drudge Report became a useful weapon. Conason and Lyons point to white-shoe attorney Bruce Conway and conservative pundit Ann Coulter, both part of the Paula Jones legal team, as the source for many of the presidential tidbits that flowed to Drudge. Some were goofily false (Clinton has a black love child; Clinton has a bald-eagle tattoo on his privates), but at least one was shockingly true.

Conway and Coulter had been leaking Jones deposition material about a young White House intern to Newsweek reporter Isikoff, who was hot on the Clinton sex trail. When Newsweek editors decided on a Saturday night to hold the story from that Monday's issue (they wanted more evidence than third-party telephone conversations), Conway and Coulter turned to Drudge. Several hours later, on Sunday, January 18, 1998, the Drudge Report posted this headline: "NEWSWEEK KILLS STORY ON WHITE HOUSE INTERN. BLOCKBUSTER REPORT: 23-YEAR-OLD FORMER WHITE HOUSE INTERN, SEX RELATIONSHIP WITH PRESIDENT. WORLD EXCLUSIVE. The Drudge Report has learned that reporter Michael Isikoff developed the story of his career, only to have it spiked by top Newsweek suits hours before publication...."

For more than a million devoted fans, the Drudge Report isn't just a Website, it's also a radio show. Drudge leads the way into one of his apartment's smaller rooms, which serves as a studio. Aside from a desk littered with the cassette tapes that contain his show's backing music, a microphone, and a brick-size telephone coupler, the only other object of note is a framed blowup of an October 2000 New York Times best-seller list. The placement of Drudge Manifesto is circled.

"They stopped me at number eight," he grouses, noting that he still managed to sell 100,000 copies (a paperback edition is due this fall). They, of course, are the liberal media elite, conspiring once again to silence him. "They get to define who's hot and who's not? Well, I declare they're not hot. All of them! They don't have to cover me; they don't have to review my book -- which got four weeks on the New York Times best-seller list without a review anywhere really but the Washington Post."

Perhaps that Times blowup and its reminder of his underdog status help Drudge to psych up before turning on his microphone every Sunday evening at 10:00. At that moment -- via satellite uplink and an engineer in a New York City station -- he begins preaching to his fans on 157 talk-radio stations around the nation. (According to Arbitron, more than 16,000 people tune in to hear him on Miami's WIOD-AM 610.) Sunday evening has traditionally been considered a graveyard slot by radio executives, and Drudge's development of a significant audience there hasn't gone unnoticed or unrewarded; his six-figure radio paycheck provides the bulk of his current income.

If there's something ironic about this booster of the Internet revolution finding success on such an old-school medium, it's lost on Drudge. In fact he takes great pleasure in the dot-com crash. "I see all these media corporations pulling back from their Websites, saying, “Oh, there's no money in it. Retreat!' The audience is still there; there's lots of eyeballs. The Internet has just failed as a commercial, corporate, bottom-line medium. But who said it had to be that?"

He's certainly had his disputes with those media corporations. A yearlong stint hosting a TV cable show on Fox News came to an end with Drudge crying censorship -- at the hands of archconservative Rupert Murdoch no less. ABC radio, the original syndicator of his radio show, terminated its relationship with him late last year. Executives in the ABC news department were uncomfortable with the association and reportedly prevailed upon the network not to renew Drudge's contract.

For Eric Rhoads, publisher of the trade journal Radio Ink, these conflicts are not surprising. "I can understand why a company like ABC, which is always very concerned with the credibility of its news, would be concerned about tying in with Matt," he remarks. "But most stations are just going to say, “Look, if it gets ratings and we can make money on it, it's worthwhile.'"

Accordingly Drudge wasn't orphaned for long. Premiere Radio Networks, a division of media titan Clear Channel Communications and home to top-rated Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura, swooped in to grab him. "The hosts who traditionally have been the most successful are not wishy-washy," Rhoads says. "They're very dogmatic in their content. That's why Rush has been so successful. Whether or not you agree with him, very firm opinions lead to great ratings."

But the radio persona of Matt Drudge is not exactly a younger version of Rush Limbaugh, despite a clear overlap in the two men's audiences. Most callers to Drudge merely parrot what they've already heard on Limbaugh's show (even down to stock epithets like "limousine liberals"), endlessly rehashing familiar talk-show fodder: the death penalty, Timothy McVeigh conspiracies, unchecked immigration, the "socialist" nature of the Democratic Party leadership. "The callers are boring," Drudge admits with a shrug, an attitude that comes through on the air.

What truly excites Drudge, what elevates his radio monologues to a caustic pitch, is the media itself. "Okay, Clinton's gone," he says, "but my new rage is [AOL-Time Warner CEO] Gerald Levin. He thinks he's the most powerful man in the world. And he might be! Anyone who controls that many images, that much information, that much product, and has grand designs for “societal good,' I'm onto him!"

Levin is but one of Drudge's favored targets. On the air recently he also cackled as he recited the minuscule ratings of several cable-news programs; he reveled in a New Yorker story that quoted a former Inside.com staffer claiming the site never achieved more than 1200 paying subscribers despite a $35 million budget; he clucked in disgust at both Gore Vidal's plans for a McVeigh execution profile for Vanity Fair and that magazine's editor, Graydon Carter, for offering Vidal a forum.

These fevered rants evidence Drudge's fascination with the world of "Tina" and "Harvey" (in insiderspeak, no "Brown," "Weinstein," or titles are necessary), but how many conservative-minded radio listeners share that interest? "It's just a hunch I have," Drudge says, "that these media people are better copy than Bush." And while he concedes that his fans may not monitor Salon.com's Jake Tapper and Inside.com's Kurt Andersen to the obsessive degree he does, they certainly enjoy his tirades on those figures. "For two of the last three ratings books, I was number one in New York City [in my time slot]," he says proudly, referring to his Arbitron-measured audience of more than 100,000 there. "[On Sunday nights] there is no other voice on AM or FM -- music, talk, jazz, classical, hip-hop -- that has a bigger audience. So obviously people are “getting it.'"

And if they do stray, there's always Janet Reno. "I'm going to go to Little Havana and wear a “Reno for Governor' T-shirt," he laughs. Not that he plans to vote for her, but as a lightning rod for conservative animus, "she's great copy." Beyond Reno, though, don't expect to hear much about Miami on the radio or the Website. "I don't write about Miami politics for the same reason I don't write about Giuliani's divorce in New York: It doesn't interest me enough. I know that's self-serving, living here and not caring what's happening on my own street. But tough, that's the American way."

Drudge has enough faith in his instincts to believe that if he's interested in a subject, so will his audience be interested. Keeping that audience glued to his Website and radio show remains paramount. Some critics might argue that such a ratings-driven philosophy is less about journalism than it is about tabloid-style pandering. "Who says that?" Drudge snaps. "The establishment press? Those people are fools to think they own the tradition of journalism. It's all about nobodies like me, upstarts, people who dig into a lot of things on their own.

"Look, I know what journalists think of me: that I'm an uneducated fool who was working in a gift shop and hit it big. And there's nothing they can do about that. I get e-mails all the time: “Help me, I'm sixteen years old. I don't want to go college; I want to be like you.'"

To be like Matt Drudge is no simple thing, at least no simple-minded thing. A lengthy lunch conversation only underscores his iconoclastic nature. A case in point: his attraction to pop culture, a subject most conservative commentators either fear or deem to be beneath them. When was the last time you heard Rush Limbaugh talk about the new Radiohead album?

Despite overcast weather, Drudge slides on his sunglasses for the drive down to Lincoln Road's Van Dyke Café. He appears visibly tense, remarking that with the exception of shopping expeditions to the Wild Oats supermarket on Alton Road, "this is as far south as I go." He glances around apprehensively as he sits at his table, but as time passes, he appears disappointed no one at the Van Dyke recognizes him.

A similar ambivalence marks his feelings toward his own profession. Drudge has little affinity for other marquee conservative pundits, particularly those often held up as kindred maverick spirits. His take on P.J. O'Rourke, hipster libertarian? "Hip? P.J. O'Rourke?" he scoffs. "I don't know how anybody gets through those things he writes for Rolling Stone." How about Tucker Carlson, the golden boy recently tapped as the new voice of the right for CNN's Crossfire? Drudge rolls his eyes and offers a dismissive wave, as if he can't even be bothered to comment. Is it that Carlson is too moderate? Is it his suspenders? "He's boring," Drudge barks.

So who does he enjoy? "Who do I read? Outside of what I'm working on, nobody." He adds with a grin: "I'm like George Bush." When pressed, however, he surprisingly names liberal stalwarts such as the Nation's Eric Alterman ("I agree with the Nation on trade -- and so does Pat Buchanan") and the New York Times's Maureen Dowd ("though I'd never admit it in public").

Further complicating the Drudge portrait are his stream-of-consciousness jeremiads on media monopolies and his support of the violent anti-globalization street protesters who shut down Seattle in 1999. What begins to emerge is a philosophy that is less traditionally conservative than populist. A hint of its origin can be found in his affection for dance culture.

Drudge speaks fondly of frequent teenage visits to an aunt living in New York City; he had immersed himself in the early and mid-Eighties downtown club scene before he'd even finished high school. He recalls listening to legendary DJ Frankie Crocker on WBLS-FM and late nights at Danceteria and the Roxy, where races, sexualities, and musical genres all bumped up and ground against one another. Chestnuts from that era often turn up on his radio show as closing theme songs.

In a recent issue of New York magazine, columnist Michael Wolff talked of two nations coming into focus before us. There is a schism between "the quicker-growing, economically vibrant, but also more fractious and more difficult to manage, morally relativist, urban-oriented, culturally adventuresome, sexually polymorphous, and ethnically diverse nation (Bill Clinton's America, if you will). And there's the small-town, nuclear-family, religiously oriented, white-centric other America, which makes up for its diminishing cultural and economic force with its predictability and stability (the GWB-ies)."

New York's downtown milieu left a lasting imprint on most people who passed through it, and while the experience may not have transformed them into flaming revolutionaries, it usually left them comfortably within "Bill Clinton's America" and injected a healthy fear of the "GWB-ies." To hear Drudge throw in his ideological lot with the latter tribe simply seems unfathomable, particularly when he glides from effusive praise of borderline reactionary Georgia Rep. Bob Barr to singing the lyrics of the house classic "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life" -- a veritable gay-nightclub anthem. Drudge says there's no inherent conflict. "I take this music seriously," he insists. "In fact I take this music so seriously that I don't want to see some shirtless freak tweaking. That kind of ruins it for me -- club music is the classical music of our age."

Drudge may embrace the music, but he refuses to embrace its explicit gay, black roots, a refusal that has prompted controversy in the past. MSNBC correspondent Jeannette Walls, in her book Dish: The Inside Story on the World of Gossip, profiled Drudge as someone who "hung out with a crowd of promiscuous, openly gay men and dated several of them." She interviewed one purported ex-boyfriend, David Cohen, who recalled that "[Drudge] loved to do wild, provocative things to draw attention to himself," including getting tossed from one Washington, D.C., nightclub after tossing a full pitcher of beer into the air.

After Dish's publication last year, Walls and Drudge traded insults via New York City's gossip columns. Drudge claimed Walls's entire account was fabricated: "Jeannette, dear, slow down and come up for some air. You are becoming a laughingstock. Even by MSNBC standards."

In response Walls told the Daily News: "I'm not passing judgment. But I think his duplicity is relevant to his character as someone who has built his career on exposing other's private lives." Contacted by phone recently, Walls reiterated that both she and her publisher, HarperCollins, "absolutely stand by every word I've said." She also said Cohen has offered to sign an affidavit attesting to his comments.

At the mention of Walls's book, Drudge turns visibly angry, characterizing Dish as nothing less than an attempt to spike his career. "I go to bars," he explains with a perturbed edge. "I go to straight bars, I go to gay bars. [Walls] never said there was sex; she said there was dating. She never had enough to go that far."

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Does it bother Drudge to be portrayed in the media as gay? "No, because I'm not," he answers firmly. "But I'm not going to be a Bert Fields and sue people for $100 million for printing this stuff," he adds, referring to Tom Cruise's attorney and his defamation lawsuit against a gay porn star who claimed to have had a sexual relationship with the actor.

So does he fear a backlash from homophobic fans of his radio show and Website? "It's not an issue with me," he replies, growing weary of the topic. He leans back in his chair and opines, "I think I told the Daily News something like, “My youth is a blur.'" He laughs in self-appreciation: "That's a good out."

For Drudge there's more at work here than "Is he or isn't he?" Questions about his sexual orientation, he argues, simply are more examples of liberals attempting to use culture, even dance culture, to advance their agenda. "When did synthesizers married to a drum machine become a political movement?" he asks in exasperation. "What does a Peter Rauhoffer instrumental have to do with [liberal values]? I haven't missed an issue of Billboard in eighteen years, but I hate it when their columnists mix phrases like “club culture' with the dance scene. It's so phony; it's wrong. It's a record. It's a record you play as you're mowing your lawn, swinging on a swing. I don't understand why dance-music writers get so obsessed with “community.' Maybe it was AIDS, a sense of coming together of the underground." He mutters that last word with obvious distaste.

"I think more people died of AIDS during Clinton than during either Reagan or Bush," he continues. "I don't think there's anything a president can do [about AIDS], especially a president who is encouraging oral sex.... If we all just have our pants down, if we follow our urges in everything we do, society is going to go down."

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