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Two titans of media duked it out in secret.
The landscape of the Trump presidency has welcomed in a hurricane of warring factions—Globalists vs. Nationalists, Deplorables vs. Cucks, Maddow vs. Hannity and pretty much everybody vs. the president.
When Bannon decided to turn on Trump last week, Drudge fired back with a tweet calling the former Trump-whisperer “schizophrenic.”
Political media junkies weren’t surprised by Drudge’s remark as the animosity between the two has a long history. When Bannon was tossed out of the White House, a campaign adviser told BuzzFeed “Matt Drudge worked to remove Steve Bannon, that is the reality.” And one of the most hotly-contested battles in the war for the defining narrative of conservative media continued.
Drudge and Bannon are both figures who lurked in the shadows before Trump, and Drudge still lingers on the fringes. But both are enormously influential. Drudge’s site, DrudgeReport.com, rocketed to relevance during the Clinton presidency, when they covered the Monica Lewinsky scandal with fervor, running headlines like “STARR HAS MORE THAN 75 PIXS THAT SHOW LEWINSKY/CLINTON TOGETHER!” (Apr. 27, 1998). In 2011, DrudgeReport.com was driving more traffic to the major news sites than all of Facebook and Twitter, according to a widely cited Pew Research study. Media wizard Chris Cillizza once quoted an anonymous GOP consultant saying “[Drudge] can identify what’s a big deal even when the reporters who actually cover and report on an event don’t realize what they have.”
When Bannon went to the White House, links to Breitbart were noticeably absent on Drudge Report. In fact, as Bannon began to wield more power in the White House, Drudge seemed to push his readers away from Bannon.
But when Breitbart was first launched, in 2005, Drudge peppered his homepage with links to the bomb-throwing new site—in one day posting 49 links to Breitbart. That’s more times than he linked to HuffPost, Rolling Stone, Slate and The New Republic combined during the previous six years, according to a 2014 Gawker article.
Part of the break between Bannon’s Breitbart and DrudgeReport should be attributed to Matt Drudge’s close relationship with Andrew Breitbart. For years, Andrew Breitbart was Drudge’s second-in-command, he later went to work with Arianna Huffington at HuffPost. But after Bannon took over Breitbart from its namesake, it seems that the relationship between the two sites began to fray.
Though there were always indicators, the most notable break in the narratives of Breitbart and Drudge Report came during the Alabama special election. While Bannon sent two of his top reporters to Alabama in an attempt to discredit the women accusing Roy Moore of sexual predation, Drudge covered the sexual assault claims head-on, running the headline “ALABAMA ROCKED: JUDGE MOORE HIT WITH SEX ACCUSATIONS,” which linked to the Washington Post’s story about Moore’s accusers. Bannon even appeared on stage to rally for Moore. In that rally, he attacked Ivanka Trump, a remark that was another escalation in the Drudge/Bannon feud, since Drudge is tight with the Trump daughter.
Though Trump’s White House shunned the tradition of releasing visitor logs, there are reports that Matt Drudge was a regular in the West Wing. Drudge probably met with the president, but his more important influence was with first daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner. In fact, Drudge and Kushner were so close that on election night, in need of some words of comfort as Trump’s numbers dipped, Kushner called up Drudge for his take. The conservative media personality didn’t disappoint and told Trump’s son-in-law (and Bannon, who was also on the call) “the corporate media—they’ve always been wrong the entire time—these numbers are wrong,” per a Newsweek report.
As Kushner and Drudge became closer, Drudge Report began pushing more anti-Bannon headlines. On August 17, they ran the header “TOTAL ECLIPSE OF STEVE BANNON.” When a Vanity Fair profile of Bannon was published that painted him as somewhat critical of the president, Drudge Report linked to it with the teaser “BANNON UNLEASHED: TRUMP ‘ACTING LIKE AN 11-YEAR-OLD CHILD’.” If these were headlines with a message, that message was to hell with Steve Bannon.
Bannon certainly seems to find himself the loser in his war with Drudge; though it’s an unwise move to count him out entirely. But his impending doom became clear with the revelation that he lost the support of the Mercer family as Rebeckah Mercer issued a rare statement, saying “my family and I have not communicated with Steve Bannon in many months and have provided no financial support to his political agenda, nor do we support his recent actions and statements.”
Then, on Tuesday, Bannon was forced out at Breitbart and Drudge hammered the nail in the coffin with the headline “TRUMP BROKE BANNON: OUT AT BREITBART.” It’s tough to say what comes next for Bannon, but it’s safe to guess that somewhere Matt Drudge is rubbing his hands together in glee.
Alex Thomas is a journalist based in Washington, D.C.