After two episodes that were heavy on the catty, petty, and lurid, the third episode of Impeachment: American Crime Story attempts something different. This week’s protagonist is Matt Drudge, he of the ridiculous fedora and the even more ridiculous conservative website The Drudge Report. Which has only been made to feel less ridiculous because the likes of Breitbart, NewsMax and wherever your QAnon aunt gets her misinformation make it seem almost quaint.
It could be argued though that Drudge did it first and maybe that he even did it best. For though his style of chaos is one of the reasons why our democracy is in constant peril, it can’t be denied that he got scoops and he offered them faster than the old fogies back in established media outlets. This week, we are offered his origin story. Moreover, we are offered the origin story of the media landscape we have now: overwhelmingly digital, fragmented, niche, maybe more democratized, but also troublingly clickbaity and unverified.
Billy Eichner is an inspired choice for the role, bringing his own ballsy energy to any interaction. We first encounter him as a store manager at a CBS gift shop in Los Angeles, at the ready with wealth of trivia knowledge about legendary newscasters. He garners no respect from his underlings, but it matters little for he already sees himself as a film noir character come to life. He wears a trench coat to emulate his hero, Walter Winchell—a commentator who trafficked in gossip and later became an actor. At night, he sends his missives via email to a list of subscribers which means we have come full circle, folks. Here we were thinking Substack had come to save or destroy journalism and it turns out it’s just another 90s trend making a comeback.
If an internet writer holding a day job to pay for his shitty apartment feels standard, the show reminds us this was a novelty back in the Clinton era. There is an underlying tone of admiration in the way that Drudge is portrayed in Impeachment. He is presented a foil to the steadfast elitism that dominated newsrooms. At a party in Lauren Ingraham’s home, he is side eyed by the living Crypt Keeper known as Ann Coulter who mocks him for using the internet. Drudge, unfazed, argues that his reach can potentially surpass that of The New York Times and cheerfully declares “print is dead.” Where is the lie?
After all, mainstream, professional, supposedly level-headed Republicans are being seduced by this new format. One of Coulter’s minions—or “elves” as she calls them, which means that even at my meanest I’m still more diplomatic than Coulter at her most congenial—is already fanboying over Drudge. He tips him off that there is another woman that is thinking of accusing Bill Clinton of sexual harassment besides Paula Jones.
This puts Drudge on equal footing with Newsweek reporter, Michael Isikoff who is still looking into the Kathleen Willey story. Isikoff, however, does not see as Drudge as a colleague but as a two-bit rumor mill, a nuisance. And, of course, there is some truth to that assessment. Drudge though becomes a mouthpiece to hurl many righteous complaints about established media. They’re elitist, more interested in educational pedigree of reporters than in raw talent. They’re behind the times, ignoring the power of the internet to their detriment. They’re unaware that their business is changing, even as they function as stern gatekeepers. And to finish off this mini takedown, Drudge unsettles Isikoff by revealing that the gossip he’s been chasing? That’s true.
For Isikoff, though, nothing is true until it can be verified because he still believes in journalistic standards and integrity. It’s why he spends most of the episode trying to get Linda Tripp to talk. Though she emphatically states that she wants no part of this mess, her actions beg to differ. She chastises him for calling her at the Pentagon but gives him her personal phone number. She continues to cajole Lewinsky against her better judgement, convincing her to write Bill Clinton a bitter, somewhat unhinged letter. She confronts Willey when she learns through Monica that Willey has been in touch with the White House.
Willey, at this point though, has been groped by the president, lost her husband, and is being hounded by the White House. She has, in other words, no fucks left to give. But she does have some choice words for Tripp: “You love this. You love the drama… This is exactly where you want to be because in your own life, there’s absolutely nothing.” Where is the lie?
Tripp’s tragedy is that she cannot see herself clearly. She uses Lewinsky’s letter to vent about her own professional frustrations, adding to the original words like “disposable and insignificant.” When she finally accepts to Isikoff, she does so at a salon, which might as well be considered a modern Greek agora for women in DC. It’s why when describing Willey to Isikoff, she might as well be describing herself for she is the one with an overwhelming desire to center herself in all stories. In her mind, she is an arbiter of truth. Of course she should be in the spotlight.
But the reality is that The Drudge Report breaks the Willey story first, fact-checking be damned. And when the Newsweek article comes out, Isikoff has done his due diligence and where a source is quoted saying, “Tripp is not to be believed.” It’s an interesting contrast the show sets up about who or what is to be considered credible moving forward. Both Drudge and Tripp are unreliable, off-putting to a certain DC crowd, and users of hearsay to advance their own goals. Tripp, deep down inside, wants external validation from the old guard though. Drudge is perfectly happy to leave them in the dust. He sees the future and it’s not being created by the Isikoff’s of the world. It’s being created by the nobodies behind the screen, who favor a good story over certified facts.
- The Supreme Court Case that allowed Paula Jones to pursue her sexual harassment suit is Clinton vs. Jones, which indicated a civil lawsuit can be put forth against a sitting president for acts done before their presidency or unrelated to it. This was a unanimous decision. The case would later be brought up again and again during Trump’s presidency as both a defense for and against any potential lawsuit. Go figure.
- Paula Jones being manipulated by her boneheaded husband Steve and that country-club meddler Susan is one of the most infuriating moments in any episode.
- Young Monica Lewinsky continues to charm me. Choosing “Disease and Representation: Images of Illness from Madness to AIDS” as a romantic parting gift? Be still my heart.
- If you must know, Matt Drudge is no longer a conservative darling. Sad!