A ThinkProgress study of the the Drudge Report reveals the popular internet aggregator has linked 184 times to InfoWars and World Net Daily, two sites that promote the internet’s worst conspiracy theories, since June 2011. By directing millions of visitors to these websites, Drudge is providing critical financial and reputational support to publications that argue 9/11 was an inside job, FEMA is building concentration camps and President Obama was not born in the United States.
Despite his support for paranoid conspiracy theorists, Drudge has received frequent praise from the media and political right. Mark Halperin, senior political analyst for Time Magazine and MSNBC, has called Drudge “the Walter Cronkite of his era,” advising “you can’t refresh Drudge too often.” Politico co-founder John Harris recently called Drudge Report’s influence on the political debate “a real achievement.” During this year’s campaign, Mitt Romney singled out Drudge as one of his favorite websites, and posted an online video of himself reading the Drudge Report on his iPad.
Drudge can provide 10% or more of total traffic to large media sites like NYPost.com, Boston.com and FoxNews.com, creating a powerful incentive for the mainstream media to overlook the unsavory side of his operation.
According to media sources regularly linked to by Drudge, a single link on the Drudge Report can easily drive 200,000 — and sometimes as many as 500,000 — pageviews to an article. Conservatively, Drudge drove over 30 million page views to World Net Daily and InfoWars in the last year. Since these sites derive their income from displaying advertisements and selling products to website visitors, Drudge is certainly an important, if not essential, source of income for conspiracy websites.
ThinkProgress conducted a detailed study of the Drudge Report over the last year. We found that, throughout the year, Drudge frequently and consistently linked to conspiracy sites:
The final count does not include Drudge’s 7 permanent links to WND columnists and 2 permanent links to Infowars. Here are brief summaries of just 5 of the stories Drudge linked to directly on conspiracy websites over the past year:
1. Obama secretly worked for the CIA in Pakistan. “Database reports from the National Student Clearinghouse have contradicted President Obama’s claim he attended Columbia University for two years…Swirling amid the black hole of information are a host of theories about Obama’s whereabouts — particularly during the 1981–1982 school year — including speculation he was working for the CIA in Pakistan.” [WND, 7/8/12]
2. Andrew Breitbart assassinated to prevent release of damaging information about Obama. “In a stunning coincidence, It appears Andrew Breitbart suffered his untimely death just hours before he was set to release damning video footage that could have sunk Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.” [InfoWars, 3/2/12; WND 3/1/12]
3. Conservative journalists will be ‘hunted down like dogs’ in an Obama second term. “World Net Daily editor and prominent Obama administration critic Joseph Farah revealed how his secluded property was buzzed by a spy drone — part of what Farah fears is a ‘war’ being waged by the administration against its political adversaries…’ Look — this is the first term — if he’s re-elected it’s going to be war — they will be at war — we will be hunted down like dogs, keep that in mind, that’s what the stakes are,’ said Farah.” [InfoWars, 7/6/12]
4. Angelina Jolie should be arrested for war crimes. “The United Nations’ history of war crimes and massacres is legendary, and just as Joseph Goebbels operated as a propaganda minister for the Nazis, Jolie, who is officially employed by the UN, is their mouthpiece.” [InfoWars, 3/11/12]
5. Bill Ayers’ family paid for Obama to attend school as a foriegn student. “Did former Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers help finance Barack Obama’s Harvard education? Did Ayers’ mother believe Obama was a foreign student?” [WND, 3/19/12]
The impact of Drudge’s support is reflected in public data from Quantcast measuring WND’s traffic. Typically, WND attracts around 100,000 people per day. Support from Drudge can spike traffic by a factor of 8 or more. WND’s heaviest traffic in 2012 came on March 1, when Drudge linked to three of their stories, including a screed entitled “Sheriff Joe’s posse: ‘Probable cause’ Obama certificate a fraud.”
Steven Perlberg and Angela Guo contributed reporting.