Drudge’s Latest Clickbait Hillary Headline and How the Rest of the Press is Copying Him

Breaking news: Matt Drudge is a con man (among other things). Yes, I get it. He does this all the time, but there’s an important lesson to be learned by the latest example of Drudge’s awfulness. Naturally, Drudge, who ascended to acclaim during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, is all over the Hillary Clinton’s email story like a fly on shit. And he’s up to all of his usual tricks. Check out his above-the-logo rundown:

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Just below the photo of Clinton we see the line: “HARD DRIVE DESTROYED?” Casual readers who only peruse Drudge’s headlines will obviously believe that there’s a new bombshell accusation regarding whether Clinton literally destroyed the hard drive from her mail server — as in, Clinton destroyed evidence and therefore she’s a crook.

But then we click on the link. It points to an article in The New York Times about the email story. If we read all the way down to nearly the bottom of the article, we find the following paragraph:

“If the emails were on a server in her house and she deleted them, there’s a chance the emails could still be on the server’s hard drive if you forensically examine it,” said Chester Wisniewski, a senior security adviser at the computer security firm Sophos. “To make sure the emails are really destroyed, you would have to physically destroy the hard drive, which many companies and places like the Defense Department often do.”

In other words, Mr. Wisniewski is merely speculating that in order to destroy the emails for good, Clinton would’ve had to destroy the hard drive itself. He’s not saying she might have, he’s saying that it’s the only way to truly delete the files. Drudge latched onto this line and turned it into a scare-headline implying that Clinton may have actually done it.

This tactic is no longer the purview of smear-merchants like Drudge. The traditional news media is engaged in a version of this exact kind of stunt publishing. Print a great big shocker headline then, way down in the copy, provide the legitimate news — just as long as people are clicking and taking away a fictitious, scandalous patina to the story. Americans love a scandal, and as long as the press is providing a bump here and there, it whets the appetite and keeps them coming back for more.

When Mark Halperin wrote that Drudge “rules our world,” he was absolutely right. Of course he meant it as a compliment to Drudge, but it’s really, really tragic.

Bob Cesca is the host of the Bob Cesca Show podcast, a twice weekly political talk show. He’s also a contributor to Salon.com. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.