Drudge mystery: The brand lives, but who runs it and where is Matt?

“What happened to Matt Drudge?”

Gateway Pundit founder Jim Hoft spoke for thousands when he asked the question in a recent blog post after news from leftist and anti-Trump sources began being featured prominently on the Drudge Report.

Saying that the Drudge site had taken a “pro-impeachment slant,” Hoft wrote, “Dear Matt Drudge — Please come home.”

Matt Drudge at the National Press Club on June 2, 1998.

So, has Drudge had a falling out with the White House? Is he just angling for clicks? Has he gone further into reclusion and delegated the site to others? Or has he sold out and allowed a Google off-shoot to drive a a media giant that now overshadows the once dominant news organizations that is has linked to since its inception?

Related: Matt Drudge’s speech at the National Press Club 20 summers ago: ‘Let the future begin’June 2, 2018

The famously reclusive Drudge attended two White House Correspondents Dinners in 2000 and 2001 and then dropped out of public view. WorldTribune Editor Robert Morton, then also a senior editor at The Washington Times, invited him to those two dinners. “The late Andrew Breitbart was his assistant in those years and when I last saw Andrew in 2008, he said he had not seen Matt in years,” Morton said.

Drudge’s site has remained pretty much the same since its rise to prominence during the Clinton impeachment drama.

But a significant change occurred over the summer when the Drudge Report dropped its advertising representative of close to 20 years, Intermarkets, in favor of a new and unknown company Granite Cubed.

Buzzfeed News reported:

In a surprising turn, Drudge Report removed ads between the end of May and mid-July, according to Danny Rogers, a cofounder of the Global Disinformation Index, a project that’s analyzing domains to generate “risk ratings of the world’s media sites.” After noticing an absence of ads on Drudge around May 31, “we didn’t see any ads on Drudge until about July 12,” Rogers told BuzzFeed News.

“Any time a 20-year relationship comes to an end is certainly a surprising turn of events,” said Jay Friedman, president of Goodway Group, a digital agency that specializes in programmatic media buying.

Corporate records show that Granite Cubed is owned by Margaret Otto. She and her husband, Adrian, have a business association with the Drudge family that goes back years. The couple acquired Refdesk, a reference website founded by Bob Drudge, Matt’s father, in 2017. They also operated a company that began hosting the Drudge Report in 1999 and later added Breitbart as a customer. (The couple did not answer questions about whether they still own that hosting company or if it’s still hosting Drudge or Breitbart.)

Friedman said the connections between the Ottos and Drudges raise a question of whether the move to Granite Cubed is “a relationship play [or] a revenue maximization play,” given that today’s representation firms need to be “incredibly technically savvy and have a really good grasp on how to [succeed] in an automated ad market.”

Drudge was characteristically silent when emailed by BuzzFeed News for comment about his new advertising partner and the strategy for his site. His old partners were also hesitant to speak, reinforcing how one of the web’s most influential websites remains in many ways a one-man black box.

“Intermarkets no longer represents DrudgeReport.com, and it is our policy to not discuss former clients with the media,” said Kevin Lucido, the CEO of Intermarkets, which represents other conservative publishers, such as the Media Research Center and the Political Insider.

For his part, Bob Drudge said in an email, “I am retired and have no comment.”

It all makes for a startling shift for a publisher best known for a strategy rooted in changing nothing about his site’s operation. It’s also causing the ad industry to look closely at the mysterious new firm and its high-profile customer.

Author and political commentator Jerome Corsi has repeatedly tweeted about the shift in coverage, saying Drudge has “lost his mind,” “turned left,” and become a “leftist hack beating [the] impeachment drum.”

Rush Limbaugh, a friend of Matt Drudge, has also chimed in on the matter. In late August, Limbaugh told a caller that he’s repeatedly been asked about the sudden shift to the left at the Drudge Report. “My email inbox every day, ‘What’s happening to Drudge, Rush?’ ” Limbaugh said. “And I tell people, ‘Have you ever heard of clicks?’ ”

The Drudge Report, which was seen as being solidly in President Donald Trump’s corner during and after the 2016 presidential election, has recently been linking to some of the president’s fiercest critics on impeachment.

After some suggested Drudge could be turning on Trump for web traffic, Limbaugh said, “I actually don’t know,” adding that as a “professional courtesy” he doesn’t “ask him.”

Just a week ago, the top link on the Drudge Report was to Fox News judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano calling Trump’s behavior “criminal and impeachable.”

Other links on Oct. 18 included Fox host Shepard Smith suggesting Trump may have violated the law on live television and “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd saying the current scandal is a “national nightmare.”

Fast forward a week and, today, Oct. 25, Drudge led with “Roger Stone set to discuss impeachment’ Under what circumstances Trump would resign”.

The Oct. 25 top links also included such headlines as “Bolton ready to talk?”, “President confronts limits of defense strategy”, “Republican senators fear losing fight”, and “Polls turn ugly”.

“He’s reacting to changing circumstances,” a person close to the media mogul, who said Drudge had grown exasperated with Trump, told CNN Business.

“Impeachment is where Matt Drudge entered,” the person close to Drudge told CNN Business. “This is a great story. And Drudge is breaking out the popcorn.”

John Ziegler, who was an occasional guest host on Drudge’s old radio show and writes columns on media for Mediaite, said: “My basic view on Drudge is that people mistake him as an ideologue. Matt Drudge loves chaos. And impeachment is chaos.”

Drudge maintained online contact with many media figures who would tip him off on stories that were breaking. But several later complained that it became a one-way street and Drudge would ultimately break off all contact.

He made an unannounced guest appearance out of camera view on the Alex Jones show in 2015 where he warned against the growing impact of social media: He said that web users were being pushed into the cyber “ghettos” of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. “This is ghetto, this is corporate, they’re taking your energy and you’re getting nothing in return – nothing!”

“Stop operating in their playground, stop it,” said Drudge.