Reviews > Culture

Queen of cyberspace

Culture | Monica Lewinsky, Matt Drudge, and other cultural buzz

Issue: "Clinton: Under seige," Feb. 6, 1998

The web of scandal Is Monica Lewinsky catching up with Princess Di and Pamela Lee in the race for Queen of Cyberspace? After all, the Net is the best breeding ground for political thought on the edge. Piling through scandal stuff online is like wading through ticker tape during a parade. Web surfers can click back and forth from salacious news to salacious silliness. Every news site imaginable has its own coverage of the internship affair. CNN Interactive offers free footage of Bill and Monica hugging, for example. Miss Lewinsky's resumé and home page are big hits with online collectors, as numerous copies are available across the Internet. The Monica Lewinsky Fan Page proudly hawks Zippergate T-shirts. "She's got a great resumé, and she's attractive, to boot!" it declares. Naturally, there's a ton of commentary. The Birchite site at impeachment.org has an online petition and details on how to remove a president. The Free Congress Foundation runs www.clintonontrial.com -"your one-stop information shop for all things Clinton and the law." Another Web page offers advice on "What To Tell Your Children About President Clinton." One of the weirdest places is reversespeech.com, which claims there are hidden messages in Clinton speeches. Bill played backward saying, "I try to articulate my position as clearly as possible," comes out as "She's a fun girl to kiss!" Some of these sites will never die. Many pages stay up untouched for years. Right now, many Campaign '96 sites are preserved for posterity on somebody's server space. Drudgery After hundreds of news outlets spent tens of millions of dollars getting online, the No. 1 name in Net journalism is a one-man show called The Drudge Report. Right-wing Californian Matt Drudge spends his days surfing the Web and piling through tips in his e-mail for constant scoops on celebrities and politics. His constant missives are e-mailed to thousands of subscribers. Some tidbits are tagged "**WORLD EXCLUSIVE**, **MUST CREDIT THE DRUDGE REPORT**." Before the Net came, Mr. Drudge managed a CBS gift shop. Now he's considered the most dangerous man in cyberspace after he beat Newsweek to its own story on Monica Lewinsky. Not all of Mr. Drudge's reports have been so accurate, however. Last year Sidney Blumenthal sued him for $30 million after the reporter published a hot tip that the White House aide abused his wife. Love him or hate him, he's got the computer-generated notoriety that many on the Net would kill for. Mr. Drudge's self-promotion consists of donning a floppy hat and posing as a new-age Walter Winchell, a man whose poison pen could make or break any celebrity. On his AOL site he says he's armed with "a pair of computers, matching modems, wall-to-wall TV monitors, a satellite dish and the perfect instincts for a fin de siècle news cycle." Mainstream media types don't know how to handle Mr. Drudge since he uses their own material against them. Keep an eye on him. He's making all the right enemies. A cynic's best friend One of satire's greatest challenges is the simple fact that life is stranger than fiction. Obviously New Line Cinema execs had no idea real-life scandal would erupt after their black comedy Wag The Dog was released, but the irony is delicious. The movie follows three White House spin doctors trying to kill the ultimate bad press: A Girl Scout admits she had sex with the president behind the Oval Office. The unseen president decides to call guerrilla marketers to save his skin in the final days before the election. After all, his opponent is using "Thank Heaven For Little Girls" in his TV ads. Presidential PR flack Anne Heche recruits master media manipulator Robert De Niro to save the incumbent. They fly to California to consult a Hollywood crony played by Dustin Hoffman. The producer decides to create a phony war to drive the sex scandal off the headlines. Mr. Hoffman's character goes into overdrive, thinking up endless propaganda tricks to drive the public into a patriotic stupor. He orders fake news stories, fake atrocity footage, and even a fake hero POW (Woody Harrelson) to make the scam look good on television. The best counterfeit is a series of touchy-feely war songs that pop up throughout the movie. Willie Nelson has a great bit part as the songwriter who can't find a word that rhymes with "Albania." Wag's wit gets too dry after a while, but the performances are terrific and the script (co-written by theatrical ubermensch David Mamet) is smart and witty. This dog is a cynic's best friend.

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