Halcyon days for conspiratorial media

Hannity emerged over the course of the campaign as one of Trump’s most ardent boosters. His advocacy put him front and center in the divisive war in conservative media over Trump, alienating him from Trump-resistant conservatives; “You can’t live your life caring how the punditry class thinks of you,” he told me last year. Hannity’s penchant for Twitter fighting and spending hours each day on the radio and TV made him into a very public-facing figurehead for the Trump movement.

The other media entity that could give Hannity a run for his money in that regard is Breitbart News, which has reshaped itself into possibly Trump’s most loyal outlet over the course of the election cycle. The site is now a useful window into the Trumpian worldview, and serves as a barometer of where Republicans stand in Trump’s Washington. Although it long targeted House Speaker Paul Ryan, it’s lately begun to soften, praising him last week for “warming up to President-elect Donald J. Trump’s ideology.” In the era of Trump, Breitbart has essentially become establishment media, and the proof is beginning to show itself in tangible ways. Breitbart reporter Julia Hahn and national security editor Sebastian Gorka are joining the Trump White House, it was reported last week, and the site has hired financial journalist John Carney from The Wall Street Journal, a sign that it seeks to compete with legacy media.

But an even more influential media figure lurks behind the scenes of this whole tableau, and that’s Matt Drudge. Drudge dropped out of public view years ago, and has rarely spoken in public since. His last major interview was with—who else?—Alex Jones, in 2015. His facial features obscured, Drudge reeled off a litany of conspiracy theories. Since then, he’s laid low, apart from attending a presidential debate last year with his friend Ann Coulter. But Drudge’s influence has always been felt in other ways. The traffic he drives through the Drudge Report is significant to this day, and has done much to keep conservative media sites afloat. Drudge’s agenda-setting capabilities meant that his Trump sympathies had a meaningful impact on the direction of Trump-related conversation during the campaign. Roger Stone has said that the “alternative media” represented by both Drudge and Jones played “crucial roles” in electing Donald Trump, and they seem set to do the same during the Trump administration.