We asked a top Democratic senator: Do Democrats need a Drudge?

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Matt Drudge.
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Business Insider

Far-right outlet Breitbart News and conservative aggregator Matt Drudge played instrumental roles in helping President Donald Trump make his way through a bruising primary and ultimately defeat Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

The outlets both played up narratives that were key to the messages Trump tried to drive home to voters, flooding the internet with content aimed at elevating Trump and tearing down his opponents, including Clinton.

The left didn’t have an answer in terms of prominent outlets that were unabashedly supportive of Clinton during the campaign.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, told Business Insider that liberals have tried to create outlets similar to Drudge and Breitbart but haven’t had much success.

“We have tried,” he said in an interview this week as part of promoting his newly released book,”Captured: The Corporate Infiltration of American Democracy.” “I don’t know why it didn’t work.”

“There was the radio station … Air America that kind of went blue-y,” he said of the radio network that once had a progressive program hosted by current Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota. “I think a lot of the people who feel out of step with contemporary society or feel that they’ve been left back economically or feel disaffected and are drawn to the Republican Party, they are looking for a news source that will tell them something they would like to hear and then is reassuring, emotionally rewarding and confirming. And affirming to them.”

He said delivering that product is “pretty valuable.”

“It’s kind of like they’re an insurgency and they’re not getting what they need to hear from the mainstream,” he said. “We’re kind of not that. We read the New York Times and we’re happy because we don’t feel that it’s been cooked or our concerns aren’t being listened to – or The Washington Post, the LA Times. The mainstream media is something that we’re satisfied with.”

“So to try and create a left-wing alternative to that, doesn’t meet any needs that the regular, real media doesn’t already meet for us because, you know, call us more reality-based or kind of successful and satisfied under the current economic and social conditions, compared to people who feel that their religion has been ignored, their town has been ignored, factories have been shut down or whatever. I just don’t think we have the opening.”

Trump, in his quest for the White House and in it, has painted many mainstream outlets as “fake news.” During the campaign, he and his supporters said such outlets were in the tank for Clinton. As recently as Friday, he referred to CNN – which he’s called “very fake news” – as the “Clinton News Network.”

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Sheldon Whitehouse.
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Win McNamee/Getty Images

His attitude toward the mainstream media has come in response to a wave of reporting that has reflected negatively on Trump’s administration, Trump’s transition, and his campaign. Often, much of the reporting was based off anonymous sourcing – which Trump himself has been known to provide in the past. Recently, such critical reporting in The Washington Post led Trump to ask for the resignation of his national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

During his interview with Business Insider, Whitehouse, too, used the phrase “fake news,” which first became popularized after Trump’s electoral victory as a term to describe news reports not substantiated in any fact and produced to make a profit off going viral on Facebook and other social-media outlets.

He said the original “fake news” was created on the right to deny science surrounding the heath risks associated with tobacco use, and then to deny climate science.

“The whole kind of denial enterprise is the original fake news,” he said. “I mean, you take stuff that makes things that aren’t true, seem to be, [and] things that are true, seem not to be, without ever taking a strong enough position that you can be blown up in.”

“And having the capability to do that, the people who have the knowledge of how that works – it’s just, it’s a, it’s a capability,” he continued. “And it was very well-developed there. And now where we’re at has been metastasized out of science denial and goes, wherever.”

Whitehouse said he did not want to be competing with the right at this level.

“I don’t want that skill set,” he said. “So, in a lot of things, they build a tank, we build a tank. They build a fighter plane, we build a fighter plane. Fake news? Nah. I don’t think that works. We can’t go there.”

“So what we have to do instead is figure out how to shoot down fake news,” he said. “Or jiu-jitsu it in some way. And we’re not even having that conversation. We don’t even know what to call it. I mean until fake news came around we didn’t know what to call it. I was calling it flying monkeys because there wasn’t a better word. It was just like weird stuff. ‘What the hell is all that?'”