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Gannon: Is he Johnny Gosch?
Johnny Gosch may finally have been found, thanks to Rush Limbaugh.
The Iowa paperboy was kidnapped in 1982, with unsubstantiated stories emerging later from his mother that he was abducted into a child pedophilia ring. No trace of him has ever been found, and no suspects have been arrested.
Nearly 23 years later, White House correspondent Jeff Gannon, who wrote for a conservative Web site, was exposed in February as James D. Guckert, a man with no journalism experience and links to several gay escort addresses online.
If you have the time to read a few hundred Web postings, you will see how Johnny Gosch and Jeff Gannon, two completely unrelated individuals, became the same person on the Web. The way the theory developed says much about the anything-goes nature of the blogosphere and self-proclaimed reporters on the Internet, who seem to find accuracy and proof a nuisance in uncovering fantastical conspiracies.
It took the random efforts of scores of Web loggers (bloggers), credulous readers and longtime followers of the case to assign the two men a bizarre, shared backstory involving satanic CIA agents, pedophiles and presidents. And, of course, Limbaugh.
Gosch's mother, Noreen Gosch, called the theory "quite bizarre," but not impossible.
"We don't have anything conclusive," she said.
With so many people contributing twists, this dark fiction is as wild as anything on daytime television. It is really only the most recent speculation about what happened to Johnny Gosch, who has been "sighted" numerous times in the last 20 years in Africa, across the country and even in a Montreal subway. Police have been unable to confirm the sightings.
But here's how the Internet can feed a rumor until a bunch of people actually believe it.
The Gannon-Gosch conspiracy theory first appeared on the message board of a liberal political site called The Democratic Underground on Feb. 26. A site regular, using the name TwoSparkles, speculated that Jeff Gannon was victimized by a government-organized child pornography ring.
Then he foreshadowed the future with this note: "I found this picture of Johnny Gosch. I looked at it and almost thought it looked like Gannon! It must be getting late." The image was a school picture of Gosch taken in the 1980s and later enhanced.
The same poster noted that Gannon/Guckert and Gosch had the same initials. Before long, other site members were trying to figure out whether the ages matched. (In fact, there would be more than 10 years' age difference between Gannon and Gosch.)
Full-blown details came from several popular Web conspiracy theorists. Self-styled political activist Sherman Skolnick, who analyzes political corruption with an evangelical tone, adopted Rense.com as his forum about the Gosch-Gannon/Guckert link.
Then the story was dropped into dozens of Web sites. Gosch case activist and Denver resident Ted White estimated he posted messages about the connection on 65 or 70 sites.
"I'm a member of over 80 Yahoo groups," he said. He fanned the rumor on the sites, spreading information he heard from private investigators on the Gosch case.
Bloggers picked up on the theory and soon the yarn was developing on hundreds of sites, many linked to one another. Entire blogs, or Web journals, are now devoted to the subject of whether Gosch grew up to become the disgraced reporter.
The complete concoction goes like this: Gosch was kidnapped into a pedophilia and child pornography ring that serviced the upper echelons of Washington, D.C., society. He was brainwashed by the CIA, trained to be part of a top-secret escort program. Then, he became Jeff Gannon and was given a plum job as a White House correspondent with the online conservative news service to keep him quiet.
Finally, he was "uncovered" by the bloggers.
Photos combining the two men's faces are now posted on dozens of sites. Gosch's glossy, parted hair morphs into Gannon's bald head. Gosch's little-boy smile turns into Gannon's broad, tough-set jaw.
The nose is similar. The facial shape similar. A mark on one cheek is similar.
A coincidence, you might say, but a lot of people are buying it.
"Though the photos' perspectives differ, and it's proof of nothing, the alignment of features is striking," wrote blogger Jeff Wells on Rigorous Intuition (rigorousintution. blogspot.com).
But a lack of proof wasn't enough to stop a vast network of gossip from enveloping the story.
"The synchronicities . . . are stunning"
The most fervent bloggers on the Web aren't as interested in linking Gannon to Gosch as they are in presenting their version of a massive conspiracy. The story that excites them is a sordid tale about the CIA operating a pedophilia ring on behalf of dignitaries and politicians and training male prostitutes to serve as spies.
They try to link both Bush presidents to this conspiracy, prove that Hunter S. Thompson's death was not a suicide and investigate a so-called government-sponsored pedophilia operation they claim continues to abduct children.
Coincidentally, Gannon was exposed as Guckert by persistent bloggers. After drawing attention to himself with softball questions and inaccurate quotes, Gannon became a topic on Rush Limbaugh's radio talk show. The bloggers then dug up erotic photos of him and a connection to the escort sites.
Now bloggers, reveling in the notion of political hypocrisy, say they won't let the story die until Gannon's DNA has been compared to genetic material from the Gosch family.
Skolnick's stories on Rense.com were a frequent source for many of the bloggers who posted about Gannon-Gosch. Most blogs ran condensed versions of his long-winded reports.
Skolnick wrote six articles on the subject, the first titled "The Gannon Cannon - Part 1: Bush Treason in Spy Whorehouse," which accused Gannon of a personal connection to the president of the United States and other dastardly deeds involving the "Chinese Secret Police."
Skolnick's biases are readily apparent. He bemoans, for example, that a doctored photo showing Gannon and Bush naked together is "too good to be true."
Among other things in Skolnick's stories - which have little in the way of verifiable sources - are rumors that Gannon was trained by a secret D.C. escort service operation.
Gannon has minimal journalism education, but Skolnick proposed that he was trained in Central America, learning the latest in torture tactics, and that he has consulted with the management at the U.S. military's Guantanamo facility.
Total Information (www.total411.info), a site devoted to political paranoia about 9/11 and topics like Freemasonry, is another place for a surfer to run across the story. Blogger James G. Truth, a pseudonym for the site's operator, posted information about Gosch/Gannon/Guckert, but added little in the way of additional rumor - or reporting.
"I watched the Gannon-is-Gosch story percolate for about a week on the 'net," Truth wrote in an e-mail to The Des Moines Register. "The synchronicities in the case were and are stunning."
What convinced Truth was a chain of similar names. James Gannon is the name of the former Des Moines Register editor who ran the paper at the time Gosch was abducted. Too close, in Truth's page, to be a coincidence.
"Things can be changed"
Despite the story's more ludicrous subplots, a few coincidences seem eerie - the matching cheek marks, the coincidental names, the sexual overtones of the scandals. Add in the rumor that Johnny Gosch's mother, Noreen, declared Gannon was her son, and it's no wonder that some bloggers stuck by the story.
In reality, she says she's not convinced either way.
Several facts, however, do not add up. Gosch and Gannon/Guckert
would be 12 years apart in age. Gannon is 48, and Gosch would be 35.
Noreen Gosch said some Web sites have reported Gannon as being 31 or 35. "Most people think he looks younger," she said to the Register.
Conneaut Lake High School in Pennsylvania confirms, however, that a James D. Guckert graduated in June 1975. His college, West Chester University of Pennsylvania, reports that he graduated in 1980 with a bachelor's degree in education and a concentration in social studies.
Gannon himself told the New York Times that his mother is 72. Noreen Gosch wouldn't say her age, but said she is not 72. According to previous reports of her age, she would be approximately 61.
But if you want to believe something, and you've got the catchall reasoning that the CIA can alter anything, it's not hard to brush aside such discrepancies.
Ted Gunderson, a retired FBI agent and longtime Gosch investigator, insists that the CIA can change ages, adjust work and school records and construct entire lives for people. It doesn't make a lot of sense either that someone living underground would choose to work in the pressure-cooker of the Washington media, but there are multiple rationales for that inconsistency.
Several bloggers suggest Gosch was brainwashed or has multiple personalities. "He may not have any idea," observed a visitor using the tag "ohmygosch" on http://mparent777.blog -city.com.
Jim Rothstein, a retired New York City police officer and longtime investigator on the Gosch case, said becoming a White House reporter is completely in character for a former victim of the pedophilia ring.
In fact, Gannon/Guckert may have orchestrated the scenario for a greater purpose.
"Is it possible he drew attention to himself during that Jan. 26 press conference to pique the curiosity of citizen investigators?" posited one blogger.
At Tyranny Response Unit news (trunews.blogspot.com), the sex scandal is cast as an act of revenge.
"It appears that Gannon is the good guy - he might be getting back at his abusers," observed the Tyranny Response Unit blogger.
Gosch gets a blog?
Another category of bloggers takes more interest in the apparent foolishness of the matter than any possible evil. There are bloggers mocking other bloggers.
Take the writer(s) behind the Johnny Gosch Blog, who satirically use the persona of Gannon, keeping a log of new rumors that are enthusiastically mocked. "One of Gannon's escort pages lists his age as 31 in 2001. Golly. I can't imagine why a gay male prostitute would lie about his age," said Joseph Cannon, who blogs on Cannonfire (cannonfire .blogspot.com).
In the blogging world, circulating such rumors is considered a democratic pursuit, according to Jane Singer, an assistant professor in the University of Iowa School of Journalism. More than 20 percent of Internet users read or contribute to blogs, Singer said.
"The bloggers have a view of truth that is collective," she said. "Everyone contributes their ideas and truth emerges. . . . Their role is to find things they think are interesting and important or need to be brought to attention."
Of the Gosch-Gannon connection, she said, "It doesn't surprise me that bloggers ran with that. Some things pan out and some things don't."
Some bloggers, however, feel unappreciated and overworked.
One outraged Web surfer, using the tag "former Iowan," responded to a post on the Cannonfire site, wondering, "Where is the major media interest in following up this story - especially The Des Moines Register which should have a curiosity in any Johnny Gosch sightings."
But the Internet always has answers. White, for instance, explains why newspapers aren't interested in this story.
"Have you ever heard of Operation Mockingbird?" he asked.
It's another theory. It argues that the press
is being controlled by the CIA.