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Sex and Spies

Fun with kiddie porn conspiracy theories

By Annalee Newitz

I think Disney is evil, so it was with a certain amount of glee that I read about the Sept. 16 arrest of Disney's World Wide Web honcho Patrick Naughton, who allegedly crossed state lines to have sex with a 13-year-old girl he met in a chat room. Damn, I said to myself, this is tawdry muckraking at its finest--the high-tech world's equivalent of watching slimy political consultant Dick Morris admit that he had sex with prostitutes.

Naughton's claim to cyber-biz fame--aside from being one of the early developers of Java at Sun--was as executive VP of products at Sunnyvale's Infoseek, a company Disney is in the process of acquiring. Before getting fired for his transgressions, Naughton was moving into the role of bigwig at Disney's Go Networks, a package of repulsively wholesome Disney-run websites.

As pleased as I was to hear dire biztech reports about how Naughton's sexual appetites might adversely affect Disney's already droopy stock, something about the way Naughton was caught bugged me. It smelled like a conspiracy. I know I'm about to sound like some kind of frothy Oliver Stone-ette, but bear with me on this one.

According to FBI officials involved in the sting operation which snared "Hotseattle," Naughton's online identity, the 34-year-old Go Networks golden boy spent six months exchanging naughty email with a male FBI agent posing as a 13-year-old girl. At one point, the FBI even sent Naughton a picture of his love object--an actual photo of a Los Angeles sheriff's deputy taken when she was 13. Apparently Naughton returned the favor by pointing his cyber-honey to a photo of himself in the online version of Forbes. Although Naughton claimed in his emails that he didn't want to "be dumb" and get caught, he was obviously not attempting to hide his identity very carefully. If Naughton was really planning to break the law, why would he advertise his identity so carelessly?

But here's the kicker, conspiracy fans. When Naughton was arrested on the Santa Monica Pier (he'd flown down to meet with Disney execs), he was taken into custody only after he approached what the San Jose Mercury News described as "a female undercover sheriff's deputy wearing a green backpack." I'm guessing that this deputy was a legal adult.

Now doesn't that sound a little fishy? If Naughton was expecting to meet a 13-year-old girl, why would he have approached a woman who was clearly much older?

Let's think logically about this Naughton guy for a minute. He's not exactly unfamiliar with Internet culture. Like anyone who's not an absolute chat newbie, Naughton probably knows that most people online are not who they say they are. Especially if they announce that they're 13-year-old girls. Let's be realistic here. Teenagers never tell you how young they are, especially if they want to have sex with you. They're far more likely to pretend to be over 18.

Another point of fact: people who like to meet strangers online for casual sex (yes, those people exist--some of them are my friends) often say that they're "girls" or "teenagers" as part of a spicy role-playing scenario. Why do you think strippers wear Catholic schoolgirl outfits? Not because they're actually 13, but because they're safely and legally playing with a common fetish.

So our unfortunate Naughton has a fetish for teenage girls, not unlike thousands of other men around the world. Unlike those other thousands of men, however, Naughton has the money to jet down to L.A. to act out his fantasies. Did Naughton really think he was meeting an actual 13-year-old? Probably not. Given that he approached a legal adult on the pier, it's likely that he imagined he was meeting an adult who wanted to play schoolgirl fetish games with him.

Of course I don't know this for sure. I'm just entertaining you with some facts and some conspiratorial angles on them. But what a coincidence that this should happen to someone connected with Go Networks, one of the only locations on the web with a search engine that filters porn. How convenient that one of Disney's own people "proves" why Go Networks' kid-friendly filtering technologies are necessary at a time when Mouse stock is squishy as hell.

PR types are sharks. And they find out the damnedest things about the people in their companies--like their sexual fetishes, for instance. And it's not like ultra-conservative Disney isn't cozy with the FBI.

As Harlan Ellison once wrote, "Nobody fucks with The Mouse."

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd and it won't cost you anything to send her email, violently disagree with her, or write her love letters at [email protected]

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From the October 7-13, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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