The Des Moines Register today goes where no other mainstream news outlet had dared; it takes a look at the conspiracy theory, growing exponentially online, that argues former White House correspondent Jeff Gannon (a.k.a. James Guckert) is actually Johnny Gosch, the former Des Moines paper boy who was abducted in 1982 and reportedly forced into a child prostitution ring. The legend surrounding Gosch, a real boy who hasn't been found in 23 years but who has been supposedly "sighted" at various times around the globe, entered into a sort of urban myth category years ago. The Gannon angle is new, though.
The Register doesn't give the theory any credence, and instead focuses on how such a far-fetched conspiracy was hatched and given life online. But by simply addressing the topic, the Register will likely help to spread the conspiracy, indirectly.
Reports the Register: "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.
Additionally, the newspaper notes, "[Bloggers] 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."
The paper contacted Gosch's grandmother, Noreen Gosch, who called the theory "quite bizarre," but not impossible. She added, "We don't have anything conclusive" about Johnny's whereabouts.
That's just enough doubt, apparently, to keep the story alive. What's also keeping the conspiracy afloat is the well-known photo of Johnny taken right before he disappeared and the striking resemblance it appears to have with Guckert as an adult. Also, bloggers note the two men share the same initials, and point to the fact James Gannon was the name of the Des Moines Register editor who ran the paper back when Gosch's 1982 disappearance was front page news in Iowa.
The most obvious factual road block though, is that the ages of Gosch and Guckert don't add up. Gosch would be 35 today, whereas Guckert is 48. (Guckert's alma mater, West Chester University of Pennsylvania, confirms he graduated in 1980 with a bachelor's degree in education and a concentration in social studies.)
Perhaps Guckert can put this story to rest when he appears at the National Press Club, as an invited guest for the "Who is a Journalist?" forum.