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Naughton: The American dream turned sour, Part VI

From all outside appearances, Patrick Naughton seemed the personification of the American dream
Written by Lisa M. Bowman, Contributor

See also Part V.

"Technologically, he's very smart, but his arrogance got in the way of his effectiveness," said one high-level Infoseek employee, who added that he knows Naughton well. "In general, when you have someone who goes around and says publicly, 'I'm one of the five smartest people,' it's a little difficult to work with him."

The same person said Naughton's behaviour practically ensured that he would lose out to rival Steven Bornstein for a position at the helm of Go.com. "He pissed off too many people," the Infoseek employee said, adding that the move was a blow to Naughton: "Getting passed over was one of his biggest disappointments."

One of Naughton's former colleagues at Starwave said he had a "princely attitude" that made him the antithesis of a team player. And though Naughton testified on the witness stand that he was just a software engineer who had been thrust into the spotlight ("They put a suit on me, put me in front of cameras..."), some colleagues contend the opposite was true -- that Naughton repeatedly sought promotions and accolades, threatening to leave if things didn't go his way.

Some people who worked with him (and who wish to remain anonymous) have recalled how he would show up late for meetings without explanation, then proceed to work on his computer while others spoke. During one chat with KrisLA, Naughton told her he was online with her while he was at a staff meeting.

Colleagues say he liked to name-drop and brag about the perks most high-ranking executives enjoyed, such as travelling to Portland Trail Blazers games on Paul Allen's private jet. During one of his conversations with KrisLA, Naughton boasted that he had recently partied with Reese Witherspoon and Hugh Hefner. He cut off the discussion by saying he had to go race his yacht.

But in the newly glamorous world of high tech, where people receive unimaginable infusions of wealth and power overnight, superinflated egos are hardly a rarity. Some who knew Naughton say he simply became frustrated with people who weren't as smart as he was, rubbing them the wrong way with his straightforward challenges to their ideas.

Although he declined to be interviewed for this story, Naughton's good friend and Infoseek engineer, Adam Fritz, told Brill's Content that some were irritated by his propensity to express his opinion when he was sure he was right. "That can be viewed as arrogant when you're on the receiving end of it," Fritz said. In such cases, he told the magazine, Naughton is "either an arrogant bastard or you're a clueless idiot."

Among the rank-and-file tech jocks at Starwave and Infoseek, Naughton's role on the Java team earned him a string of admirers. "We looked up to him," said Scott Adams, a former Starwave employee who worked under him. "We were all amazed by the work he did with Java."

Much less forthcoming than his former colleagues, Naughton's close friends and family have been skittish about talking to the media since he went to court. The fear, James Naughton explains, is that their words will be twisted to hurt Patrick. James, who updated the family with daily email dispatches from the trial, said three Disney employees stood "shoulder to shoulder" with him to show support for his brother during the court proceedings. James Naughton also says the family believes his brother's claims of innocence: "Patrick is no criminal."

Upon learning of the arrest, Disney executives launched an aggressive spin campaign to protect the firm's family-friendly image. The company, then in the process of acquiring Infoseek, quickly distanced itself from Naughton. It made clear he wasn't an employee, although he would have become one had he not been arrested.

Although the case had not gone to trial and Naughton had yet to enter his plea of not guilty, Go.com employees immediately removed his bio and purged all mentions of him from the company's Web site. Most of the references to Naughton were eventually restored to the site after media reports criticised the company for rewriting history. However, at press time, clicking on a link to a press release about his promotion to vice president of products still yielded an error message.

From their computers, FBI agents play a cat-and-mouse game with their prey. They don't wield guns, batons or search warrants. Instead, they hung out in chatrooms with such names as "Barely Legal", armed with a keyboard, some teen slang and the belief that the people they'd be chatting with would be luring real children if they didn't intervene.

The Innocent Images operation, started in 1994, targets two groups of prospective cybercriminals -- people who transmit images of child pornography and those expressing an interest in someone portraying a minor online that will travel across state lines to meet them. Most of those busted through the operation don't have any prior record of criminal sexual behaviour toward children.

See also Part VII.

See also The trial of Patrick Naughton

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