Megyn Kelly has landed a much-chased interview with the Duggar parents, Jim Bob and Michelle, for Wednesday night for Fox News Channel. The news division will turn around the interview quickly to air in Kelly’s timeslot, 9 PM ET. The bulk of the interview, which will be conducted in their hometown in Arkansas, will air that night, but FNC also has planned a one hour special Kelly File special for Friday night.
News orgs had been chasing a Duggar interview since TLC pulled their reality series 19 Kids and Counting after In Touch magazine published a since-destroyed police report showing oldest son Josh had fondled several underage girls, including some of his sisters, in 2002-3 when he was 14-15.
Little more than a week ago, the Discovery Communications-owned TLC said it was “deeply saddened and troubled by this heartbreaking situation, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family and victims at this difficult time,” as it announced it was taking the hit series off the air for the time being. The show had wrapped its latest season days earlier but was still running repeats.
This week, TLC seemed headed toward canceling the show altogether but by late Thursday appeared to have instead opted for a wait-and-see strategy, since the network was under no time pressure to announce a new season pickup or to go back into production. 19 Kids and Counting is TLC’s most watched franchise, and the network has a strong evangelical audience, some of whom have been calling for keeping the show on the air.
The day before TLC took the show, in reruns, off its schedule, news had broken that the Springdale Police Department in Arkansas investigated the oldest Duggar son, Josh, in 2006. The police report states that in 2002-03 Josh Duggar allegedly fondled five girls, including some of his sisters, touching their breasts and genital region on multiple occasions, sometimes while they were sleeping. Josh was 14 and 15 at the time.
The day the story broke Josh Duggar resigned as executive director of FRC Action, the powerful conservative political action committee of the Family Research Council, and issued a statement on Facebook saying 12 years ago he had “acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret,” and that he years ago had “confessed this to my parents who took several steps to help me address the situation.”
His statement was posted hours after In Touch put up a redacted report from the police department, allegedly showing Josh’s father, Jim Bob, waited more than a year before taking his son to Arkansas police over the allegations. The investigation was never pursued fully, and the statute of limitations had run out.
The media has been snorting Duggar digital crack all week, there being nothing it loves so much as hypocrisy exposed, and this time it had been served to them on a platter.
“You mean to tell me the family that goes around saying gay and trans people are pedophiles preying on America’s young people actually has a pedophile that preys on America’s young people?” Larry Wilmore asked, rhetorically, on his Comedy Central show this week, adding, “I hate pedophiles, but I love irony.”
Meanwhile, the list of advertisers who have announced they have pulled their ads from the show has grown daily and now numbers at least a dozen and includes General Mills, Walgreens, Payless Shoesource, Choice Hotels International, Ace Hardware, Jimmy Dean, Pure Leaf Iced Tea, David’s Bridal, ConAgra Foods, Party City, and Behr.
Though it’s not the first time a reality TV series has been canceled due to the behavior of a cast member, this quickly turned from another of those reality-series travesty stories into a hot national political fracas between the evangelical right and liberal left.
Since seguing from a series of specials on Discovery Health to a TLC primetime series launched on September 29, 2008, the Duggars have translated their TV fame into a prosperous moralizing business. Family Research Council, an organization that has been labeled a hate group by GLAAD, hired Josh in 2013.
In August of 2014, Josh’s mother, Michelle narrated a robocall that went out to Fayetteville, Arkansas households, asking residents to shoot down an anti-discrimination ordinance going before the town’s city council:
Hello, this is Michelle Duggar. I’m calling to inform you of some shocking news that would affect the safety of Northwest Arkansas women and children. The Fayetteville City Council is voting on an ordinance this Tuesday night that would allow men – yes I said men – to use women’s and girls’ restrooms, locker rooms, showers, sleeping areas and other areas that are designated for females only. I don’t believe the citizens of Fayetteville would want males with past child predator convictions that claim they are female to have a legal right to enter private areas that are reserved for women and girls.
Another quote that’s been dredged up and used often in media reports comes from Jim Bob’s campaign website back in 2002 (the year Josh allegedly began fondling minors) when he was running for U.S. Senate in Arkansas. It’s on the subject of whether abortion should be legal if a woman had been raped: “If a woman is raped, the rapist should be executed instead of the innocent unborn baby. … Rape and incest represent heinous crimes and as such should be treated as capital crimes.”
The Duggar scandal has been a major headache for GOP presidential candidates who are among those photographed with Josh Duggar in happier times when he still held his FRCAction post.
Thursday morning, ABC News, which has been furiously competing with NBC to land an interview with the Duggars, ran video of one of them – freshly announced 2016 presidential candidate Rick Santorum – getting asked about the Duggar family’s latest storyline by George Stephanopoulos, on Good Morning America.
“I was sickened by it. I was just sickened by it,” Santorum, a Christian conservative for whom the family campaigned during his first presidential bid in 2012, told Stephanopoulos.
“I pray for those girls in particular.” He added: “To have gone through that is … just hard to think about.”
In marked contrast, another GOP presidential candidate who had posed with Josh Duggar, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee came quickly to Duggar’s defense last week:
“Josh’s actions when he was an underage teen are as he described them himself, ‘inexcusable,’ but that doesn’t mean ‘unforgivable.’ He and his family dealt with it and were honest and open about it with the victims and the authorities,” Huckabee wrote Friday in a post on Facebook. “No purpose whatsoever is served by those who are now trying to discredit Josh or his family by sensationalizing the story. Good people make mistakes and do regrettable and even disgusting things.”
“Today, Janet and I want to show up and stand up for our friends. Let others run from them. We will run to them with our support,” Huckabee wrote. The Duggar parents Jim Bob and Michelle recently endorsed Huckabee’s White House bid.
Other Josh Duggar photos circulating feature POTUS candidates Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Rand Paul, and presumed candidates Jeb Bush and Scott Walker.
By Friday, talk of the Duggar family’s TLC series had turned into a push-pull between liberal orgs focused on their connection to groups that link homosexuality to pedophilia and LGBT people as a threat to children, and conservatives who cast the coverage as a left-wing media attack on family values. This is despite the fact that In Touch’s editorial director David Perel also is the guy who, while editor-in-chief of National Enquirer, broke the story of the extramarital affair and resulting child of onetime Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. That report is credited with scuttling Edwards’ political career – and landing the National Enquirer a Pulitzer Prize nom.