Child Molestation Scandal Involving TLC's Duggar Show Unfolds In Media

Jun 8, 2015
Originally published on June 15, 2015 5:11 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now a story that touches on culture, religion, politics and television. The Duggar family has had a popular TV show for 10 seasons. "19 Kids And Counting" traces Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar along with their growing family. The Duggars are also a political force off-screen. They're a deeply religious Christian family and often appear publicly in support of conservative political candidates. Now, TLC has suspended the TV show. The Duggar's eldest son, 27-year-old Josh, fondled five young girls 12 years ago when he was a teenage minor. On Friday, two of Josh's sisters, who say they are victims, defended their brother in an interview with Fox News. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans has been following all of this. Good morning, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Good morning.

SHAPIRO: When In Touch magazine reported that Josh had fondled five girls in their home 12 years ago and that the family did not go to police for more than a year, some accused the Duggars of hypocrisy. After all, the family built their brand on defending wholesome family values. Describe how the family is responding to this criticism.

DEGGANS: Well, first, we saw Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar speak with Fox News on an interview that aired on Wednesday. And then on Friday, we saw Josh's sisters, Jill Dillard and Jessa Seewald, speak up to reveal that they had been fondled by their brother. And in both of these interviews, the Duggars essentially admitted a lot of the reporting about their situation had been true, but they also seemed to minimize Josh's actions. They said he was simply curious about girls and committed these acts while the girls were sleeping and fully clothed, as if that made a difference. And they've also painted the family as victims of this media-fueled feeding frenzy, even though they made a decision to star on a reality TV show after these incidents happened. So I think it's tough for the parents and the family to cast themselves and Josh as the victims given the facts here, but that seems to be what they're trying to do.

SHAPIRO: And as we said, this extends beyond reality television. Some prominent conservative politicians have come to the Duggars' support. We saw former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee defending the family. Sarah Palin denounced what she called radical liberals in the media for focusing on the story. Is this the culture wars reigniting?

DEGGANS: Well, I think that might be the spin that the Duggars and their defenders are using to try and push back against the story. It seems obvious that mainstream media outlets have been pretty critical of the family, so their supporters in conservative media are pushing this idea that the family is the victim of persecution by media outlets that are applying an unfair standard. But to me, this feels more like an attempt to save the family's brand by appealing to their core fan base, which is politically conservative evangelical Christians. Now, these are people who already feel like mainstream media outlets are not respectful of their faith, but reaction to that strategy, strangely enough, I think has been mixed. You know, Huckabee may be supportive, but another conservative Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said he was, quote, "sickened by what happened." So it's not clear that this argument is really winning among the most prominent Duggar fans.

SHAPIRO: And as for the show, TLC has said it's pulled rebroadcasts of "19 Kids And Counting." It has not come out and canceled the show. What role does TLC play in all of this?

DEGGANS: I think they have a huge role. I mean, we still don't know what TLC's plans are for the show because they haven't officially canceled it. And there's a lot of questions. Did they know about Josh's problems before they became public? Did they need to rethink how they research families before they put them on the air? There's a lot of unanswered questions connected to this controversy, and so far, the executives at TLC have said almost nothing.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans. Thanks, Eric.

DEGGANS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.