When you live your life on TV, it then becomes your judge, your jury and your confessional.
At the bottom of this post, find links to the entire interview Megyn Kelly of Fox News conducted with Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar of TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting,” broadcast on her show “The Kelly File,” on Wednesday, June 3. It focuses on the recently revealed molestation incidents involving their then-teenage son, Josh, now 27, and young girls, including his sisters, many years ago.
Kelly also interviews the two Duggar sisters who were the molestation victims, and that will be broadcast Friday night in a “Kelly Files Special,” at 9 p.m. Eastern/6 p.m. Pacific. A Fox News spokesperson said in an email that it will “focus mostly on the sisters who she interviews — will include experts and analysts on set to discuss as well.”
The Duggars’ version of Christianity differs in many respects from Catholicism. We share some dogma and social values in common with them; but others, we do not. That being said, in a society that keeps reminding us that one shouldn’t tar a whole group for the actions of a few, those who use the Duggars to smear all Christians — or even all homeschoolers, whatever their beliefs — are guilty of the same charge of hypocrisy they’re hurling at others.
I do appreciate that Kelly asked the question that I asked — about what could possibly have been in the parents’ minds, knowing that they had a troubled child who had abused his own sisters, to choose to put their family up on national television.
The answer wasn’t very satisfying. Basically the Duggar parents believed these were sealed juvenile records, and that it was all forgiven and in the past. Then, when it did come out, they hoped it would set an example of forgiveness and repentance.
The release of sealed juvenile records is indeed a serious issue — and there does seem to be something personal in a retired official’s decision to put the records out there — but my question stands. (UPDATE: apparently the records weren’t so sealed after all, but that doesn’t ameliorate the damage done to the now-revealed victims.)
If the Duggar parents naively thought this would never come out, it’s impossible for me to believe that they kept being that uninformed for the 10 years the show has been on. They made themselves and their children public figures, fully aware that they were keeping a painful secret that involved the children.
(Granted, this is nothing new nor unique to the Duggars. Hardly a day goes by without the airing of some public figure’s dirty laundry. Sometimes you wonder whether it’s overweening pride, recklessness or a desire to somehow expunge private guilt in a public forum. I’ll leave that to the psychologists.)
Jim Bob Duggar says that the molestation charges aren’t something one normally reveals to strangers. True, under ordinary circumstances, one wouldn’t, but he still put his family on the air. No one forced him to do it.
It’s hard to have any sympathy for the Duggar parents, but I can’t imagine the effect the furor has had on their other children and grandchildren, especially Josh’s wife and kids. On top of that, it has made his victims, including his sisters, relive the whole experience (and the promise of a sealed record doesn’t just protect perpetrators, it also protects victims). And, if it suddenly becomes OK to condemn someone forever for crimes committed as a juvenile, that leads nowhere good.
If you hate the Duggars, this interview won’t change your mind. If you love the Duggars without any reservation, one hopes you’ll learn to think twice before putting fallible human beings on a pedestal. Only one Son of Man who walked the Earth deserves that.
But we see it happen every day, people lifted up because they serve someone’s social or political agenda, and then no one will hear any criticism of them. Then when they’re revealed to have feet of clay — and this happens on both sides of the political aisle and on all sides of the faith debate — open warfare breaks out.
And Satan sits back and chuckles.
Immediate reactions to the Kelly interview have been mixed.
The Daily Beast thought Kelly was tough on the Duggars, writing:
People who may have assumed that the Duggars agreed to a Fox News interview, of all outlets, because it may be a more hospitable environment weren’t exactly correct.
Megyn Kelly may not have wagged a finger at them or damned them to hell, the way so many of us wished she would have. But she did ask them tough, responsible, and necessary questions.
But Yahoo! News wanted blood, writing:
When she’s in her Manhattan studio bat-cave, Kelly is a sharp-witted avenger, hammering guests until they come clean or cry defeat. But in agreeing to journey to the Duggar lair in Arkansas, Kelly lost her super-power of imperious inquisition. She seemed to surrender to the clan’s pious will: Kelly went disappointingly Barbara Walters-ish on us. “I’m sure you’re going through hell right now,” she said to Jim Bob and Michelle — and I’m going to assume that Kelly momentarily forgot that the Duggars believe in a literal hell, or perhaps she was just referring to the room where the three sat and talked, a bright suburban kitchen that we can presume was the Duggars’ home.
According to Kelly, no questions were off-limits, but as a journalist who’s done thousands of interviews, sometimes you ask, but you just don’t get any useful answers. Speaking to People, Kelly said:
One line of questioning that will not be answered in the interview with Jim Bob and Michelle?
“They do not want to talk about the details of the molestation, and I understand that as the parents of those involved, and that’s fine,” she says. “I’ve been told I’m not going to get answers there.”
But, even with that request, Kelly says there are no limitations on their discussion.
“I think people want to hear more about when it was reported, why that time was chosen as opposed to an earlier time,” she says.
“And especially the Duggars’ critics, whether they regret any of their strong comments on morality. In particular, with respect to certain lifestyles, now that they have been so hammered for their own sins. I think that is a fair question, and they should answer that.”
As to the issue of Kelly turning from a tough news anchor into Barbara Walters, one could also ask that question of Diane Sawyer. Her Bruce Jenner interview now looks to have been a neatly timed part of a big PR rollout, from tabloid hints to TV confession to Vanity Fair cover and now to upcoming reality-TV series. Sawyer, once considered a hard-news journalist, has now taken Walters’ place in the star-making machinery.
Exclusive: The Duggars open up about molestation allegations
Exclusive: How the Duggars handled Josh’s confession
Exclusive: Why the Duggars decided to approach the police
Why did Duggars go on television knowing family secret?
Were the Duggars targeted because of Christian beliefs?
Image: Courtesy Fox News, Wikimedia Commons
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