Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, the Christian conservative reality-TV stars reeling from a family molestation scandal, appeared on television June 3 for the first time since the shocking revelations that their son confessed he groped underage girls years ago, including his own little sisters.
In their first TV interview since the revelations two weeks ago, the Duggars talked about how son Josh Duggar, now 27, came to them at age 14 and tearfully told them that he had “improperly touched” some of their daughters.
“We were shocked, we were devastated,” Michelle Duggar told Megyn Kelly on Fox News. “As parents we felt, we’re failures. We tried to raise our kids to do what’s right – to know what’s right. And yet one of our children made really bad choices.”
Still, they insisted their son is not and was not a pedophile, because he was too young at the time of his offenses. Josh was never charged with a crime.
Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar
For the first time, the couple acknowledged that four of the victims were their daughters, including younger sisters Jill and Jessa, who also spoke to Kelly. A fifth was a family friend.
The daughters are upset that Josh’s secret came out, since it affected them as well. The Duggars insisted that Josh had sought and received forgiveness from all the victims, that all had moved on and put the episode behind them.
“Every victim should have the right to tell their own story, not by a tabloid,” said Jim Bob Duggar.
Kelly said at the conclusion of the hour that the rest of the daughters’ interview will air on another Duggar special on her show on Friday night.
Under Kelly’s questioning, the Duggars defended their actions in delaying reporting Josh to the authorities, saying they were trying to protect their son and their daughters. They eventually took him to police because “we felt it was an important step for Josh to confess to police because he broke the law,” Jim Bob said.
But the police didn’t act at the time, and by the time Josh was reported to state child protection authorities, the statute of limitations for any possible criminal act had expired.
The Duggars said that in 2002 and 2003, when he was 14 and 15, Josh had groped the girls while they slept (the girls slept in the same room), and that he did this more than once even after his first confession to his parents.
They got him out of the house and sent him to a non-professional Christian-based counseling program in Little Rock, Ark. Jim Bob said it was “the best decision” they made, because Josh became “closer to God” as a result. “It was a turning point in his life,” he said.
Josh asked for forgiveness from his victims, some of whom were too young to understand what was wrong or what had happened or why Josh had to leave, said Michelle Duggar.
Kelly pressed them about why they launched a reality show about their family in 2008 given this past.
“When we were asked to do the show, all of this had been taken care of five years before,” Jim Bob said. “We had no fears because everything was resolved and … it was a sealed juvenile record and this stuff under law can’t be brought out.”
The Duggars believe the bigger story is how those records were released (under the Freedom of Information Act), and they threatened to sue, to “protect juvenile records because mistakes juveniles make when they’re young should be sealed,” Jim Bob said.
“We trusted (the authorities) and our children poured out their hearts and then to have their trust betrayed and have everything turned over to a tabloid and twisted?” said Michelle.
Kelly also pressed them on the widespread criticism that they lectured others about sin while covering up their own sins.
“Everybody has things in their past in their families,” Michelle said. “Our son violated God’s principles, and it was terrible what Josh did, it was inexcusable, but it was not unforgivable,” added Jim Bob.
The Duggars believe they are the victims of a witch hunt because of their religion (they’re Baptists) and their politics. “This is more about … there’s an agenda and there’s people that are twisting (the allegations) to hurt and slander,” Michelle said.
Appearing on conservative-friendly news channel, the Duggars told Kelly on her show, The Kelly File, that they still believe they can save their top-rated series about their huge family, 19 Kids and Counting, from the cancellation ax.
But they’re not too worried if it goes away, because they and their family will do just fine moving on with their lives, they said.
The TLC network has pulled the show’s reruns from its schedule but has not decided whether to dump it outright, despite the damage caused by Josh’s dark secret and his parents’ role in hushing it up in Arkansas years ago.
The Duggars’ interview with Kelly was their first public discussion of the scandal that has deeply damaged their show, their children, their pious image and their conservative GOP politics since InTouch magazine published a story May 21 based on police reports obtained under a Freedom of Information request to Arkansas authorities.
Hours later, the Duggars and Josh, now 27, acknowledged the scandal on their Facebook page without going into details, apologized and fervently reconfirmed their faith.
Josh Duggar also hurriedly resigned from the influential GOP ally, the Family Research Council in Washington, where he worked as a lobbyist for Christian causes and against gay marriage and abortion rights.
While TLC ponders what to do about the lucrative and popular show, the Duggars have been the targets of withering social-media criticism as hypocrites for promoting their family’s moral purity while hiding Josh’s self-described “inexcusable” past behavior.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Maria Puente writes for USA Today.)