Jill and Jessa Duggar’s interview with Megyn Kelly aired this past Friday. For the most part, the two reiterated their parents’ talking points, minimizing Josh’s crimes and crying foul at the media. I want to focus on the Duggars’ criticism of the media’s role in all of this. It’s not the legality of the Freedom of Information request through which In Touch learned of Josh’s crimes that I’m interested in, but rather the Duggars’ claims that they are being persecuted by the media for their Christian beliefs.
By word of background, it came to light several weeks ago that Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar’s oldest son, Josh, sexually molested five girls, four of them his younger sisters, as a teenager, and, further, that his parents did not remove him from the home for a year after they first learned about this, even as his actions worsened—and even then, they merely sent him to do manual labor rather than getting him professional counseling. The fallout of these revelations has been all over tabloids and mainstream media alike, and in response, the Duggar parents and two of the Duggar daughters were interviewed last week by Megyn Kelly of Fox News.
In both interviews, the Duggars spent a great deal of time lambasting the media for their coverage over the last few weeks, and alleging that they are victims of Christian persecution. While I understand their frustration, anger, and, yes, pain, I think they need to remember that it was this same media that made them the darling sensations that they were. Tabloids across the country have long treated the Duggars with kid gloves. For years I’ve watched as supermarket magazines gush over Duggar engagements, weddings, and births, even as they gossip maliciously about other celebrities.
Indeed, I’ve long been concerned by the prevailing media narrative about the Duggars. The girls’ courtships have been portrayed as wholesome and quaint, with all of the layers of control and unhealthy teaching papered over. When the stifling rules Jim Bob and Michelle set for their daughters’ relationships were noted—such as Jim Bob’s insistence on reading every single text between his daughters and their beaus—they were treated as cute. Take a look at this, for instance:
Jessa, who is now engaged to her boyfriend, Ben, whom she plans to marry on Nov. 1, has also shared that the idea of finally having sex is motivation to keep engagements very, very short. Too funny!
Jessa’s going to get married extra quick because she can’t have sex until she gets married! So funny! The tabloid doesn’t mention that early marriages are more likely to end in divorce, or that getting married quickly so that you can have sex is a really really bad idea and results in couples marrying before they’re actually ready. As a rule, the tabloids were too interested in how quaint they found Duggars to actually look at the devastation caused by the teachings they adhered to and promoted.
To add another example, that same tabloid article notes that the Duggar girls style their hair “every single day” because the Bible calls women’s hair their “glory,” without noting that the Duggar girls were taught that by a sexual predator who preyed on teenage girls and had a kink for long, curled hair. As someone who grew up in a home much like the Duggars and suffered long-lasting harm as a result of the beliefs they promote, watching the media fawn over this family without asking a single hard question was extremely difficult.
And now, over this past month, the Duggars have finally experienced the sort of treatment other TV sensations receive from tabloids from day one. The gloves have come off. Not all coverage has pleased me—too many would rather mock than use this as a teachable moment—and I’m appalled that the police report was released in such a fashion that the victims’ identities were easily ascertained. But I’m glad—oh so glad—that some of the problems inherent to the Duggars’ beliefs and teachings are finally being recognized and discussed.
And now let’s turn to those Christian persecution claims.
Tabloids are equal opportunity offenders. Publications like In Touch rip apart people’s lives and cash in on revealing their darkest moments. That is what tabloids do. I am not saying this is a good thing, mind you. I am simply saying it is reality. This is what happens when you’re famous. The Duggars claim that they’re being treated this way by the media because they’re Christians, but in actual fact this is simply the end of years of privileged and preferential treatment.
When Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar signed on with TLC, they put themselves out there. When you become a public figure or a TV family, you have go in with the understanding that your deepest secrets may be dredged up and thrown in your faces. When Jim Bob and Michelle signed on with TLC, they signed up for this. Yes, it sucks. But Jim Bob and Michelle had a choice, and they chose fame. If they’d wanted their family secrets to stay secrets, they should have turned down the TV offer.
Of course, the Duggars aren’t just a TV family, they’re also heavily involved in politics. The same is true of politics as of being a celebrity—you should expect the media to sift through your past looking for juicy secrets to unearth. And in the case of politics, this is with good reason! For example, do you think someone with a history of soliciting underage girls should be able to go into politics as a “family values” candidate without this past coming to light? I don’t! Knowing what she did about her own son’s crimes, Michelle nevertheless chose to record an anti-trans robocall last summer, conflating transgender women with child molesters and successfully blocking an ordinance that would have protected transgender rights.
So let’s review for a moment.
The Duggars have for years been treated with kid gloves by tabloids and the media. Far from being persecuted for their Christian beliefs, they were celebrated and upheld as interesting and wholesome and a bit weird, yes, but in a quaint and quirky sort of way. That all changed a few weeks ago when In Touch obtained a copy of the police report that revealed that Josh Duggar had committed multiple acts of sexual molestation as a teenager. Suddenly the tabloids responded in usual tabloid fashion, treating the Duggars like any other celebrity family.
Because of the Duggars’ involvement in politics and their somewhat self-appointed position as poster family of the political Right, the mainstream media has covered the revelations as well. Many media outlets have pointed to the Duggars’ hypocrisy in portraying transgender individuals as child molesters after preventing their son from being prosecuted for actual child molestation, and after failing to protect their own daughters from further sexual abuse.
In their recent interviews, the Duggars minimized their son’s crimes in a way that made a lot of people very uncomfortable, making it clear that the Duggars’ beliefs are not as wholesome or as cute as they have often been portrayed. Many people are seeing, for the first time, the dark underbelly that I and others like me experienced growing up in the Duggars’ restrictive patriarchal subculture. Not surprisingly, some who once thought the Duggars a good example of family togetherness and love have questioned their assessment.
This is not what Christian persecution looks like.
The tabloids are not treating the Duggars differently from any other celebrity or TV family. The mainstream media is using words like “hypocrisy” because that is what happens when someone in politics champions something that stands at odds with their actions in their personal lives. As for the public, some are reassessing their view of the Duggars based on revelations that all was not as they had thought. And this is supposed to be Christian persecution?
The real tragedy of this whole thing is that the Duggar children had no real say in their involvement in it. When Jim Bob and Michelle signed on with TLC and entered politics, their children ended up along for the ride whether they wanted it or not. They didn’t ask to grow up on TV, and the girls didn’t deserve to have what they suffered at their brother’s hands splashed on tabloid covers across the country.
This isn’t Christian persecution, but that doesn’t make it pleasant for the kids.