The downfall of the Duggars–and with them their entire sickening brand of Christianity–continues apace. Last night they did an interview with Megyn Kelly of Fox News. I’d call this interview a swan song, except that there is nothing beautiful about it. I’d call it more of a circling-the-drain–a discordant cacophony of noise that its musicians think is beautiful, but don’t realize is ugly and jarring to the audience.
After concertedly trying to ignore the whole Duggar scandal, Fox News finally decided that ratings mattered even more than protecting one of their own and set Megyn Kelly to a long interview with the parents of the clan, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar. Now, I know that Megyn Kelly is a smart person. When Karl Rove famously had his meltdown during the 2012 election night, it was Megyn Kelly who thwapped his nose in one of the most stunning, self-aware, openly-mocking, intelligent displays I’ve ever seen on network television. I see her more dimwitted outbursts as being a product of her bosses’ whims rather than her own idiocy. One journalist even calls these delightful-but-all-too-infrequent takedowns of hers “Megyn moments.” As Amanda Marcotte points out, they’re not quite enough or strong enough to qualify Megyn Kelly as a secret feminist working from behind the scenes to undermine her misogynistic network, but they’re enough to show that the persona she cultivates of “animated sex doll and future Stepford Wife” isn’t quite the whole story for her. In other words, I’m going into this interview hoping against hope that she gives the Duggars the treatment she lobbed at Karl Rove back in 2012.
Here is a link to the interview itself (I don’t know exactly how official it is, or how long it’ll be up, but it’s the one I located). And here’s the embed of it:
We begin with a bang.
Jim Bob: Well, 12 years ago we went through one of the darkest times that our family has ever gone through. And our son Josh came to us, on his own, and he was crying, and he had just turned 14 and he said that he had actually improperly touched some of our daughters.
And at the 20-second mark and their second spoken sentence in the interview, they’re lying already and focusing on damage control. They say that Josh “came to” them to confess what he’d been doing as a freshly-minted 14-year-old. But that contradicts police reports that say that Jim Bob caught him coming out of one girl’s bedroom. Jim Bob is counting on his audience not to know about that InTouch scoop. He’s trying to make Josh sound like a young lad overcome with curiosity, like who hasn’t molested his own sisters before out of youthful ignorance and exuberance? Aw shucks!, but that’s not how Josh did it. We have the police reports to prove that Josh Duggar, over a protracted period of time, forcibly fondled his sisters and a babysitter while they were both sleeping and awake. (Also: “improperly touched”? No, this was actually a sex crime.)
Further, notice how Jim Bob goes to extreme pains to stress how incredibly young Josh was. He’s counting on his audience to believe that a 14-year-old boy doesn’t know damned well that molesting kids is wrong. That has a lot of disturbing implications:
* Jim Bob doesn’t think that minors can commit sex assaults, which is what this actually was.
* Jim Bob doesn’t take sexual assault very seriously.
* Jim Bob hasn’t taught his kids about sexual assault.
* Jim Bob kept Josh so totally in the dark about biology, boundaries, and sexuality that Josh–at 14, midway through puberty–had no earthly idea that what he was doing was wrong–by his father’s own admission (but again, this contradicts the police reports which state that Josh was sneaking around, that he assaulted those girls repeatedly, and that the girls were not willing playmates at all; further, his
deflections not-pologies about it certainly don’t sound like he was very upset).
Michelle goes on to say that she and Jim Bob were “devastated.” Hey gang, do you know how devastated parents react to news that one of their kids sexually assaulted several of their other kids? They report the attacker to the police, get the attacker out of the house, and slam the younger kids into immediate therapy. They don’t cover up the attacks for years and help their kid escape the legal consequences of his assaults until the statute of limitations runs out. Michelle’s words ring hollow. We’re just 30 seconds into the interview right now; this doesn’t bode well.
Michelle: We had one ray of hope (in the wake of Josh’s apparent tearful confession), in that Josh had a tender conscience and he was the one that came and shared on his own, even though the others really didn’t know anything of his wrongdoing.
Again, Michelle is talking out of her ass here, and it only gets worse. That’s not what the police reports indicate happened. Oh, and do you know how a sex attacker with a truly tender conscience expresses contrition? By making full amends, taking responsibility for what he did, and accepting the legal consequences for his assaults–not in doing every goddamned thing he can, with his parents’ help, to evade all fallout of those assaults until there is no way he can be prosecuted anymore.
Incidentally, the “tender conscience” thing is a Christian dogwhistle term. Chances are that unless you’re deeply immersed in the culture you won’t have caught it, but it’s something you hear out of patriarchal Christians (such as here regarding Bill Gothard himself). It’s meant to signal to the fundagelicals listening that Josh was really, truly, sowwy. As Gawker points out, it’s nothing but an excuse, but it’s one that fundagelicals will like.
Michelle whines about how she and Jim Bob felt like “failures” as parents before she even starts talking about the actual victims of her son’s predations:
Michelle: There was so much grief in our hearts. I think as parents we felt–“oh! We’re failures!” You know, here we’ve tried to raise our kids to do what’s right, to know what’s right, and yet one of our children made some really bad choices.
You know, bad choices. That’s all this was. Just bad choices. I make bad choices every day. I just ate an absolutely huge piece of homemade lemon chess pie, and I’m already suffering from sugar overload. You probably make bad choices too. Bad choices are just part of being human. We all make bad choices like misspending our money, accidentally double-scheduling ourselves on the weekend, forgetting important dates, and forcibly fondling and fingering little girls repeatedly.
I’m getting a serious sense that the Duggars have no fucking clue about proportions and propriety with regard to sex, if they think that repeated forcible assaults on their daughters are just “bad choices.” This interview is going to backfire. So. Hard. And I’m glad of it.
Oh, but it gets worse:
Jim Bob: (Josh) said he was just curious about girls and he had gone in and just basically touched them over their clothes when they were sleeping. They didn’t even know he had done it.
First, this is another blatant, self-serving lie according to the police reports, but even if it were true, it’s still assault. Assault isn’t milder just because the attacker didn’t penetrate his victims or get them naked. Jim Bob really has no idea what he’s talking about, but he’s still trying to minimize and deflect the full truth about his son’s deeds. Notice that he still hasn’t really discussed Josh’s victims.
But once he does, I almost wish he hadn’t. He claims that the girls were all totally unaware of their assaults and that they didn’t even learn about what happened until the parents asked them later about it. (How do we know they were being truthful? What if they were pretending to be asleep?) He says the five girls slept in two different bedrooms in what sound like kitten-like clumps, and none of them even knew they’d been molested. When Megyn Kelly asks about that sleeping arrangement, it sounds like she’s wanting to direct him somewhere, but he needs to make sure that he gets the full spin-doctoring lie out and goes right back to his dogged (almost certainly dishonest) description of how he discussed these attacks with the girls.
Michelle: It was so important for us as parents to talk to our girls and make sure that nothing else had happened.
Does that sound to you like it does to me? Like another attempt to minimize and negate what her son did? Because for real, that’s what it sounds like. “Whew! Only a bit of light caressing outside the clothes of some totally unconscious sleeping little girls out of youthful curiosity! PLUS he’s super duper sorry! Nothing to see here, move along!” And if someone hadn’t already seen the police reports, it might even be vaguely credible–though still deeply disturbing, because parents should take all of those kinds of reports very seriously. As it is, her description makes Josh sound like the kind of asshole who’d roofie a woman at a bar and rationalize it later by saying that she’d been too drunk to say no. The victims’ unconscious status does not make the crime less horrifying. But then, we’re dealing with a culture that rationalizes horrifying behavior by saying that as long as the victims are okay with it or unaware of it, then it’s okay. We’ll be talking about that in more detail in a future post, but for now, I just want to leave the idea here.
I also want you to be aware of the weird wide-eyed Michele Bachmann look Michelle is wearing all through the interview. There is something truly unsettling about this particular facial expression. Tilt your head back, open your eyes really wide, and bring your eyebrows down: there you go, you just pulled your very own Persuasive Whackjob Look. They do this whenever they really want to look utterly sincere and convincing. It’s not just something fundagelicals do, though you’ll see it on them a lot; I’ve also seen it on people as diverse as Bigfoot hunters and Holocaust deniers. I’m sure some expert in micro-expressions could explain what the fuck is going on there, but I just know that when I see it, I’m dealing with someone who is delusional, dishonest, or both.
This is just nauseating stuff, and I’m going to just say here that Megyn Kelly’s follow-up question about the girls themselves very clearly was not a question that the Duggars expected; Jim Bob flounders and very obviously lies again while describing how the girls reacted to being assaulted:
Jim Bob: They really didn’t know. Actually what happened was we asked them them at first if anything happened, and then it was after some other things happened that we actually shared with them. And we took a lot of steps. First we tried to deal with this in-house. . . we were trying to figure out, “What was the next step?” Really, looking back, we did the best we could under the circumstances.
I don’t know how this man sits there and says this stuff without his pants exploding into flames right there on television. What are these nebulous “other things” that happened? Why does he keep using constructions that are uniquely designed (and likely thought out beforehand) to keep Josh out of the picture and minimize that sexual assaults occurred? What are these steps? What is “dealing with this in-house”? Though language like “in-house” would appeal to Christians immersed in a culture that demands doing exactly that, Jim Bob doesn’t even vaguely seem aware that what Josh did was illegal and should have been immediately reported to authorities. But that, too, is a lie; in 2002 he called for incest to be considered a capital offense, so even back then he was aware of how serious Josh’s offenses were. His buddy Mike Huckabee, when he was governor of Jim Bob’s home state Arkansas, might have been very soft on sexual crime, but Jim Bob Duggar sure wasn’t. It’s also worth noting that Arkansas prosecutes juveniles as adults as young as 14–Josh’s age at the time of his offenses–so that capital crime blustering would very much have applied to Josh even then. His age would not have been an excuse, and Jim Bob would have known that. (Incidentally, notice how many times he says “actually”? For some reason that sounds really dishonest.)
Jim Bob keeps slathering on the cringeworthy offensiveness:
Jim Bob: At that point, now, nobody knew about it besides Michelle and I and Josh, and so we thought, “What do we do with this information?” The girls, we talked to them, and they didn’t knooooow that anything happened because they were asleep. And so we talked to him, we put all kinds of punishments on him, we watched him like all the time, I took him to work with me, and he just, I mean we just, poured our life into him.
That’s another lie, and impossible besides. We know the girls knew that they had been assaulted–it’s in the 2006 police report that at least one of them reported the abuse to the parents during this time and got nowhere. And I seriously doubt that all this intervention happened. These two people are so overwhelmed with parenting responsibilities that they have had to draft their older kids into tending the younger ones. Besides, Jim Bob’s got a day job of some sort while his wife handles childcare and homeschooling. If he was always out with Daddy, then how was this kid being schooled and educated during this time? Megyn Kelly does ask about what happened at night, since clearly the Duggars had to sleep at some point, and Jim Bob is absolutely unequivocal about his answer: “Right. Nothing ever happened like that again in the girls’ bedrooms after that.” And she just says, “Okay.”
What does he mean exactly, “in the girls’ bedrooms”? That clearly implies that other attacks occurred outside of it.And what the fuck are these “safeguards” that Jim Bob thinks he set up that truly protected those little girls?
Readers, please think about this. If you found out that someone under your roof had assaulted your little daughters while they were in your home, would any force on Earth force you to allow their attacker to stay under your roof? Jim Bob stresses that he put up all these “safeguards” to ensure that the attacks could never occur again. What “safeguard” would make the house seem safe enough while that attacker was still there? I mean, shit, Jim Bob even describes (at 3:55–yes, we’re not even five fucking minutes into this travesty) that other attacks occurred in the living room, with Josh sneaking up to fondling girls on the couch. But they were still sleeping, so that was okay too. Jim Bob is just falling over himself to describe how the girls were sleeping and it was just fondling over their clothes, nothing too invasive, nothing to worry about.
This is a level of moral bankruptcy even I had not expected out of even a patriarchal Christian who registers as an 11 on the Creep Scale.
Jim Bob goes on, after completely negating his daughters’ suffering and minimizing the scope of his son’s attacks on them, to try to equate what happened in his family to what happened in other families, and accidentally reveals that this kind of assault is common in Quiverfull patriarchy families:
Jim Bob: As we talked to other parents and different ones since then, a lot of families have said that they had similar things happen in their families.
WHAT. THE. FUCK.
Now, let’s back up briefly. Here’s a conference paper that says that sibling incest is pretty common, but what happened with Josh and his sisters is not sibling incest. It is sexual assault. That paper goes on to say that when “sibling incest is abusive, the effects on the victim are similar to the effects caused by parent-child sexual abuse.” I would say that fondling anyone–clothed or not–without their consent is abusive. The paper actually quantifies semi-okay incest (“brief, where there is no instigator or controller of the behaviors and power or coercion is not use [sic] to ensure compliance”) and Josh Duggar’s behavior does not fit that bill. And it goes on to state that “available research suggests a link between neglect, family dysfunction and sibling incest” and links incest-struck homes with patriarchal structure and double messages from parents about sexuality; it says that “sibling incest exists within a structure of silence and guilt.” The people who presented that paper could have been talking here directly about the Duggar family.
The worst part is that this paper also links homes where sibling incest occurs with a high incidence of parent-child sexual abuse.
So when I hear that Jim Bob is doing this much to minimize and hand-wave away his son’s behavior, characterizing it as youthful curiosity and trying to negate the harm done to his daughters, that worries me. I’m worried about those girls and the environment in which they are growing up. I worry about what message they are taking from their parents’ reaction to their assaults. The entire paper is horrifying, but it’s shocking how closely it tracks the Duggar scandal so you’ll want to read it.
And Jim Bob just revealed that this isn’t an uncommon situation in patriarchal families. Later, around 13:56, he even tries to minimize his son’s attacks by saying that those other families saw way worse attacks on their daughters. Someone tell me again why this parenting system is so moral and superior?
So Jim Bob’s various interventions failed; he discovered Josh was fondling his sisters on the couch, now that he was denied their bedrooms via those mysterious, unspecified “safeguards.” He says there were “a couple more times” that Josh confessed to attacking his sisters. He says, after re-stressing Josh’s young age (using the technical term “juvenile,” and I’m sure that was done for a reason), “AGAIN, this was not rape or anything like that. This was just touching somebody over their clothes.” Except then he immediately qualifies that by saying that actually there were a couple incidents of Josh fondling the girls under their clothes too, at the 4:58 mark.
Wait a fucking minute.
This whole time their rationalization was that it was okay because Josh always fondled his victims over their clothes, meaning there was no skin-to-skin contact, which meant his assaults weren’t quite as serious. But Jim Bob just admitted that at least two times there was indeed skin-to-skin contact. He qualifies that as well by insisting it was just “like a few seconds,” which of course makes everything peachy again. Whew! Glad it was just a few seconds. More than ten, and then it’d be more like rape, amirite? It’s like dropping food on the floor–the five-second rule. But it wasn’t even just two times, because Jim Bob goes on to add that the third time Josh confessed to under-the-clothes fondling, then he and Michelle finally decided to do something about it.
Except that “something” proved to be Jim Bob talking to his friends for advice. He did not report his son to the police. He says he “pulled Josh out of the home” and sent him to an unaccredited “counselor” that Jim Bob says was a mentor-type who ran a “training center” in Arkansas. This family friend would make Josh do construction work and counsel him, Jim Bob said, which would be far better than reporting him to the police. Jim Bob was trying to “reach his heart,” you see. When Megyn Kelly asks about his legal obligations, he quickly reminds her that parents are not “mandatory reporters,” which he thinks means he doesn’t have the obligation to say anything (and this is another topic he appears to have investigated carefully).
Really? So what if someone murders one of his kids? Is he required to report that maybe? Assaults occurred. He knew that incest was illegal, and he said as far back as 2002 that it should be a capital offense. This deflection is disingenuous at best.
Jim Bob said shipping Josh to this remodeling camp was their best decision in the whole situation. He says that afterward Josh asked “God” for forgiveness, apologized to his victims, and was “broken.” Jim compared his treatment of Josh to how Jesus had to go rescue one stray baby lamb while leaving the other sheep to it briefly, “to help this one but protect these,” as Michelle put it. They both kept minimizing the attacks over and over again: he was soooo young. The victims were soooo unaware of what had happened. They kept trying to say that the attacks were very brief and very mild, but the more they talk the more you realize that they know perfectly well that Josh kept attacking those girls over and over and over and over again, over a period of years. When cornered about the daughters, the parents quickly gloss over them every time.
When Josh returned from this “treatment center,” then–at last, and now that the statute of limitations was up–suddenly Jim Bob got an attack of conscience and notified the law. But that, too, is more self-serving blather; we know that the officer he notified was a family friend (and pedophile) who only lectured Josh. This entire scene was just part of Jim Bob wanting to scare Josh into submission–because for all that “broken” repentance, Jim Bob clearly still had some doubts. I don’t think Jim Bob ever once expected or wanted it to become an official report and chose an officer buddy of his who’d keep it quiet. That officer’s on record as saying that he only lectured Josh because Jim Bob had lied to him about the extent of the abuse. Jim Bob says (at 14:56) that he went to the police department himself and just happened to run into the pedophile in question, but that doesn’t sound at all like the police reports either or remotely like Hutchens’ story; in 2006, when the cops finally opened a formal investigation, Jim Bob had apparently had a change of heart again because he refused to let them talk to Josh and lawyered up to prevent the investigation (and Josh, now adult, sued the state over that investigation to dispute it).
That whole part of the interview is nothing but a pack of lies. Jim Bob presents this confession to the cops as the last stage in a long, drawn-out process of redemption, but that’s not what happened at all. They furtively found the most sympathetic ear in law enforcement that they could find, then buried the story as far as they could with the smug feeling that they’d reported the crime. If that 2006 tipster to Oprah Winfrey hadn’t gotten involved, there’s every indication they never would have brought it up again. If Jim Bob really thought reporting the crime was that important, why didn’t he do it the first six times the kid was caught red-handed pawing at his sisters? It’s not an afterthought; it should have been his first step. Instead he gave Josh all the license he needed to prey on those girls, and acted all shocked and dumbfounded every time the kid got caught re-offending. To hear him tell it, he didn’t take the assaults seriously until Josh escalated his predation and attacked a little girl whose age was in the single digits.
I don’t believe for a second that Jim Bob didn’t know Hutchens very well. He hand-waves away Megyn Kelly’s questions about how well he knew the officer, saying he knew most of the officers around town because of a towing business he’d owned and pretending like it was just random chance that Hutchens was there that day, but there is every indication that Hutchens was a family friend. Jim Bob describes Hutchens as “this man” and speculates that Hutchens is lying to get out on parole faster. But Hutchens was his friend. Every news story about him refers to him as Jim Bob’s personal friend and as a family friend. And the parents claim that they sent Josh in to this officer’s workplace and had no idea if he’d ever come out again or what would happen, but Hutchens describes the encounter as being instigated and orchestrated by Jim Bob entirely, and he insists he only talked to Josh after Jim Bob had explained the entire situation. Michelle even pulls out the crazy-eyed Persuasive Look again when she describes that visit.
Megyn Kelly doesn’t even follow up on that bit of denial.
Then they say that Josh and the girls got “professional counseling” after he got back (really? who with? Because I don’t believe that; most fundagelicals are deeply suspicious of real counselors) and express how persecuted they feel. And then Jim Bob evangelizes by preaching about how “God” has forgiven Josh (how does he know that, exactly?) and so could forgive anybody. I half expected him to take Megyn Kelly through the Sinner’s Prayer.
They characterize the InTouch story and Hutchens’ betrayal as “an agenda” directed at them, and are upset about how the leak of the story will reflect on Josh’s victims. A pity they weren’t worried about that all those years ago. When he mentions the suspected sinister motivations of the police chief, that’s the one time Jim Bob tears up a little.
Jim Bob blames Hutchens for not making an official police report about the assaults. I wish I was kidding here. They’re mad at everybody else for being upset with them or thinking they’re hypocritical. He insists every family has dark secrets so therefore nobody gets to give them side-eye over Josh’s “improper touching” and as a last cherry, Josh can’t possibly be a pedophile because “ACTUALLY” he was 14 when he attacked his sisters (he’s obviously spent a lot of time investigating this definition).
Michelle ends with this, and it’s just so sickening that it has to be quoted:
I can understand now but we’ve never–I know that every one of us have done things wrong. That’s why Jesus came! I feel like this is more about….(long pause) There’s an agenda? And there’s people that are purposing to try to bring things out and twisting them to hurt and slander!
“Slander?” I wonder what part of these allegations isn’t true? Because every time we turn around, the story gets worse. When Megyn Kelly asks in response if they feel persecuted for their faith, of course they leap on that and claim that this scandal is “an unprecedented attack” on them and it’s just the meanest thing ever. They insist they invited the cops into their home in 2006 to interview the girls, but that isn’t how it went either; they are upset that the girls’ testimony got publicized, and I can’t totally blame them for that, but they’re more angry about the damage done to their image than they are to the mental health and safety of their own daughters through their entire ordeal.
That whole last quote, incidentally, is exactly why irrelevance couldn’t happen fast enough to this family’s ambitions or their sick religion.
The daughters were asleep the whole time. Except when they weren’t asleep.
Josh had a tender conscience and was truly sorry every time he confessed to assaulting his sisters. Except he kept doing it.
It happened in their bedrooms. Except when it didn’t.
It was always just fondling over their clothes. Except those several times when it wasn’t.
They always kept an eye on Josh. Except when they didn’t.
They put “safeguards” in their home. Except in one of the prime locations where Josh assaulted his victims.
They didn’t want to get the law involved because, as parents, they had the right to do what they thought was right for their own property. Except they realized they needed to get the law involved after Josh was magically healed by Jesus with the magic of hard work doing carpentry.
They wanted to do what was right, morally and legally. Except they did everything humanly possible to shield their son, lied to investigators, and obstructed the 2006 investigation any which way they could.
Their primary concern was for their daughters, except they barely even mention the victims of their son’s predation and constantly minimize the assaults on their children.
They got a “clean bill of health from the state.” Except that it was all the state’s fault for not opening a formal investigation and Josh sued them afterward for it.
Their hearts break for their girls. Except that they didn’t protect them twelve years ago.
They have “nothing to hide.”
Except for everything.
I have no more words tonight. I feel heartsick to my core. I can’t stop crying. Those fucking bastards. I fucking hate these people. Gang, I’m glad I watched this, I’m glad I wrote this, I needed to know and see for myself what they were saying, but please understand: this is awful stuff and I’m feeling physically sick right now. I wish there really was a Christian god who cared about justice and caring for the smallest lambs among his flock, because these two would be the first against the metaphorical wall if he existed.
Next time: Michelle’s baby voice and the interview with the sisters themselves.