Duggar parents address '19 Kids and Counting' scandal in interview

Why are Duggar parents speaking out on scandal now?
Why are Duggar parents speaking out on scandal now?

New story: Duggar family says real crime is release of molestation records

Original story: Four of the five girls Josh Duggar molested were his sisters, their parents said in an interview with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly on Wednesday.

The incidents occurred when Josh Duggar was a teenager. Parents Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar said they were "just devastated" when Josh came forward and confessed.

The parents described the molestation as "improper touching," sometimes over the girls' clothes, sometimes under the clothes. "This was not rape or anything like that," Jim Bob said.

Referring to the family's handling of the situation, Jim Bob said, "Looking back, we did the best we could under the circumstances."

The parents told Kelly that they feel like their family is under an "unprecedented attack" partly because of their Christian beliefs.

After the interview aired, critics of the family's handling of the scandal said that the parents seemed to be minimizing the seriousness of the abuse.

"What was just sad to me... was how willfully ignorant the Duggar parents are about child sexual abuse," attorney Lisa Bloom said on "CNN Tonight." "They don't seem to have educated themselves then or now about the facts."

The Fox interview was taped on Wednesday morning, almost two weeks after the Duggar scandal erupted. It was televised on Wednesday night.

Josh did not speak with Kelly, but two of his sisters who were victims, Jill and Jessa, did. A brief portion was televised as a "tease" to Friday's edition of Kelly's show.

In the video clip, the sisters focused on the new violation of privacy. Jill tearfully said, "They can't do this to us. We're victims."

By "they," she meant the officials who released their juvenile records. The family says this release was illegal.

Jessa also said, "The system that was set up to protect kids, both those who make stupid mistakes or have problems like this in their life and the ones that are affected by those choices. It's greatly failed."

While breaking their silence, the Duggars family members must have been thinking about at least two specific audiences: their fans, and the executives at TLC who finance their hit reality show "19 Kids and Counting."

The family's reputation and the future of the show may depend on the public's reaction to the interview.

"I don't know whether the rest of our family should be punished" for Josh's past actions, Jim Bob said, suggesting a path forward for the family's reality show.

On the other hand, he said, "we'll be fine whether they film us or not."

Related: Why hasn't '19 Kids and Counting' been canceled? It's complicated.

This scandal, broken by In Touch Weekly, became a big news story in late May, particularly once TLC pulled "19 Kids and Counting" from its schedule. Advertisers have left the show in droves. And TLC is debating whether or not to resume production of the show.

But coverage by Fox News was scant -- in fact, the disturbing news about the Duggars was barely mentioned on the air until Kelly's interview was announced last weekend.

There are certainly political overtones to the Duggar controversy. The devoutly Christian conservative Duggars are popular figures on the right,and family members have played active roles in Arkansas politics.

A former state legislator, Jim Bob Duggar ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2002. Last year, Michelle Duggar recorded a robocall urging residents of Fayetteville, Arkansas, to protest an ordinance aimed at preventing discrimination against gays.

And the embattled family has a well-documented relationship with one of the state's best-known political figures, former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee.

Huckabee, who left Fox News at the beginning of the year to pursue a White House bid, swiftly expressed his support for the Duggars after the In Touch story was published.

So it may not be surprising that the Duggars chose to break their silence through Fox News, the favorite cable channel of conservatives.

Kelly addressed the issue on Wednesday: "Do you think the backlash has been greater because people object to who you are and what you stand for? Do you think your Christian beliefs are at issue here?"

Related: '19 Kids and Counting in limbo

The Duggars have a P.R. expert helping the Duggars tell their story: Chad Gallagher, the head of the Arkansas firm Legacy Consulting.

Gallagher is also a longtime adviser to Huckabee, and is the executive director of Huck PAC.

Gallagher declined to comment on his work for the Duggars when contacted by CNNMoney.

Kelly placed the privacy of victims at the center of her discussions; she appears determined to bring the heat to the Springdale, Arkansas, police chief over the release of the report that detailed the molestation allegations.

Critics have called for Police Chief Kathy O'Kelley to be fired, asserting that she broke the law by releasing juvenile records and violated the privacy of Josh Duggar's victims.

"One of the questions I want to get to is: How do we know about this?" Kelly said Monday night during an appearance on "The O'Reilly Factor." "There appears to be a police chief in their jurisdiction who improperly released the police report."

The police chief released the report in response to a Freedom of Information request by In Touch.

When she re-visited the question during a nearly 10-minute segment on her program Tuesday night, Kelly responded forcefully to a panelist who defended the release of the report.

"Whatever you think about Josh Duggar, let's take him out of it because that's the easier part. It's like, you know, he did this stuff and now it's known," Kelly said. "He, too, was a juvenile, however, so it is very controversial. But the victims, the victims have been revealed and re-victimized by the release of the intimate details."

On Wednesday, Jim Bob questioned why more attention hasn't focused on the press leaks, saying, "It has been an unprecedented attack on our family. And this information was released illegally. And so I'm wondering why all this press is not going after the system for releasing these juvenile records. That is a huge story."

Jim Bob also said the family might sue over the release of the records.

"We're talking to some attorneys about that right now and we'll see," he said.

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