Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar kicked off their PR campaign last night, appearing on Fox News' The Kelly File in an attempt to salvage their family's reputation after they confirmed reports that their oldest son molested five underage girls as a teenager. Instead, their comments—which seemed to downplay Josh Duggar's molestation because it was "not rape" and his victims "didn't know or understand" what was happening—seemed to make their situation worse.
The family "dug themselves into a PR hole no amount of high-minded righteousness can get them out of," wrote The Daily Beast's Kevin Fallon. According to TV Guide, the interview "proves why they really don't belong on TV," while Salon called the conversation "horrifying." And Twitter was, once again, in an uproar.
But there was one notable abstention from the latest Duggar firestorm. TLC, which airs the family's hit reality series, 19 Kids and Counting, has maintained its media silence, again declining to comment today beyond the statement it issued almost two weeks ago soon after the allegations first surfaced: "Effective immediately, TLC has pulled all episodes of 19 Kids and Counting currently from the air. We are deeply saddened and troubled by this heartbreaking situation, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family and victims at this difficult time."
The network has maintained its silence ever since, even as advertisers began jumping ship as more sordid details leaked out. TLC had reportedly been mulling a spin-off focused only on certain members of the family—i.e., not Josh—as a way to salvage one of its most popular shows, but last night's Duggar debacle might have thrown those plans into disarray.
Wednesday night's interview with Megyn Kelly, conducted earlier that day in Arkansas just as In Touch Weekly published additional disturbing details about Josh's actions, was full of incendiary moments.
"This was not rape or anything like that. This was like touching someone over their clothes. There was a couple of instances were he touched them under their clothes, but it was like a few seconds," said Jim Bob, whose Duggar Rules of Relationships prohibit his kids from kissing before marriage or holding hands before they're engaged.
While admitting, "as parents we felt, we're failures," Jim Bob went on to excuse Josh's behavior, noting of the victims, "None of them were aware of Josh's wrongdoings." When asked why he and his family would agree to participate in a reality show in 2008 given his son's actions, Jim Bob said, "We had nothing to hide; we had taken care of all that years before."
In fact, Jim Bob and Michelle spent part of the interview shifting blame to the media and police officials for publishing what they thought were sealed juvenile documents. Michelle said of her daughters, "They've been victimized more by what has happened in these last couple weeks than they were 12 years ago because, honestly, they didn't even understand or know that anything had happened until after the fact when they were told about it."
The parents also refused to apologize for what many have criticized as hypocritical behavior given their oldest son's past. When asked about her participation in a robocall that said transgender people might be child molesters, Michelle noted, "I think that protecting young girls and not allowing young men, and men in general, to go into a girls' locker room is just common sense."
Jim Bob added that she had used the word "pedophile" in the call, explaining, "A pedophile is an adult that preys on children. Joshua was actually 14, and just turned 15, when he did what he did, and I think the legal definition is 16 and up for being an adult preying on a child. So he was a child preying on a child."
Despite its dogged silence, TLC will indeed have to make a decision at some point about 19 Kids and Counting and whether it's still comfortable having the family as the face of the network. "We are fine whether they film us or not," said Jim Bob.
Added Michelle, "Either way, we're at peace."