Here we go again: for the second time in seven months, TLC is embroiled in a child molestation scandal involving the stars of one of its most popular reality shows.
On Thursday, In Touch Weekly reported that Josh Duggar, the oldest son of the Duggar family from TLC's 19 Kids and Counting, had molested several underage girls when he was a teenager in 2002 and 2003 (including, according to TMZ, his own sisters).
At the time, his father, Jim Bob Duggar, waited more than a year to contact Arkansas police, and later refused to allow police to interview Josh when they opened a felony investigation in 2006. Josh's mother, Michelle, later admitted to police that Josh had not, in fact, received counseling and instead was briefly sent to live with a family friend.
The Duggar family confirmed the allegations on Facebook Thursday, as Jim Bob and Michelle explained in a statement that "when Josh was a young teenager, he made some very bad mistakes and we were shocked."
TLC even went ahead with a 19 Kids and Counting marathon Thursday night, just as the controversy exploded. But late Friday afternoon TLC shelved the show and released this statement: "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 appalling news comes just seven months after TLC canceled Here Comes Honey Boo Boo in October, when the network confirmed reports that the show's star, Mama June, was dating a former boyfriend who had been convicted of child molestation. (Making matters even worse, her daughter Anna alleged the boyfriend had abused her at age 8.) At the time, TLC offered counseling to Anna and said in a statement: "Supporting the health and welfare of these remarkable children is our only priority. TLC is faithfully committed to the children's ongoing comfort and well being."
(Mama June has already called TLC out for its hypocrisy, which means we now live in a world where Honey Boo Boo's mother is the voice of reason.)
Before deciding to pull the show altogehter, the network had replaced a scheduled airing of 19 Kids and Counting with an episode of The Little Couple.
TLC did not respond to questions about whether any advertisers had pulled their spots for the show. The network also isn't commenting on whether it previously knew about the molestation claims—though they apparently came to light during a planned 2006 Oprah Winfrey interview with the Duggar family.
Even if TLC had been kept in the dark, the network has a history of purposely looking the other way when it comes to the Duggars' inflammatory behavior.
Last September, daughter Jessa made waves when she blamed the Holocaust on evolution, while also comparing it to abortion. Until yesterday, when he resigned his post, Josh had served as executive director of FRC Action, the nonprofit lobbying arm of the Family Research Council. Among other things, the conservative organization advocates against same-sex marriage "with the mission to champion marriage and family as the foundation of civilization, the seedbed of virtue, and the wellspring of society." Last November, Josh led an Arkansas rally against gay marriage, claiming there was an "agenda to silence us, to silence those of us who believe in what is right."
And Michelle Duggar equated transgender people with child molesters when she spoke out against an anti-discrimination ordinance in Fayetteville, Arkansas, last year, claiming "males with past child predator convictions [could] claim they are female to have a legal right to enter private areas that are reserved for women and girls."
Yet 19 Kids and Counting Fans never saw any of these occurrences on the show, just as A&E always omitted Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson's controversial beliefs from that program. It's easy to edit out unpleasant footage when constructing a reality show narrative, but that doesn't change who these stars really are, nor what they believe.
The approach by TLC and A&E has been to ignore these many red flags, distracting viewers from unpleasant truths about the stars that don't fit in their shows' folksy narrative, and hope to attract as many unaware viewers as possible before the bottom falls out—and as we've seen, it inevitably always does. Duck Dynasty's ratings have plummeted from 14 million to 2.5 million since patriarch Phil Robertson's anti-gay and anti-Muslim statements came to light in 2013.
Now, after pulling the plug on Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, TLC finds itself at another crossroads—once again having only itself to blame for playing too close to the fire when it came to its reality stars, and again getting burned.
As TLC decides whether the Duggars will return to the network, they are faced with the fact that 19 Kids and Counting is its golden goose and one of its biggest hits. The Duggars have been a staple on the network since 2008.
Last October, 4.4 million people tuned in to see Jill Duggar and Derick Dillard get married, in what was TLC's most-watched program in four years. And judging by the responses to the family's Facebook post on Thursday, a large number of Duggar fans seem content to forgive the family and move on (alarmingly, much of the fan support has been directed towards Josh, and not his many victims). While TLC might hope to do the same, its past line-in-the-sand actions concerning Here Comes Honey Boo Boo could leave it no choice but to enact a harsher penalty.