Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar certainly picked the right venue for their first exclusive sit-down interview regarding the molestation scandal involving their son, Josh Duggar. Fox News’ Megyn Kelly devoted her entire program to the exclusive Wednesday – asking a lot of the right questions, albeit in the most sympathetic and gentle manner possible.
The story has already become politicized, with the stars of TLC’s “19 Kids & Counting” having entered the political arena by attaching their conservative Christian beliefs to public stands regarding gay marriage and abortion. That has yielded charges of hypocrisy, while the Duggars repeatedly retreated to the notion that there was an “agenda” at work on the part of those who released Josh’s juvenile records regarding molestation incidents that occurred more than a decade ago, when he was 14 and 15.
Although Kelly probed the Duggars about the chronology and their response to those events, she spent nearly as much time exploring their conflicted feelings. At one point, she headed into a commercial break by alluding to “the terrible choice these parents faced.” In addition, the host sounded at least as concerned about the breach of confidentiality, and whether the Duggars were “targeted” for their beliefs, as the particulars of what had happened inside the family’s home.
While it’s hardly a surprise in the cutthroat world of TV news, Kelly and Fox also appeared to be milking the story by teasing an interview with two of the Duggar sisters that Josh improperly touched, Jill and Jessa, during the final minute of her show. Kelly said that exchange will air on Friday.
Other cable networks were left playing catch-up. CNN devoted a panel to discussing Kelly’s interview in the subsequent hour, while MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell introduced his program with the swipe, “The Duggar family has a new defense lawyer: Megyn Kelly.”
At first blush, that might have sounded a bit harsh, since Kelly did pose the most obvious question – at least, in the context of the Duggars becoming famous – by asking somewhat incredulously: “What would make you launch a reality TV show about your family given this past?”
Still, there were few follow-ups to the Duggars’ answers, including the more perplexing ones. Just to extend the legal analogy, in fact, the reality stars were poor witnesses on their own behalf, alternating between painting themselves as victims, employing a legalistic rationale for their behavior and returning to their belief in Christian forgiveness and redemption. In the process, Jim Bob seemingly sought to diminish what transpired (“touching somebody over their clothes”) and rather vaguely referenced how many other families had experienced similar issues.
Even so, most viewers have likely already made their minds up about the Duggars, and presenting themselves as victims of those who harbor “an agenda” in the ongoing culture wars is certainly a common refrain on Fox News. Ultimately, if the couple’s PR team had any misgivings about how the hour went, that had little to do with Kelly, who can be a tough interviewer on some guests but was inordinately sympathetic here, toward the end saying, “I’m sure you’re going through hell right now.”
Charitably, one can conclude that Kelly felt obliged to let the Duggars deliver their responses, which were almost instantly being parsed and dissected elsewhere. “Thank you for telling our story,” Jim Bob said at the end of the interview. And that, come to think of it, without fear of cross-examination, is precisely what a good defense attorney does.