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 night.
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 Fox interview was taped on Wednesday morning, almost two weeks after the Duggar scandal erupted.
Josh did not speak with Kelly, but two of his sisters who were victims did — that interview will air on Friday.
While breaking their silence, Jim Bob and Michelle 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.
Fans and critics of the family want to know what exactly the Duggar family did to address the sexual abuse — and why more wasn’t done.
The news was broken nearly two weeks ago by In Touch Weekly.
In Touch reported that Jim Bob waited more than a year before informing police. (On Wednesday the tabloid magazine published a new police report on the matter.)
The magazine’s initial report prompted a written apology from Josh. But his parents had said little about the matter before Wednesday.
On Wednesday, Jim Bob questioned why more attention hasn’t focused on the press leaks: “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.”
This scandal 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: “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?”
And Fox News did not respond to a request for comment on their Duggar coverage.
The Duggars have a P.R. expert helping them tell that 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’s comments in advance of the interview have homed in on the media’s coverage of the case and the role of law enforcement.
On her own show on Monday, she said she appreciates her reputation as a “tough but fair journalist,” and said that “nothing is off limits” with the Duggars. But Kelly, a former attorney known for grilling guests on her program, said the interview “isn’t going to be a cross-examination of a family.” And certain topics apparently will be avoided.
“I don’t plan on getting into the specific details about what was done because my understanding is the victims don’t want to discuss that either,” Kelly said.
Kelly has 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.”
None of the victims have spoken publicly about the incidents.