Yes, this is an Ethics Train Wreck.
First, some background:
“19 Kids and Counting” is another reality show featuring the exploitation of children for their parents fame and profit broadcast by the cable channel TLC, the same shameless bunch that bought us “Jon and Kate Plus 8” and the trashy Honey Boo-Boo Bunch.It began as “17 Kids and Counting,” became “18 Kids and Counting,” and but for this emerging fiasco, might have kept adding numbers, and little unpaid performers, ad infinitum. The show featured the godly, conservative, fertile Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their nine girls and ten boys, all of whose names begin with the letter “J.” Since the show began, three of the children have been married and several grandchildren have been born. The series began on September 29, 2008. February 17, 2015 marked Season 10.
In response to emerging reports that oldest son Dugger son Josh, now 27, was once accused of molesting five underage girls as a teen, Josh Duggar, his wife Anna, and his parents Jim Bob and Michelle jointly explained the circumstances, which had not been revealed outside the family until now. “Twelve years ago, as a young teenager, I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret. I hurt others, including my family and close friends,” Josh said in a statement. “I confessed this to my parents who took several steps to help me address the situation. We spoke with the authorities where I confessed my wrongdoing, and my parents arranged for me and those affected by my actions to receive counseling. I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life.”
Josh then resigned from his position at the Family Research Council.
Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar had this to say about their son:
“Back 12 years ago our family went through one of the most difficult times of our lives. When Josh was a young teenager, he made some very bad mistakes, and we were shocked. We had tried to teach him right from wrong. That dark and difficult time caused us to seek God like never before. Even though we would never choose to go through something so terrible, each one of our family members drew closer to God. We pray that as people watch our lives they see that we are not a perfect family. We have challenges and struggles every day. It is one of the reasons we treasure our faith so much because God’s kindness and goodness and forgiveness are extended to us – even though we are so undeserving. We hope somehow the story of our journey – the good times and the difficult times – cause you to see the kindness of God and learn that He can bring you through anything.”
TLC cancelled the show. It said, on its Facebook page,
“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”
Then GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee issued his own Facebook statement in support of Josh and the family:
“Janet and I want to affirm our support for the Duggar family. Josh’s actions when he was an underage teen are as he described them himself, ‘inexcusable,’ but that doesn’t mean ‘unforgivable.’ He and his family dealt with it and were honest and open about it with the victims and the authorities. No purpose whatsoever is served by those who are now trying to discredit Josh or his family by sensationalizing the story. Good people make mistakes and do regrettable and even disgusting things. The reason that the law protects disclosure of many actions on the part of a minor is that the society has traditionally understood something that today’s blood-thirsty media does not understand—that being a minor means that one’s judgement is not mature. No one needs to defend Josh’s actions as a teenager, but the fact that he confessed his sins to those he harmed, sought help, and has gone forward to live a responsible and circumspect life as an adult is testament to his family’s authenticity and humility. Those who have enjoyed revealing this long ago sins in order to discredit the Duggar family have actually revealed their own insensitive bloodthirst, for there was no consideration of the fact that the victims wanted this to be left in the past and ultimately a judge had the information on file destroyed—not to protect Josh, but the innocent victims. Janet and I love Jim Bob and Michelle and their entire family. They are no more perfect a family than any family, but their Christian witness is not marred in our eyes because following Christ is not a declaration of our perfection, but of HIS perfection. It is precisely because we are all sinners that we need His grace and His forgiveness. We have been blessed to receive God’s love and we would do no less than to extend our love and support for our friends. In fact, it is such times as this, when real friends show up and stand up. Today, Janet and I want to show up and stand up for our friends. Let others run from them. We will run to them with our support.”
1. TLC deserves this. Its practice of rewarding star-struck parents who use their children as props and cash cows while subjecting them to the disruptions and stresses of filming a TV show is unethical, as was well-explained by child star advocate and defender Paul Petersen when he was an early critic of the “Jon and Kate Plus Eight” TLC show. He wrote in part,
“…and I’ll remind everyone that this is nothing new. The Dionne Quintuplets were exposed to this kind of public consumption seventy years ago. The Loud Family was ripped apart by participating in the PBS production of “The American Family.” Even under the best of circumstances the consequences of early fame can have devastating…lethal consequences.
“I am painfully aware that the use of juveniles in so-called reality shows is a genie that has long since escaped the bottle. That fact should not prevent us from asking the hard questions or preparing ourselves to intervene when children are put up for sale by even the most well-meaning parent.”
These shows celebrate irresponsible parenting and feature irresponsible parents. That something like this occurred in a mega-family in which sufficient parental supervision is all but impossible should not shock anyone, and TLC has been courting disaster with all of its freak family reality shows. Maybe this will be the one that teaches the former “Learning Channel” a lesson. I doubt it.
2. The family had an ethical obligation to let TLC know that this looming scandal was in the mix when it signed on to do the show. TLC had an ethical obligation to thoroughly investigate the family it was presenting to America as an inspiration. Both failed.
3. The Duggar waited a year after the abuse took place to report it to authorities. That constitutes reckless endangerment of the girls in the house. It’s fine to say that they did what they thought was best, and that it’s a difficult situation, for both are true. However, if a couple is going to have 17 or more children, they had better have lots of resources, wonderful judgment, and be master parents, and letting a serial child molester stay around his younger sisters is dangerous, foolish and incompetent. Rather than put Josh into traditional counseling and treatment programs, the Duggars, according to police reports, assigned him to do construction work for a friend of the family in the belief that hard labor would cure their son’s problem. They are lucky that he didn’t molest other girls.
Of course, we don’t really know that he didn’t, do we?
4. Josh Duggar also had an ethical obligation to inform the Family Research Council of this episode in his past, because secrets tend to come out, and the harm to the organization was predictable.
5. Ma and Pa Duggar’s statement was nauseating, and these elements nicked ethical standards:
- “Even though we would never choose to go through something so terrible, each one of our family members drew closer to God.
Representing the sexual molestation of five girls as a cloud with a silver lining and a blessing in disguise is spin, even from a religious perspective, and callously ignores the victims. Do they see their abuse as bringing them closer to God?
- We pray that as people watch our lives they see that we are not a perfect family.”
That would be a lot easier, don’t you think, if you didn’t hide those imperfect features from the audience, no?
6. Mike Huckabee’s statement is unethical and offensive in many respects. It is appropriate to forgive a 14 year old boy who does something horribly wrong, and parents who may not have handled a difficult crisis perfectly. But the Duggars were not “honest and open about it” to authorities, not when they waited a year to report it, and they were not sufficiently open and honest about it to various parties to whom they owed a duty of transparency and honesty. Neither was Josh. Nor does Huckabee know that John has “gone forward to live a responsible and circumspect life .” He was never treated. The statistics suggest that the chances that Josh isn’t cured of his proclivities is high. This—
“Those who have enjoyed revealing this long ago sins in order to discredit the Duggar family have actually revealed their own insensitive bloodthirst, for there was no consideration of the fact that the victims wanted this to be left in the past and ultimately a judge had the information on file destroyed—not to protect Josh, but the innocent victims.”
—is outrageous. The family has been presenting itself as a model, loving, virtuous family on national TV for ten years. That’s a fraud on the audience, and arguing that the misrepresentation had to be protected out of concern for the victims is either a dishonest one or criminally stupid. If the Duggars wanted to protect the victims from the story being publicized, they could have kept the family off of cable, like 99.99999 of the rest of America. Huckabee is claiming that nobody should reveal the dirt laundry of a family that wears it on TV!
7. Many of the attacks on Huckabee, however, are also dim-witted. Here’s one that calls Huckabee a “fat turd in the lard of hypocrisy’ because he assailed defenders of Roman Polanski and David Letterman, as well as Roman and Dave. That’s right, a confused and maladjusted14-year old boy should be held to the same standards as powerful Hollywood director who rapes a 13-year-old and a powerful, married TV star who demands sexual services from employees. People this analytically handicapped make rational discussions of ethics futile.