I realize that, in the current Washington Post effort to organize and increase its religion coverage (we applaud, of course) the flag headline "Acts of Faith" has become a kind of logo and catch-phrase to attract readers.
Still, I wonder if anyone at the copy desk stopped for a second before producing the following double-decker head on the tabloid-esque story of the week, producing some rather painful content when read in one flow:
Acts of Faith
Josh Duggar molested four of his sisters and a babysitter, parents tell Fox News
Hang on, because we will get to the content of the Post story, which was actually quite straightforward and subdued -- in contrast to the take-no-prisoners tone of some of the other coverage.
Religion News Service also produced a rather flat, sensible news piece, but as is the norm in the edgy social-media age, felt the need to wave the editorial flag with this bite of snark in the promo headline atop the daily email newsletter:
Duggars keep digging
As in the Duggars keep digging their own grave, of course.
I understand that some journalists are, with cause, rather suspicious of the reality-television superstars turning to Fox News for the exclusive interview in which they responded to questions about the years-after-the-fact scandal. Fox had done next to nothing on the story before this, leading to this observation by a former GetReligionista: "Honestly, I thought Megyn Kelly did quite a good job as an interviewer. But I still wonder: did she get it only because the network failed to do journalism earlier?"
Good question. The main journalism question that I keep asking is this: What is the actual issue at the heart of this media firestorm?
I mean, there are several possibilities. On one level, its a reminder that there is no left wing and right wing in the era of religion scandals linked to sex. Everyone is living in the same culture and there's plenty of sin out there to go around and all kinds of religious traditions need to face that. As I have said many times, sexual abuse has been hard to cover in highly independent, congregational forms of Protestantism -- the Duggars are Baptists -- because there is really no central command structure on which to build a solid response. So the Duggars took this sin/crime to a counselor and then moved on. In the past, were they subject to a must-report law at the government level?
The Post story covers much of the obvious ground from the Fox interview that is related to this, such as:
Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar said Wednesday that there was nothing that could have prepared them for the trauma of learning years ago that their oldest son, Josh, had “improperly touched some of our daughters.”
“He said he was just curious about girls and he had gone in and just basically touched them over their clothes while they were sleeping; they didn’t even know he had done it,” Jim Bob Duggar told Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, in the family’s first interview since the allegations were reported last month.
The parents confirmed publicly for the first time that their firstborn son -- who had previously apologized for unspecified “wrongdoing” as a teenager -- had molested multiple young girls.
The Duggars, whose family stars in TLC’s popular reality show “19 Kids and Counting,” spoke about the multiple incidents of molestation that occurred in their Arkansas home. According to Jim Bob and Michelle, the victims included four of their daughters, along with a family babysitter.
Those who admire the Duggars have, of course, raised questions about how this story broke into public view in the first place. Yes, the victim card has been played.
Two of those daughters -- Jessa Seewald and Jill Dillard -- chose to self-identify as their older brother’s victims in a joint interview with Kelly, a brief portion of which was broadcast Wednesday.
“We are victims, they can’t do this to us,” Dillard, now 24, said through tears, explaining her reaction to the widely reported allegations.
“The system that was set up to protect kids, both those who make stupid mistakes or have problems like this in their life and the ones that are affected by those choices -- it’s greatly failed,” said Seewald, 22.
The patriarch of this on-screen clan stressed that all involved -- including Josh -- had received help from an “accredited professional counselor.” Does that mean licensed? The family, of course, also didn't know that the police officer to whom they reported young Josh's actions would later end up in prison due to child-pornography crimes.
As I said, the Post and the RNS pieces showed admirable restraint. If anything, I think that these pieces needed more input from sane critics of the Duggars role as evangelical sub-culture superstars -- as I mentioned the other day, they have plenty of critics in a variety of pews -- and how they have handled this crisis in the past and now in the present.
Sane critics? Yes, people who are willing to discuss the serious issues contained in this sad story about issues that are way too common. What is to be gained by media launching into the rhetoric featured in prose such as this from The Daily Beast?
Whether or not Michelle and Jim-Bob Duggar are hypocrites ... is still a matter of debate. Whether they are despicable asshats, however, most certainly is not.
Appearing on Fox News to answer Megyn Kelly’s questions about the scandal they’ve found their sprawling brood of holier-than-thou religious conservatives embroiled in, the matriarch and patriarch of the family featured in the TLC series19 Kids and Counting dug themselves into a PR hole no amount of high-minded righteousness can get them out of.
Stay tuned. I am sure, sadly, that there are millions of social-media and niche-television clicks still to come.