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The Jim Bob Duggar family experienced the downside of celebrity last week.
A Freedom of Information Act request by In Touch Weekly, a celebrity gossip publication, turned up the news that Springdale police had been notified in 2006 about allegations of sexual molestation within the house of Jim Bob Duggar, who with his wife, Michelle, and 19 children, have become successful (and well-paid) stars of TLC's reality TV show, "19 Kids and Counting."
The Duggars already knew that celebrity doesn't guarantee adulation. Their fecundity — along with their deep involvement in conservative, particularly anti-gay, politics — brought them plenty of unkind comments. Indeed, the popularity of their show probably was built on a mix of genuine affection, curiosity and hope for a train wreck.
Last week, they got the train wreck. Their eldest son, Josh, acknowledged youthful "mistakes," said he'd apologized to apparent child victims of unwanted touching and said his parents had set him on a proper course after the indiscretions 13 years ago.
Republican political allies such as Sens. Jon Woods (R-Springdale) and Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) declared the episode a closed family matter. Hester vowed a criminal investigation of the Springdale police for obeying the Freedom of Information Act.
Juvenile Court Judge Stacey Zimmerman (who, it so happens, presided over some of the Justin Harris-related adoption matters and who is a political friend of Mike Huckabee, a firm Duggar ally) ordered the damaging report destroyed. She acted on dubious authority in response to a motion from a purported victim (said to be still a minor, which would make the victim perhaps 5 years old at the time of the molestation). The prosecutor also refused to release his closed file on the case, which ended without charges because of the statute of limitations issues.
Jim Bob Duggar didn't notify authorities of the allegations of molestation of five children. Instead, he sent his son for "treatment" by a religious-based outfit with a center in Little Rock (financed by the Hobby Lobby owners) that was then run by Duggar friend Bill Gothard, who'd eventually give up leadership of the agency after his own sex scandal.
Beyond the public's reach, too, are records of how the state Department of Human Services handled a referral of a family in need of services. Mike Huckabee was governor then and was known to intervene directly in DHS matters, employees recall. Did the state take adequate steps in this case or accede to the Duggars' belief that family knows best? In Gothard's world, the prescribed outline for cases like these begins with a warning about temptation that can encourage potential offenders, I guess even by sleeping children preyed on as they slept.
Josh Duggar, too, has been a plaintiff in a lawsuit against DHS. Those records, too, no longer exist. Could they have been about an appeal of placement on the child maltreatment registry? Who was the judge? What was the outcome?
Huckabee says this is no story — only the "bloodthirsty" media attacking a good man. His lack of mention of victims was a factor noted by dozens of former Huckabee fans on his social media pages.
TLC has removed the Duggar show from the air, for now. Sponsors are disassociating themselves. It is hard to see how a fair-minded person could continue to view the Duggars benignly as moral exemplars. Mother Duggar railed against the Fayetteville civil rights ordinance and a Bentonville School District equal employment policy for gay people. She suggests LGBT people are likely to molest children, the fiction offered after real harm in her own home.
Sympathy for victims ultimately forced this story out. The story has been told sporadically for years on social media. Somebody tipped off Oprah in 2006, a tip that led to cancellation of a scheduled Duggar appearance and a report to the state child abuse hotline. That, in turn, inspired the fateful Springdale police investigation.
I don't believe In Touch just happened to suddenly look into this story. I've learned, too, that a major law firm was making inquiries before the In Touch story broke.
A family matter? Yes. But also much more. And, for that uncomfortable attention, the Duggars have only their own celebrity seeking to thank.