In 2006, Oprah Winfrey canceled an appearance on her show by Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, the parents whose 15 children had made them famous not just to fellow evangelical Christians but to the secular world as well.
The loss of the Oprah special was no obstacle to the Duggars, who continued to star in specials for Discovery Health, and who within two years had their own TLC show, 19 Kids and Counting. But Winfrey’s about-face was a hot topic of rumor among the obsessive communities of Duggar watchers online, where it was whispered that Winfrey and her producers had canceled the show after discovering some kind of impropriety—at best, deeply retrograde beliefs about gender roles; at worst, the possibility that eldest son Josh Duggar had molested one or more of his younger sisters.
We now know, thanks to a FOIA request filed by InTouch, that the worst of the rumors were true. In a statement to People last night, 27-year-old Josh Duggar admitted that when he was a teenager, he molested several underage girls—including some of his sisters. “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,” he said.
His parents released a statement as well: “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.”
Reading a Springdale police report filed in 2006 and released by InTouch yesterday, it seems clear Jim Bob and Michelle knew about Josh’s misconduct from the beginning—and helped him avoid prosecution.
But they weren’t the only ones who knew of Josh’s predation. So did Oprah Winfrey, her producers, the Springdale Police Department—and, apparently, a huge community of message board posters online.
All of which raises the question: When did Discovery Communications—the corporate parent of Discovery Health and TLC, which has profited off of every Duggar birth, courtship, and marriage announcement—find out?
The Duggars began starring in specials for Discovery Health, a sister network of TLC, in 2005—just two years after Josh admitted to molesting his underage sisters. As the family rose to fame, rumors about Josh’s abuse popped up on message boards and blogs, but they were never addressed by the Duggars or the networks.
We’ve reached out to TLC for comment. If you know anything regarding Josh’s misconduct and TLC’s awareness of it, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, here is a timeline of events leading up to Josh’s admission yesterday.
2002-2003: Josh molests his sisters and is quietly shipped off to a “Christian” program
According to the police report released by InTouch, Josh’s father Jim Bob (referred to in the report as “James”) first learned of Josh’s behavior in March 2002, when one victim approached Jim Bob and said that Josh touched her breasts and genitals while she slept.
Jim Bob appears not to have acted on the accusation. In July 2002, Josh, then 14 years old, admitted to the behavior to his father, prompting Jim Bob to “discipline” Josh but not report the incident to the authorities.
In March 2003, according to the report, Josh fondled a victim while he read a book to her. Jim Bob was made aware of this and several more accusations—victims accused Josh of touching their breasts and genitals while they slept, and sometimes while they were awake.
The police report suggests that four of Josh’s sisters were victims. In 2002, there were five sisters living in the Duggar house: Jana, then 12; Jill, 11; Jessa, 10; Jinger, 9; and Joy-Anna, 5.
In March 2003, Jim Bob met with “church elders” to discuss Josh’s behavior, and they decided Josh needed to enter a treatment program. He was sent to a “Christian” program consisting of “hard physical work and counseling” from March 2003 to July 2003. Josh’s mother Michelle later admitted to police that Josh did not see a counselor, and was instead sent “to a family friend who was in the home remodeling business” in Little Rock, Arkansas.
When Josh returned home in July 2003, his father and church elders took him to a state trooper to confess what he’d done. The trooper, Cpl. Hutchins, gave Josh a “very stern talk” but did not charge him with any crimes.
2005: First Duggar special airs on Discovery Health
Most of the rest of the world was first introduced to the Duggar family on September 6, 2005 with the one-hour Discovery Health special, 14 Children and Pregnant Again! The show followed the family as they prepared for their 15th child, Jackson, and paved the way for many similar specials, and, ultimately, 19 Kids and Counting on TLC.
2006: Oprah learns of accusations against Josh
According to the police report and InTouch, a Duggar family appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2006 was canceled after a “61-year-old woman” emailed Harpo Studios to warn producers about Josh’s sexual misconduct. Harpo Studios forwarded the information to the Department of Human Services hotline, which trigged an investigation by the Springdale Police Department.
It’s not clear who tipped Oprah off and how she knew about Josh’s misconduct, but Jim Bob and Michelle told police that when Josh was accused of molesting his sisters, a family friend wrote down the accusations in a letter that was then placed in a book in the Duggars’ home. Sometime during 2006, the Duggars loaned the book to another person and the letter was discovered.
Throughout the Springdale Police Department’s investigation, three more Duggar specials aired on Discovery Health in 2006: Raising 16 Children on March 13, 16 Children and Moving In on March 15, and On the Road with 16 Children on June 11.
In December 2006, Springdale police interviewed the Duggars about Josh’s behavior. Jim Bob would not produce Josh for questioning—per InTouch, “when police asked Jim Bob to bring Josh in for an interview in 2006, he attempted to hire a lawyer and refused to produce his son for questioning. At least two lawyers refused to take his case.”
Police ultimately did not file charges against Josh because the three-year statute of limitations had run out.
2007: Duggar message boards reveal Josh’s sexual abuse
Though Jim Bob and Michelle decidedly hid Josh’s misconduct from the press and protected him from arrest, the secret had gotten out. They told police in 2006 that “several members of their church were aware of the situation and had been supportive of the family.”
In May 2007, the allegations surfaced online in a comment on a blog about the Duggars. Commenter “Alice”—who has since been referred to on various Duggar message boards as the originator of the rumor—wrote (emphasis added):
Let me tell you something about the precious Duggars that you don’t know. ... In January, the whole family went to Chicago and taped Oprah Winfrey show. Oprah wined and dined them for one week. You know that had to cost some pretty pennies. As you may have noticed, that show never aired and it never will. Oprah was informed that Josh, the oldest son, had been molesting his sisters. Yes, this is the truth. Oprah turned them over to the Arkansas State Police Child Protection Agency and the Washington County Child Protection Agency. They have been investigated to some length. Jim Bob Duggar told the producers of the show that he built a small church out back for his followers. HIS FOLLOWERS. GET REAL. THE MAN IS A FRAUD. In April, they were in court with their story. They have to report to Arkansas Department of Human Services every six months.. They have lied and lied about their son to protect him at their daughters expense. For some unknown reason the boy is still in the home with the girls. God only know if this is still going on. In my eyes he is a CHILD MOLESTOR. HE SHOULD BE REMOVED FROM THE HOME. What kind of parents cover up for one child and hurt the others. I do not believe that this is what God has in mind for them. Frauding the American people and taking their money and living off of it.They did not build their home by themselves. They hired it done. TheDiscovery Health Channel and the TLC channel wrote them a check for over $200,000. for the to build the house. Everything inside the house was given to them except the kitchen. They did buy that themselves. The rest is all free. ...
Alice added, “God’s honest truth that the molestation happened. It happened to four of his 5 sisters. The oldest daughter was not touched. The second daughter is the one who caught him doing this. There was no rape involved, but molested. I could go into detail, but I won’t. Of course, you can find nothing about the charges. The Duggar’s want to keep this hid. Wouldn’t you?”
Since then, Duggar fans and haters have obsessively discussed these allegations on message boards like FreeJinger.org, a tongue-in-cheek anti-fundamentalist message board dedicated to watching and examining the Duggars.
“Alice”’s comment wasn’t the only source of the rumor. A commenter on a 2005 blog (now inaccessible, but preserved here on FreeJinger) alleged misconduct by an anonymous son of a “political” man and leader at her church. The commenter, “concernedmom,” wrote (emphasis added):
...A few years ago ... the men of the church were meeting after church to discuss my friends teenage daughters apparel. They felt like their blouses were to tight and they should bind their chest up more, go figure. At the same time the son of one of these political men was touching one of my friends teenage daughters in a sexual way as she slept. This was found out and apologies were made although the boy was tempted by the girls tight blouses(lol). The boy was sent to one of the training centers to be punished??? My friends did not return to the home church for quite sometime after this. At this same time, the boy mentioned earlier was betrothed to a girl in the the group, both were 14 at the time. The betrothal was broken by the boys actions. ... Just this last year the family of the young man mentioned before was highlighted on the Discovery Channel, at the time they had 14 children and were about to have another and the mom was receiving a mother of the year award from our governor. Since that time the same boy was betrothed again to the same girl. He was working very hard on a campaingn for U.S. Senate for the girls father. The father lost the campaign. He immediately began looking for “sin in the camp”, as that could be the only explanation for the loss. He found that the young man betrothed to his daughter, had committed sexual sins(?) while on the campaign trail. The young man, now 16, was made to stand in fornt of the church and confess his sin. He was then told that the campaign was lost due to his sin. The weight of the world on this poor boys shoulders. I do not know what punishment the church gave but I do know that it was harsh enough for his mother to seek advise outside of the “group”, but she did eventually give in to her husband and the group. The young man and young girls betrothal is now broken. I am I nuts to see this as abuse? And what do you think can be done?
So you can see, the “young man” in the story would be the son of the Discovery family (Duggars), and the politician running who goes on about “sin in the camp” would be the girl’s father. Since the Holts are a family that were featured early on in the Duggar specials, and Jim Holt seems to be running for office frequently, it makes them a likely candidate, and would mean that Josh was betrothed to a Holt daughter (twice), if this rumor is to be believed.
There are hundreds of comments like this on various Duggar blogs and message boards. Even if Discovery Health and TLC were not aware that Josh was investigated by police, it’s hard to believe that no one knew about the rumors of abuse.
2008: 19 Kids and Counting premieres on TLC
On September 29, 2008, the first episode of 19 Kids and Counting—then 17 Kids and Counting—premiered on TLC. The show has been one of TLC’s most popular programs ever since, chronicling the dating lives of the oldest Duggar children. Josh’s marriage and the births of his three children were all featured on the show. His fourth child is due in July.
2015: InTouch obtains police report through FOIA request
InTouch published a redacted version of the Springdale police report detailing Josh’s sexual misconduct on May 21, 2015. Josh admitted to the abuse hours later. According to TMZ, TLC has quietly pulled 19 Kids and Counting from its lineup for the time being. A rep for General Mills tells TMZ the company has removed the show from its current advertising schedule.