The ability of Religious Right activists and their allies in the conservative media to paint themselves as the targets of horrible persecution, a core strategy of the conservative movement for decades, is truly astounding. No matter the issue, whether it is defending laws denying equal rights to gay people or opposing government neutrality towards religion, the strategy is always the same: play the victim.
Outside of just issue advocacy, Religious Right figures attempt to depict any criticism of their political positions and records as a direct attack on their freedoms and religious beliefs, suggesting that their deeply held beliefs should somehow give them immunity from political reproach.
This strategy has been so effective that the Duggar family, reeling from a sexual abuse cover-up scandal, has adopted it, and it was on full display in Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar’s interview last night with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly.
“Do you think in particular your Christian beliefs at issue here?,” Kelly asked the Duggar parents, who, according to police reports, took months to report their son Josh Duggar’s alleged sexual abuse of several young girls including his sisters and may not have sought counseling for their children. Josh Duggar, who resigned from his position as a Family Research Council executive when the allegations became public and who has since admitted to sexually abusing several girls as a teenager, was not interviewed.
Jim Bob and Michelle, stars of the TLC reality show “19 Kids and Counting,” told Kelly that they are victims of an “agenda” that is out to get their family and a media that won’t offer them privacy as the scandal unfolds.
This victimization narrative, coming from a family that stars in a nationally broadcast reality TV show and that has been active in conservative political causes — including campaigning against a local nondiscrimination measure in North Carolina by portraying LGBT people as threats to child safety — may seem insincere. But the Duggars they know that the strategy is effective, and that outlets like Fox News are there to help them.
Mike Huckabee too labeled the Duggar parents and Josh Duggar as victims of an “insensitive” media. CNN reports that Chad Gallagher, Huckabee’s “longtime adviser” and “the executive director of Huck PAC,” is managing the Duggar family’s public relations strategy.
As for the daughters who survived the abuse, two of whom spoke to Kelly in defense of their brother, Jim Bob explained that “they didn’t even know he had done it” since they were asleep when several of the instances occurred. “This was not rape or anything like that. This was like touching over the clothes. There were a couple instances where he touched someone under the clothes, but for like a few seconds.”
Instead, Kelly and the Duggar parents took aim at In Touch magazine, which found the police report about Duggar’s abuse through a Freedom of Information Act request, and the local police unit which complied with the request, as the real perpetrators of wrongdoings, insisting that the current media coverage has been far more damaging to the abuse survivors.
As CNN’s Brian Stelter pointed out, Fox News “barely covered” the scandal when it first came to light, far less than their cable news rivals, but was more than happy to help the family “speak to their Christian conservative base” by helping the Duggars become the latest Religious Right activists to use the play-the-victim strategy.