By Grace Culloton of Giant Talk and Culloton Strategies Art Director
It should be no surprise that reality TV stars are living crisis communications case studies. Americans love reality TV precisely because stars are a hot mess.
But when it comes to the networks that air them, they enjoy the ratings until the hot mess spills over onto their reputations.
Late last week, Josh Duggar, the eldest of the brood featured in TLC Network’s 19 Kids and Counting, was revealed to be the center of a child molestation investigation from 2006. As early as 2002, Josh was accused of molesting underage girls. The case itself is as disturbing as its evident mishandling. Monday, news reports broke that a judge hastily ordered a police record that named Duggar’s own sisters as victims be expunged. Following the investigation, Duggar was not charged and sent instead to a counseling center whose founder departed from the center after a slew of sexual harassment charges and failure to report the child abuse.
TLC, has been cagey about their response to the Duggar disaster. Though they quickly fired Josh, they have yet to announce the show’s cancellation, despite the fact that the Duggar parents reportedly failed to properly report the initial abuse, as noted in this Washington Post timeline of the case as we know so far. An official investigation wasn’t levied until 2006 when an anonymous tipster contacted both the Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline and HARPO studios days before the Duggars were supposed to be on Oprah.
To the average non-Network TV exec, it seems more than enough incriminating evidence to warrant the cancellation of the show.
Which begs the question we often ask in political scandals- how much of this did TLC know and when did they know it?
They have yet to come out one way or another, though the timelines of the Duggars’ debut on TLC and the investigation overlap significantly.
If TLC was worried about the Duggar family, the network might consider taking the family off the air so that the Duggars can deal with these very difficult issues. Ultimately, if sponsors flee the show, which is likely, that will force TLC’s hand. But it’s a shame the calculus is only about money. Keeping the Duggars on TV isn’t just bad PR- it’s bad behavior.