What does a pop culture personality do when he or she has been publicly humiliated over their moral indiscretions? “Yesterday Josh checked himself into a long-term treatment center,” the Duggar family said in a statement Wednesday.
Josh Duggar, your history as a sexual abuser surfaced from the under the rug where it was swept and ruined your TV career, it was leaked that you cheated on your wife through the Ashley Madison website (a site with the stated purpose of facilitating affairs for married people), and your general hypocrisy has disgusted and shocked the audience of religious conservatives who turned you into their folk hero: What are you going to do next?
Tried and true, he’s heading to rehab.
In a statement released days after Josh Duggar, one of the fallen heroes of the TLC reality series 19 Kids and Counting, confessed to cheating on his wife, Anna, and having an addiction to pornography, Duggar’s family said, “As parents we are so deeply grieved by our son’s decisions and actions. His wrong choices have deeply hurt his precious wife and children and have negatively affected so many others. He has also brought great insult to the values and faith we hold dear.”
Those values and faith have been at the forefront of the backlash against Duggar, who built a career and profited from positioning himself as a moral leader. And it’s not only those values and faith that have been insulted by his actions, it’s a population of fans, followers, viewers, and believers who were alternately preached to and judged by Duggar about their own morality, all the while he was hiding the fact that he had none.
“I have been the biggest hypocrite ever,” he wrote in a statement Monday, that he later took down, when it came to surface in the Ashley Madison hack that he had cheated on his wife. Allegedly, it has come to light, a porn star was one of his mistresses when Anna was pregnant with their fourth child.
(A sample from the account of Danica Dillon, the aforementioned porn star, which appeared in In Touch: “He was manhandling me, basically tossing me around like I was a rag doll,” Dillon said, “It was very traumatic. I’ve had rough sex before, but this was terrifying.” Did he use protection? Why, that would be ungodly.)
That I Am a Hypocrite statement was revised three times—an inexcusable act in and of itself, but the least of the Duggar family’s transgressions—in order to amend references to Josh’s addiction to pornography and deleting what might be the candid statement that anyone in the Duggar family has made in the wake of their numerous scandals: “The last few years, while publicly stating I was fighting against immorality in our country, in my heart I had allowed Satan to build a fortress that no one knew about.”
On 19 Kids and Counting, Duggar—who, in addition to the recent cheating scandal, made headlines when it was revealed that he molested five girls as a teenager, including four of his sisters—was a veritable megaphone for morality and, ostensibly, a beacon of Christian values.
From 2013 until this last May, he served as executive director of the Family Research Council’s lobbying arm, a position with the goal of “engaging the grassroots and taking the message of faith, family and freedom all across America.” He has campaigned for Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and a slew of 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls, and against social causes like abortion, divorce, and gay marriage.
During his crusade for “faith, family, and freedom,” he led the March for Marriage rally, which opposed same-sex marriage, in Washington and was at the Supreme Court during gay marriage arguments. Earlier this year, he told CNS News that “I believe strongly, being the oldest of 19 kids and counting that, you know, marriage is central to the family and every single child deserves a mother and father.”
In the same interview, he espoused the importance of traditional family values. “I think it’s just such a blessing when you see family and you see that you can honor each other,” he said. Three months later, he is entering a treatment facility in shame after it was revealed that he repeatedly cheated on his wife.
What else? As Time magazine curates, he successfully campaigned to defeat a measure in Arkansas that would protect the LGBT community from discrimination, claiming it put children at risk. Earlier this month, he tweeted heavily in support of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, going so far as to tweet at Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, “Sorry, but you’re the one who lacks compassion.”
Then there’s this gem. “Our family is like the epitome of conservative values,” he said in 2012. “People connect to us in that way.”
Now, after years of not just trumpeting conservative values, but also shaming people he felt didn’t abide by them, Duggar is heading to rehab. “For him it will be a long journey toward wholeness and recovery,” the Duggar family’s statement said Wednesday. “We pray that in this he comes to complete repentance and sincere change.”
Given the spate of bad press Josh and the Duggar family have received in the months since the molestation scandal, it is impossible not to look at the statement with the same skeptical raised eyebrow that this family has routinely criticized non-conservative culture with.
In Josh Duggar’s case, it’s impossible to discern any authentic attempt at rehabilitation from what’s perceived as celebrities’ real end goal when announcing a stint in rehab. It’s not about controlling vices. It’s about damage control.
Whether the example is Michael Richards or Isaiah Washington getting in trouble for things they said, or politicians like former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, who was caught cheating on his wife, the path is linear and predictable: get caught in a controversy, then announce you are heading to counseling or rehab.
University of Southern California sociologist Julie Albright once told the Associated Press that rehab is “a form of repentance” for public figures. A Hollywood form of Catholic confession. Publicly admit to bad behavior, do your penance at a rehab facility, and your image is holy again.
Celebrity publicist Howard Bragman echoed the sentiment at The Fix in 2011, saying that these people often are entering rehab at the advice of their handlers, in a bid for sympathy and to seek refuge from scrutiny. “Your client can’t talk when he’s in rehab,” he said. “People used to say their client was suffering from exhaustion, or had a problem with prescription drugs. Now you have publicists engaging in ‘pre-hab,’ using rehab as pre-emptive damage control.”
In today’s 24-hour, savagely voyeuristic news cycle, however, the fallout has already begun. The news is now turning to Duggar’s wife, Anna, and how she’s reacting to the controversy.
Daniel Keller, Anna’s brother, slammed Josh on Facebook, saying, “I won’t stop trying to get that pig out of our family.” But according to sources in Us Weekly (take this with a grain of salt), Anna won’t leave Josh, despite all of these transgressions that have come to life. A source said that she “doesn’t get mad” at Josh since that would violate a core belief of their faith: A woman must submit to her husband.
It might seem crass or even inexcusable to pass judgment on a person’s actions because of their beliefs. But doing just that has been the backbone of the Duggars’ despicably hypocritical career. Now that that career is shattered, they are frantically trying to pick up the pieces.
We’re in the Duggars’ world now, so we can call all of this disgusting. Josh Duggar’s behavior? Disgusting. Attempts to salvage his reputation? Pathetic. Submitting to or standing by him, despite his behavior as one thing after another piles up? Honestly, unthinkable.
Josh Duggar could have an addiction. He could feasibly be in rehab desperately seeking treatment. As for us? We’re just living here in Satan’s fortress, refusing to believe the whole thing.