Crisis PR Situation: 19 Kids and Unemployed

19 kids and counting public relations
Popular TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting has been pulled from the lineup after allegations of past sexual abuse by one family member on other family members was confirmed. In a further development, Josh Dugger, who admitted to the acts “12 years ago,” has also resigned from his position at the Family Research Council. It’s likely the crisis PR blowback of this revelation will continue. Here’s the story:
Since 2008, the lives of the Dugger family have been watched by countless American homes. They were paragons of “family values” and the darlings of social groups and politicians alike. Then, in the wake of one article, it all came crashing down. In Touch Magazine reported that eldest Dugger child Josh, now 27, admitted to molesting several girls when he was 15 years old. At least some of those young girls were family members.

Since the article ran, TLC has released this statement: “Effective immediately, TLC has pulled all episodes of ’19 Kids and Counting’ currently from the air. We are deeply saddened and troubled by this heartbreaking situation, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family and victims at this difficult time.”

Josh Dugger countered the impending PR firestorm with a Facebook post: “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.”
Possibly worse for all involved, TLC was running a “19 Kids” marathon the day the claims made the national news. Social media erupted with rage.

Of pulling the episodes, one TLC executive said, “this is a family in crisis. It’s no time for a television show.”
TLC has yet to say the show will be canceled, only that it is being pulled for the time being. Are they testing the waters to see how forgiving the viewing public can be? Sure, Americans are willing to forgive just about anything…but a supposed paragon of virtue molesting his family members, then his parents covering it up for the better part of a year before they told authorities? That seems like a lot to forgive.

Child molestation is one of those things that Americans are rarely able – much less eager – to forgive. And what about advertisers on the show? Which brands really want to be coupled with that sort of baggage? Time will tell. Until then, that nameless TLC exec is right: this is a family – and a brand – in crisis.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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