Jill Duggar Felt Obligated by Her Parents to Do Damage Control Amid Josh Duggar Scandal

Jill Duggar felt pressure to speak up during a 2015 interview with Megyn Kelly, identifying herself as one of the girls Josh Duggar had confessed to inappropriately touching as a teen.

By Lindsay Weinberg Jun 03, 2023 3:00 PMTags
Watch: Jim Bob & Michelle Duggar SLAM Duggar Family Secrets Docuseries

Jill Duggar counts that Megyn Kelly interview as one of her big regrets.

The 19 Kids and Counting alum lamented her decision to appear on Fox News in 2015, coming forward with sister Jessa Duggar as two of the girls that brother Josh Duggar had inappropriately touched as a teen.

Jill, now 32, recalled the aftermath in the new Prime Video docuseries Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets, saying, "In hindsight, I wouldn't have done the Megyn Kelly stuff."

However, she felt compelled to speak up on her family's behalf in order to help their TLC show remain on air. (The series was canceled one month later, but the sisters' Counting On spinoff premiered in December 2015.)

"There was an urgency to figure out how the show was going to be handled in the wake of 2015 events," Jill said. "As far as recovery and damage control, you just feel like the burden and the weight falls on you to, like, help—'cause you're the only one who can."

The Complete Duggar Family Tree

In 2015, Josh acknowledged wrongdoing in a statement to People, saying in part, "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." Three months later, their dad Jim Bob Duggar spoke with Megyn Kelly about how Josh had "improperly touched some of our daughters" when he was 14. Jill and Jessa said they were sleeping at the time and weren't aware of the incident. 

But now, Jill is confessing that the sit-down is "something that I'm not proud of," explaining, "If I hadn't felt obligated to, one, do it for the sake of the show, and two, do it for the sake of my parents, I wouldn't have done it."

Prime Video/Getty Images

In fact, Jill revealed in the Amazon series that she never planned for Josh's molestation allegations to come to light. 

Jill's husband Derick Dillard added that he would not call her appearance on Fox News "voluntary," saying she was like "collateral damage" in Josh's scandal.

"Basically being called on to carry out a suicide mission," Derick said in Duggar Family Secrets. "You're gonna destroy yourself, but we need you to take the fall so you can carry the show forward because the show cannot fail. And they were gonna do whatever they could to get the return on their investment."

Fox News Insider

One day before the docuseries' release, Jim Bob and wife Michelle Duggar denounced the project, saying in a statement they would rather "repair damaged relationships" in a private setting instead of in the public eye.

"The recent 'documentary' that talks about our family is sad because in it we see the media and those with ill intentions hurting people we love," Jim Bob and Michelle wrote on the Duggar family website in part. "Like other families, ours too has experienced the joys and heartbreaks of life, just in a very public format. This 'documentary' paints so much and so many in a derogatory and sensationalized way because sadly that's the direction of entertainment these days." 

Fox News Insider

E! News reached out to Jim Bob and Michelle, as well as TLC and IBLP, for comment on claims made in the series and has not heard back.

Here are more bombshells from the documentary Duggar Family Secrets:

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar Weren't Raised That Way

Patriarch Jim Bob Duggar was raised in a strict Missionary Baptist household, according to his sister Deanna Duggar, who recalls in Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets not being able to wear jeans, go to dances or be a cheerleader when she was in school.

But it was Bill Gothard's Institute in Basic Life Principles—the belief system Jim Bob and wife Michelle Duggar (also a Christian, but a high school cheerleader) adopted after they married in 1984—that dictated married women should have as many children as physically possible.

"My grandparents, neither one on either side, agreed with my parents having a million kids," Jill Duggar, the fourth of Jim Bob and Michelle's 19 kids, says in the Amazon series. "They were concerned about my mom's health and they would always say, 'Oh, is this your last one?'"

Jill Duggar Wishes Brother Josh Duggar's Molestation Offenses Had Never Come to Light

In May 2015, In Touch published an almost decade-old Springdale, Ark., police report that revealed Josh Duggar had been accused of molesting five underage girls between 2002 and 2003. The report noted that his parents sought guidance within their church but didn't alert authorities for more than a year after finding out about the first incident in 2002

(Testifying at Josh's child pornography trial in 2021, Jim Bob admitted to trying to "handle things in house" when he found out that Josh had molested his sisters. "It was a very difficult time in our family's life.")

While their names were redacted in the report, Jill and sister Jessa Duggar soon stepped forward as two of their brother's victims. 

"We wish nobody had ever found out about any of that," Derick Dillard, Jill's husband since 2014, says in the Amazon series. "There were certain things she shared with me in confidence because we were a married couple that, with all of our hopes, would remain confident between us until we both died and nobody would have ever found out about it. This is something that is heavily guarded."

Adds Jill, "Nobody should have ever known about it, so I don't like talking about it. The moment that the reports, everything, was released, that was the moment it was public."

In 2015, Josh—by then a married father of three—said in a statement that he had "acted inexcusably" and was "extremely sorry" for his past actions.

The Duggars Kept Josh's Secret When He Started Courting His First Girlfriend

Longtime Duggar family friends Jim and Bobye Holt recall in the series how Josh—who wed wife Anna in 2008—was their daughter Kayleigh's first boyfriend, the kids having grown up together after being born two days apart in 1988.

Asked when they first heard about Josh molesting his sisters, Jim replies, "How deep do we go, 'cause that's a rabbit hole. Damn, it's really twisted."

With a grunt of disgust, Jim recalls accepting Josh's early-'00s request for permission to "court Kayleigh for the purpose of marriage." He pinpoints March 30, 2003, as the day they found out what Josh had done. 

"'Josh has gotten into some trouble, he's touched his sisters inappropriately,'" Bobye recalls Jim Bob telling them. "That was their big thing that they would say." (Bobye was the prosecution's last witness during Josh's trial on child pornography charges and shared similar details during her testimony.)

Adds Jim, "Yeah, [Jim Bob] even said one time, 'He molested his sisters,' and Michelle said, 'Don't you say that again.' [Josh] had apparently been doing it since he was 12, but we found out about it when he was 15."

Jim says he then asked their friends when they had planned on telling them about this, and Michelle said, "'We weren't gonna have them tell you guys at all. We were gonna have Josh confess to Kayleigh once they were married.' And so I asked Jim Bob, 'So are you basically saying you were kinda using my daughter as like a carrot to get him to behave the right way?' And he goes, 'Well, yeah, kinda.'"

Jim Bob and Josh Duggar Allegedly Only Confessed Part of the Story to Police in 2003

Jim says in Shiny Happy People he told Jim Bob that Josh had to turn himself in. Jim Bob said they were planning on it, and invited Jim to go with them to the Arkansas State Police.

"Josh told him what we thought was everything," Jim says, recalling how the state trooper they spoke to let the teen off with a warning, telling him "'but if you do it again, I'm really gonna come down hard on you.'" He didn't know at the time, Jim adds, that the trooper they talked to was a friend of the Duggar family.

The 2006 police report noted that Jim Bob and the officer, Joseph Hutchens, had a personal friendship. Hutchens, who was sentenced to 56 years in prison in 2012 after pleading no contest to 10 counts of distributing, possessing or viewing matter depicting sexually explicit conduct involving a child, told In Touch in 2015 that he didn't get the full story in 2003. The Duggars told him "it only happened one time," he alleged.

Jim Bob told police in 2006, per the report, that they admitted to Hutchens "what [Josh] had done" and the trooper "gave a very stern talk about what might happen to [Josh] if he continued such behavior," but concluded that since he'd already been in a treatment program, "there was nothing else to do."

The Duggars Were Warned That Josh's Past Wouldn't Stay Secret Forever

According to Jim, Josh was at an IBLP facility in Little Rock, Ark.—Jim Bob told police they'd heard about a "Christian program" where Josh would do physical labor and get counseling—when Parent magazine, having seen a newspaper photo of the sprawling Duggar clan, planned to profile the family.

Jim Bob was going to say Josh was "away ministering," Jim says," but "instead of lying they checked him out and brought him back," purportedly in time for his birthday. The resulting feature was published in September 2003 and caught the attention of Discovery Health, which aired its first Duggar special, 14 Children and Pregnant Again!, a year later.

Jim recalls warning Jim Bob at the time, "'It doesn't matter if you're the best Christian family who ever lived, if somebody finds out about this 20 years down the road, they will to eat you alive.' It wasn't a blessing to Josh, I'll tell you that." Adds Bobye, "No, it was a curse to Josh."

Jill Duggar Regrets the Megyn Kelly Interview

"There was an urgency to figure out how the show was going to be handled in the wake of 2015 events," Jill recalls in the series. "As far as recovery and damage control, you just feel like the burden and the weight falls on you to, like, help—'cause you're the only one who can."

During a surreal June 2015 interview with Fox News' Megyn Kelly, Jim Bob said then-14-year-old Josh had tearfully confessed to him that he had "improperly touched some of our daughters." Jill and Jessa—confirming they were two of Josh's victims—told Kelly they had been asleep and didn't even know it had happened at the time. They also said they'd known other girls who'd been through far worse, so what Josh did was comparatively no big deal.

"In hindsight," Jill says in the Amazon series, blinking back tears, "I wouldn't have done the Megyn Kelly stuff." But again, she felt a certain pressure to go with the flow to keep the TLC ship afloat.

"I would not call it voluntary," adds Derick. "Basically being called on to carry out a suicide mission: You're gonna destroy yourself, but we need you to take the fall so you can carry the show forward because the show cannot fail. And they were gonna do whatever they could to get the return on their investment," even if Jill was "collateral damage."

The interview was "something that I'm not proud of," Jill concludes. "If I hadn't felt obligated to, one, do it for the sake of the show, and two, do it for the sake of my parents, I wouldn't have done it."

Cabbage Patch Kids Were Considered Demonic and Disney Was Indecent

Jim Bob and Michelle's niece Amy King, who was featured on their TLC show as the benign black sheep of the family ("but we love her anyway," one of the Duggar brothers cracked), recalls her cousins not ever watching TV and her mom Deanna needing to call them if there was a tornado warning or other emergency they wouldn't be hearing about on the news. 

Moreover, followers of IBLP teachings "couldn't have Winnie the Pooh because Eeyore glorified depression," ex-church member Heather Heath says in the series, referring to the gloomy cartoon donkey, and "Barbie dolls were just harlots." Former IBLP member Brooke Arnold says church founder Gothard taught that Cabbage Patch Kids founder Xavier Roberts "was a warlock" and that his signature printed on each doll was a demon mark.

"I've asked Jill about the Cabbage Patch thing," Derick notes, while Jill admits with a laugh, "I don't know if I fully ever understood—we were never allowed to have 'em, so...[shrug]."

And when Gothard preached about the harm wrought by pornography—it's "done more damage in America than a hundred Hitlers," he said in retro footage shown in the series—Jim Bob and Michelle joined him in denouncing everything from romance novels to newspaper inserts.

"My family had a huge bonfire," Amy recalls, "where they burned everything Disney and everything—literally everything—that was 'worldly.'"

IBLP Women Are Trained to Be "Young, Innocent, Sweet Girls"

According to multiple former IBLP members interviewed in the series, Gothard preached that, in addition to having babies for as long as they were physically able, women should wear skirts of modest length only—to avoid "eye traps"—and keep their hair long.

Ex-member Lindsey Williams recalls Gothard taking her aside and expressing concern that her hair wasn't curly enough, that "it needed more godly oomph."

Michelle Duggar's soft, almost baby-like voice was "a very intentional, trained thing," says former IBLP member Tia Levings. Adds Heather Heath, "She infantilizes herself on purpose." 

The Duggar matriarch "used to be a cheerleader," Tia continues. "I know the woman can yell and she does not yell anymore." 

IBLP wants "young, innocent, sweet girls," Heather says. "Not women."

Jill Duggar Was Discouraged From Speaking Her Mind

"The show is basically saying, perfect angel children exist," former IBLP member Lara Smith observes in the series, referring to 19 Kids and Counting. "But I didn't see calm, happy children. I saw broken spirits."

Jill says speaking up simply wasn't an option.

"Having a voice about what you think and how you feel," she explains, "and being able to...say no about things was stifled and not encouraged in the IBLP setting, in my family."

Spanking Was Part of the IBLP Program

The series shows footage of Gothard demonstrating how to spank a child, corporal punishment—or instilling the fear of it—another tenet of IBLP, according to ex-members.

Asked if she saw her cousins being spanked, Amy doesn't reply yes or no but says, "It was called encouragement. They literally said, 'You need to come into the room and we need to give you some encouragement.' But it was like in the sweetest tone ever, like [sweet voice], 'Do you need encouragement? I think you need encouragement.'"

In a video posted on social media of Michelle giving a talk alongside daughters Joy-Anna and Jessa in 2017, the mother advised, "Choose to be soft-spoken" when disciplining children, "and no anger."

Joy-Anna said she couldn't even remember seeing her mom angry or raising her voice, but rather "just lovingly correcting us."

E! News reached out to a rep for Jim Bob and Michelle but have not heard back.

For a report on the downfall of IBLP, the couple told NBC News in a February 2022 statement, "We do not agree with everything taught by Dr. Bill Gothard or IBLP, but some of the life-changing Biblical principles we learned through IBLP's ministry have helped us deepen our personal walks with God."

Jill Duggar Didn't Want to Do Counting On

After TLC canceled 19 Kids and Counting in 2015 in the wake of Josh's scandal, the network green-lighted Jill and Jessa: Counting On to keep the family on the air. 

"I didn't want to but at the same time I've never said no to my family before," Jill says in Shiny Happy People. "It's this whole 'umbrellas of authority' thing. That was ingrained in me. I felt like, if I said no, I am not obeying my parents and bad things are gonna happen to me. IBLP and the teachings draw in people, like my dad, who want this control. It can foster this cult-like environment. I absolutely think people would be drawn to that."

The "umbrella of authority," as devised by Gothard (footage of signs and other church literature are shown throughout the series), showed Christ at the top of the proverbial food chain, followed by husband, then wife, then children.

Jill recalls not wanting the birth of her first child to be televised, but TLC compromised in the form of making sure she and Derick had cameras to self-chronicle her 60-plus hours of labor. "They still got the footage," she notes.

Bill Gothard Accuser Details Alleged Sexual Misconduct by IBLP Founder

Former IBLP member Emily Elizabeth Anderson shares in the series that she was Jane Doe III, as she preferred to be identified when she and nine other women sued Gothard in 2016, alleging sexual abuse and harassment.

She recalls Gothard inviting her when she was 14 to quit homeschool and go live at IBLP's Chicago headquarters "indefinitely." He told her that her father didn't love her anymore and "had lost all authority over her," she alleges, so Gothard "would be her new authority."

Elizabeth describes an evening where Gothard brought her up to his office and was visibly startled to see a male assistant still working, assuming they were going to be alone.

Gothard resigned from the IBLP board in March 2014 amid an outside legal counsel investigation into sexual misconduct allegations that ultimately determined he acted in an "inappropriate," if not criminal, manner. When IBLP shared the investigation's findings in June 2014, Gothard said in a later-deleted statement, "My actions of holding of hands, hugs, and touching of feet or hair with young ladies crossed the boundaries of discretion and were wrong."

The now 88-year-old did not return E!'s request for comment and declined to comment for the series. He has previously denied allegations of sexual misconduct.

The plaintiffs dropped their lawsuit in 2018 but told Recovering Grace (an online support community for alums of IBLP and its homeschool curriculum, the Advanced Training Institute) that they were "not recanting" their allegations "or dismissing the incalculable damage that we believe Gothard has done by his actions and certain teachings."

Explaining on the show why they stopped pursuing Gothard in court, in addition to statutes of limitations and the financial burden, Elizabeth says, "It's constantly rehashing the most horrific memories of your life and telling them again and again. If you decide to move forward in a case it's also important that you realize the emotional toll that it's going to continue to take on you. Quite frankly, the cost was too high."

Jinger Duggar, who detailed her break from IBLP in her 2023 memoir, was the only member of her family to seemingly comment in response to Gothard's legal issues. She tweeted in 2018 that, while she was a Christian, "I have to be honest, and true to myself by tweeting this. I do not support Bill Gothard and the Institute of Biblical [sic] Life Principles in any way, shape, or form. I find his 'teachings' extremely questionable."

The Duggars Knew Josh Was Being Investigated

After federal agents raided the car dealership where Josh was working in November 2019, Jim Bob and Michelle denied that the Department of Homeland Security had also searched their home as part of a federal investigation (the nature of which was not yet public).

"To the best of our knowledge, it's also not true that any member of our family is the target of any investigation of any kind," they stated through their rep. "Living a life in the public's eye has taught us that it is best not to reply to every rumor and piece of 'fake news' that is circulated online. It would be a full-time job if we attempted to do so."

Derick says in Shiny Happy People that the family absolutely knew Josh was being investigated.

"We know the family had knowledge that there was a child pornography investigation against Josh, and they had that knowledge on the same day that they made the statement," he says. "Yeah, you might have fooled the public, but eventually, if there's something to this, people are gonna realize it." (Jim Bob and Michelle have not yet returned E!'s request for comment.)

Jill, recalling how reporters had shown up at their door after the raid to ask if Josh was about to be arrested, says, "I think we were curious to just see how everything unfolded and to get the truth."

Jim Bob's sister Deanna says her brother assured her "it's all gonna be fine, this is all gonna blow over. It's not true, none of it's true."

Derick says he asked Josh via text if there was any truth to the rumors, and his brother-in-law replied, "'Absolutely not, especially something of that nature.'"

Josh was indicted on a count apiece of receiving and possessing child pornography the following April. He pleaded not guilty and was released on bail.

Jill Was Ready to Testify Against Josh

She ultimately wasn't asked to take the stand, but Jill—who was listed as a potential witness—says she was prepared to testify against her brother if she had to when he went on trial in November 2021.

"The hardest parts for me," Jill notes, "were the parts of the old stuff being brought up that should have never been out there. I just hope and pray that this never happens to anyone else, ever again."

Jill and Derick also scoff at claims her father made—having announced he was running for Arkansas State Senate after Josh was charged—that the prosecution was politically motivated.

"He was just grasping for anything," Jill says. (Jim Bob lost the December 2021 Republican primary.)

Josh was found guilty of receiving and possessing child porn, after which the possession charge was vacated. He's been sentenced to more than 12 years in prison. A federal appellate court heard his appeal for a new trial in February but has not yet issued any ruling.

Jill Duggar Is Still Estranged From Her Family

"Everything within the family dynamic has shifted and not for the better," Jill says, with Derick adding, "We're very much on the outside with the family."

Amy's husband, Dillon King, flatly says that the Duggars "don't talk to us," so they mainly find out what's happening with the family from the media.

"If you were in ATI or IBLP," Jill concludes, "unfortunately, a lot of times you have to go through hell, because it's not until then that you would risk everything to get out of those situations. Eventually you start making your own decisions—like the nose ring that I got—and it's piece by piece, little by little by little, till...do what you need to, like, survive."