The Duggar family, which constitutes Michelle, Jim Bob, and their 19 children, epitomize the self-proclaimed Christian values of the Bible Belt on their series TLC series 19 Kids and Counting. But now, it's more like epitomized.
The family is being rocked by a molestation scandal that was uncovered by In Touch Weekly, and its gay West Coast editor, Rick Egusquiza. With every day bringing new revelations about the Duggars, Egusquiza is busy speaking with media about the family and the future of the show. The journalist — who made a name for himself in 2007 when he broke the story of John Edwards' affair with Rielle Hunter, which helped sink the former senator's presidential ambitions — found a few minutes to answer 19 of our queries.
The Advocate: Hi Rick. Congrats on the piece. How did you come to break this story?
Rick Egusquiza: Thank you. The rumors of Joshua Duggar being sexually inappropriate as a teenager were circulating for years, but no one could prove it until In Touch Weekly really started digging into it. My bosses received a tip and then sent me and a team to Springdale, Ark., to start digging around. One tipster led me to another, and then another. I have to say it was good old-fashioned reporting on the ground and a lot of door-knocking. Also a lot of leg work from our team of excellent reporters and editors. I'd love to take full credit, but it wasn't a one-man job.
How familiar were you with the Duggars?
Of course, I knew about the Duggars and their many kids, but I never really watched the show before.
Not even a few snippets?
My partner was fascinated by Michelle Duggar, especially her baby voice talk, and why she would give birth to all those children. So it was on in the background sometimes, but I always told him to turn the channel.
Are you, like many gay men, fixated on Michelle's hair?
Michelle sports the classic mullet — short in the front, long in the back — but she admitted she never heard the term "mullet" before. She also said her hairdo is all about pleasing her husband, Jim Bob. I guess all I can say is, bless her heart.
Were you aware the family had a history of homophobia and transphobia?
I assumed they weren't fans of our community because they were such Bible-thumping conservative Christians, and I knew Josh Duggar worked for the Family Research Council. I learned a lot more about them when I was doing research for this story. I was disgusted by Michelle's robocall to the citizens of Fayetteville, Ark., regrading trans women and restrooms and comparing them to child molesters when she knew about her son’s actions.
Why do you think the Duggars are so popular?
Unfortunately, a lot of people in this country still have the same beliefs [as the Duggars] so they put the Duggars on a pedestal. On the other hand, I think a lot of the country and the world are very happy that their hypocrisy has been uncovered. Now, they’re more popular than ever though.
Who's your favorite Duggar?
If I had to pick one it would be Jinger Duggar. Mainly because she gives great side-eye and fans, I think they're fans, created the "Free Jinger" movement on the web.
Hands down, Josh.
Has a Duggar fan expressed anger with you over the story?
Not with me directly, but I'm sure we've gotten some hate mail.
Has anyone defended them, or Josh?
Oh yes. Well, there's Mike Huckabee, who didn't defend the act, but stands by the family. The craziest defenders are the people comparing what Josh did to "playing doctor."
What's been your favorite response to the story?
When people thank me for doing God's work. Of course, now that the story is out, everyone I meet tells me the same thing, which is, "I knew it! I just knew something weird was going on in that family." Of course, "weird" is a major understatement; it was a crime.
Do you see the story as ironic?
100 percent. 19 Kids and Counting is a show about family values and being good, loving Christians. People may not like what you preach, but come on — you should practice what you preach — especially if you're in the public eye.
Do you think TLC will ultimately cancel the show?
I think they should, but there's so many of them that I think a Duggar will probably always be on TV somewhere.
Do you think reality shows really vet their cast members?
Yes, but not fully, they miss a lot. But I believe that TLC knew nothing about this.
Why can't we get nice people on reality shows?
There are some nice people on reality TV, but nice people don't bring in the ratings.
Do the Kardashians count as nice people?
The Kardashians count now more than ever, but that's because of Caitlyn Jenner. Most of the family have embraced her, and hopefully that may be what that show will be known for.
Do you watch reality TV?
Yes, mostly because of my job, but I love a good NeNe Leakes read just as much as the next shady person.
Was it more exciting to break this story or the John Edwards story?
The John Edwards story was more exciting, because it involved a presidential candidate and it was history-making. But the Duggar story is important because of the sexual abuse aspect. It opens up the conversation and may help families dealing with sexual abuse and incest, but more importantly the victims.
The interesting thing is that my editorial director, David Perel, ran this story, as well as the John Edwards story, when we were both at different publications. Also, my colleague Alexander Hitchen was a reporter on the Edwards piece and is now here at In Touch, and he also worked on the Duggar story. Two big stories and some of the same team.
Can't you dig up something good on that racist, antigay Duck Dynasty clan?
I’ll get on that, but I don’t think we’re done with the Duggars yet.