When I talked about the Josh Duggar scandal the other night, I said it was pretty disgusting that some liberal commentators are using what is obviously a family tragedy for political point-scoring.
I also told Megyn Kelly there were important questions to be raised about the conservative family that starred in the now-sidelined TLC show: Why did local officials allow Duggar’s juvenile police record, something that is usually sealed and sacrosanct, to be given to two media outlets? Why didn’t Duggar’s parents go to their authorities when they learned that their son was engaged in sexual abuse in 2002? And why would they sign up for the scrutiny that comes with a reality show, knowing they were hiding this dark secret?
Not surprisingly, those questions were ignored as some critics accused me of being too soft on the Duggars by describing what happened as a tragedy. Others, like Piers Morgan, railed against “shameless hypocrisy from ultra-right conservatives, particularly those who love to preach to the rest of this about what perfect little goody-goodys they are.”
This is a theme in a number of recent stories involving sexual abuse or sexual identity: Is it possible to report and analyze these developments with compassion? Or does everything get reduced to ideological warfare?
Take the indictment of Denny Hastert. He’s charged with lying to the FBI and improperly withdrawing large sums of money to cover up past misbehavior—which, according to law-enforcement leaks, involves sexual abuse while he was a high school teacher and wrestling coach.
Which, if true, is horrendous, an awful betrayal of trust, and the kind of trauma that can ruin someone’s life. Hastert hasn’t denied it; in fact, he hasn’t commented on the indictment at all.
But Fox’s Brit Hume got ripped by some left-wing critics for saying this was an “unusual” use of the law: “There's, evidently, a blackmailer, extortionist. No indication yet, and all indications seem to be no charges will be brought against the person who was blackmailing the former speaker.”
How dare he not utterly condemn Hastert?
Except that liberal radio host Bill Press took a similar tack in his Hill column:
“It looks to me like he got a raw deal, and ended up the victim of an overzealous federal prosecutor.
“Don’t get me wrong. I don’t condone Hastert’s rumored sexual abuse of a former student, if that’s what happened. But if that student still felt harmed, so many years later, why didn’t he go to the police instead of going to Hastert and hitting him up for hush money? And why hasn’t he been charged with extortion?”
The Vanity Fair cover on which Bruce Jenner reemerged as Caitlyn Jenner has also become an ideological flash point.
Democrats have praised Jenner--even though she told Diane Sawyer she’s a Republican—with President Obama tweeting, “It takes courage to share your story.”
The media, meanwhile, are recycling Mike Huckabee's remarks from a few months ago: “We are now in city after city watching ordinances say that your 7-year-old daughter, if she goes into the restroom cannot be offended and you can’t be offended if she’s greeted there by a 42-year-old man who feels more like a woman than he does a man.”
The mainstream media have heaped praise on Jenner, now the most famous person ever to change genders through surgery. The three network newscasts contained not a hint that this was even controversial. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow said: “For trans kids and for trans adults, wherever they are today, they got a hero. Already it was their mostly nameless bravery that made this more public journey possible.”
I know many people feel that way. But some in the conservative media have a different view, as reflected in this National Review piece: “Bruce ‘Caitlyn’ Jenner Needs Our Prayers, Not Our Applause.”
I don’t want to be anything but respectful toward transgender people. They are entitled to dignity and respect. Personally, what they do with their bodies is none of my business.
But some Americans don’t agree, viewing this matter as part of the culture wars that are redefining not just relations between the sexes but sexual identity itself. And that ought to be acknowledged by the coverage.
At the same time, the orchestrated nature of this media rollout—Sawyer interview, Vanity Fair shoot, E! reality series—underscores that this is a wealthy celebrity who is very successful at controlling her image.
As for Josh Duggar, what he did was, as he says, inexcusable. There are victims here.
In the “Kelly File” interview, Michelle Duggar said: “There was so much grief in our hearts. I think as parents we felt we’re failures…We were devastated.”
And Jim Bob Duggar said that “Christianity is not about being perfect or about being a perfect family.”
That doesn’t let them off the hook by any means. I just wish some on the left wouldn’t take such joy in attacking the family for hypocrisy–just as I hate when some on the right do that when a liberal icon falls. All these stories are fair game, but there ought to be a place in our media and political culture for a modicum of compassion.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.