Jerry Falwell Jr., the rabidly anti-LGBT president of Liberty University, reportedly has obtained arrest warrants for journalists from the New York Times and ProPublica after the outlets published stories critical of his reckless decision to reopen the school’s campus amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Falwell Jr. told right-wing radio host Todd Starnes on Wednesday that he also plans to file defamation suits against the two publications. He claims it was the journalists — not him — who put Liberty University students at risk by traveling to the school from coronavirus “hotspots” to cover the story.
“We had signs posted at every entrance — no trespassing except students, faculty, staff and anybody with official university business,” Falwell said. “To us, it’s so hypocritical for them to come to a campus that’s doing everything right — social distancing, takeout food only, protecting our students who have no place else to go and no classes — and come on on our campus from New York, or Washington or wherever the hotspot is they come from, and put our students at risk. … It’s gonna be an ugly legal fight, I’m sorry to say, but you know I feel like they forced us into a corner, and I don’t think God wants Christians to just sit back and not protect what they believe in. … It’s just sad that they would take advantage of something that’s killing people, a virus that’s a horrible thing. This is not a time to be partisan, but what do they do? They go after the one school — that’s doing it just like every other school — that’s not liberal, that’s conservative and Christian, and they use this virus as an excuse to politicize and attack Christians, and to attack conservatives, and that’s the really sad part.”
Politico reports: Photocopies of the two warrants published on the website of Todd Starnes, a conservative radio host, charge that Julia Rendleman, a freelance photographer for the Times, and Alec MacGillis, a ProPublica reporter, committed misdemeanor trespassing on the Lynchburg, Va., campus of the college while working on their articles. Falwell and Liberty, one of the most high-profile evangelical schools in the country, have come under fire for welcoming students back to campus after the school’s spring break despite the pandemic, while nearly every other college in the country has ordered students off campus. In an interview on Starnes’ show, Falwell ripped a New York Times report that nearly a dozen students were experiencing symptoms of Covid-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. The Times cited “the physician who runs Liberty’s student health service,” who said three students so far had been tested for coronavirus, with at least one student, who lives off campus, testing positive.
More from Talking Points Memo: Richard Tofel, president of ProPublica, told TPM that though there were reporters on Liberty’s campus to report out a couple of stories, he has received no word about the warrant. “We’ve heard nothing about this, and we’ve not heard from the University or from the authorities in Virginia on this at all,” he said. “As the story indicates, there was reporting there on obviously the most important news story of many years.” New York Times Senior Vice President of Communications Eileen Murphy expressed the outlet’s “disappointment” in Falwell’s action. “Our freelance photographer was engaged in the most routine form of news gathering: taking a picture of a person who was interviewed for a news story,” she told TPM in a statement. “We are disappointed that Liberty University would decide to make that into a criminal case and go after a freelance journalist because its officials were unhappy with press coverage of the university’s decision to convene classes in the midst of the pandemic.”
Listen to Starnes’ interview with Falwell below.