Censorship and the Liberty University Student Newspaper

Liberty Champ

Check out World magazine’s reporting on court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr.’s control of the student newspaper at Liberty University.  We have blogged about this before, but this is the first extended piece I have seen.

Here is a taste of “Papered Over“:

Two days later, April 18, Falwell addressed the current and incoming Champion staff in a hastily arranged conference call. A dozen students pulled their rolling desk chairs around the news editor’s desk to wait for the phone to ring. Staffers prayed that God would help them be respectful and everything would be resolved soon. Kirk and Huff were also in the room.

Falwell then called and told them the newspaper had been “established to champion the interests of the university, disseminate information about happenings on Liberty’s campus, as well as the positive impacts of Liberty in the community and beyond. And as such, the publisher of the publication, which is the university, is responsible for content decisions, to find stories to be covered by Champion personnel and makes all of the calls on the articles, photographs and other content. … We’re going to have to be stricter in the future if these protocols aren’t followed.”

He asked if there were any questions. The students were silent. Huff said, “I’m looking around the room. … I don’t see anybody with a hand up.” After Falwell hung up, Kirk said, “If you don’t know, I’m Dean Kirk. … In the real world, which this isn’t, let’s just be honest, right? … You will be beholden to an organization, to a company. … That is just part of life. And it’s part of life for all of us by the way. Put journalism aside for a second. Do I get to do everything that I want to do or does Jerry dictate what I get to do? … Somebody else decides what you do and what you don’t say or do.”

Later, Kirk spoke of the story about Red Letter Christians: “I think everybody here is intelligent enough to understand that that story has got some real negative overtones, undertones, potentials. … You have to consider that as a starting point and say, ‘OK, what’s the benefit for this? What’s going to happen that is positive for Liberty?’”

Read the entire piece here.

A few quick thoughts:

  1. Administrative control of student newspapers is not unusual at Christian colleges.  It happens all the time.  I am not a fan of this, but it happens.  The more conservative the college, the more one should expect this.
  2. Though administrative control of Christian college student newspapers is common, the Liberty University case is unique because Falwell Jr. limited the staff’s freedom to criticize the university president’s personal political position.  In my experience, Christian colleges rarely censor newspaper reporters and opinion writers for expressing political views, especially if those views are grounded in Christian faith.
  3. If you read the entire article you will get a glimpse of how Jerry Falwell Jr. and his staff understand the identity of Liberty University.  To them, Liberty is a corporation run by the Falwell family.  If the boss doesn’t like your views, you will be fired.  The paper’s editor-in-chief learned this the hard way, and lost his scholarship in the process.

2 thoughts on “Censorship and the Liberty University Student Newspaper

  1. From David Hackett Fischer’s book, Liberty & Freedom:

    The book arose from Fischer’s discovery that the words themselves had differing origins: the Latinate “liberty” implied separation and independence. The root meaning of “freedom” (akin to “friend”) connoted attachment: the rights of belonging in a community of freepeople. The tension between the two senses has been a source of conflict and creativity throughout American history.

    It seems that Liberty University may be a misnomer…

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  2. To them, Liberty is a corporation run by the Falwell family.

    With a similar Corporate Culture to Trump Tower?
    (i.e. a Single Autocratic Great One at the center of an amen chorus of courtiers and yes-men)

    Has anyone studied or inquired whether the original Jerry Falwell SR was this strict? Or this controlling?

    Or is this evidence of Generational Entropy, i.e. a “hardening of the attitudes” increasing and becoming more extreme with each generation?

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