Jerry Falwell Jr. wants The New York Times punished for what he believes to be an inaccurate story about Liberty University’s response to the coronavirus. He even left a Times reporter an ominous and threatening message on her voicemail. The message said, “you’re in some serious trouble.” (Why did Falwell wait until almost midnight to make this call? Why not call during the day when he could tell the reporter directly? This seems cowardly to me).
The New York Times defends its coverage. Here is a taste of Elizabeth Williamson’s piece, “Falwell Focuses on Criticis as Coronavirus Cases Near His University Grow“:
…a Liberty student on Monday filed a class-action lawsuit in a federal court in Virginia, saying that Liberty and Mr. Falwell had “placed students at severe physical risk and refused to refund thousands of dollars in fees owed to them for the Spring 2020 semester,” according to a statement from the law firm filing the suit.
The furor in Lynchburg centers on Mr. Falwell’s decision to open the campus to all students and staff at a time when most American universities were closing for fear of spreading the disease. For weeks before that decision, Mr. Falwell had derided other universities’ coronavirus responses as overreactions driven by a desire to harm President Trump.
“We think it’s irresponsible for so many universities to just say ‘closed, you can’t come back,’ push the problem off on other communities and sit there in their ivory towers,” he told a conservative radio host.
Since the media spotlight trained on Liberty’s decisions, Mr. Falwell, a close ally of Mr. Trump, has protested that his policies were no different than many other university administrators, and that he has been singled out for unfair criticism by liberal journalists bent on his destruction.
“The facts are that Liberty University’s response to the unfolding Covid-19 pandemic is indistinguishable from that of many, if not most, universities, and, more importantly, it had not experienced a single on-campus student or employee testing positive for Covid-19,” he said this week in a statement that ignored illnesses among off-campus members of the Liberty community.
To his supporters, he has been less temperate. The media, he said in a radio interview with John Fredericks, who identified himself as a Trump campaign operative, “just want power, they’re authoritarian, they’re like nothing I’ve seen since, if you go back in history, to Nazi Germany. That’s what they remind me of.”
And he has spared no effort to defend his actions since articles on Liberty’s reopening ran in ProPublica and The New York Times. He pursued arrest warrants for misdemeanor trespassing against two journalists, Alec MacGillis, a reporter for ProPublica, and Julia Rendleman, a freelance photographer for The Times. He enlisted a New York law firm to threaten legal action against The Times and, he has said, other outlets as well.
He called a Times reporter shortly before midnight, leaving a voice mail message that said, “you’re in some serious trouble.” He accused the journalists of putting his students at risk because they traveled from New York City. (They did not.)
Read the entire piece here.