Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, filed a lawsuit on Wednesday charging that the New York Times falsely reported on the school’s actions in the wake of the coronavirus.
“In 2006, the managing editor of the New York Times was asked on national television, ‘how does it feel to be the managing editor of a paper that makes stuff up?’ Fourteen years later, Liberty University has the same question,” the lawsuit states.
“On March 29, 2020, defendants published an article that intentionally misrepresented that Liberty had ‘reopened’ its campus after spring break and suffered a COVID- 19 outbreak as a result,” the lawsuit states. “That message was apparent to every reader from the article’s plain language. The online article announced that ‘Liberty Brings Back its Students, and Coronavirus, Too.’”
“The print edition likewise proclaimed that ‘A University Reopened, and Students Got Sick.’ Both versions stated explicitly that Liberty University ‘partly reopened . . .then students started getting sick’ including ‘nearly a dozen Liberty students . . . sick with symptoms that suggest COVID-19,'” according to the lawsuit.
“Defendant New York Times made the same claims in an official tweet about the story: ‘Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty University, reopened the school’s campus last week. By Friday, nearly a dozen Liberty students were sick with symptoms that suggest Covid-19.’”
“And Williamson even more bluntly blamed these reported COVID-19 sicknesses on the purported decision to reopen in a tweet claiming the reported infections showed the ‘consequences’ of reopening the campus during the COVID-19 pandemic: ‘Just posted: I visited Liberty U. as the consequences of Jerry Falwell’s decision to reopen the campus amid a pandemic came home to roost.’”
The university published a report on the lawsuit:
The facts, however, were just the opposite and the defendants knew this because they were told that there were no known cases of COVID-19 at the University and there were not “nearly a dozen” students with COVID-19 symptoms, and they knew Liberty University was in full compliance with all government directives, as evidenced by two publicly disclosed inspections. Indeed, ultimately, even by the close of the school year, not a single resident student had contracted COVID-19, and Liberty University’s response to the pandemic stands as a model for other institutions to follow in balancing the needs of protecting and educating their student bodies.
The complaint presents overwhelming evidence that the New York Times and reporter Williamson intentionally published their false and defamatory claims. This evidence includes them misrepresenting that their only medical source had stated that nearly 12 students had COVID-19 symptoms when he said the opposite, misrepresenting this source’s position and knowledge, and avoiding contacting the medical personnel at the school who actually had direct knowledge of the facts despite being told to do so by the sole source they misrepresented instead.
Furthermore, the New York Times prevented Liberty University from offering the facts about their reporting before rushing to publish the news story originally titled, “Liberty Brings Back its Students, and Coronavirus too” on March 29, 2020. The damages caused by that story and an opinion article published on March 30, 2020, titled “This Land of Death and Denial” – which claimed Liberty University’s President “creat[ed] his own personal viral hotspot” – expanded exponentially as those published stories went viral online, were republished hundreds of times by other news outlets, and as the New York Times and Williamson shared them from their social media accounts.
The university said that this fake news “matches the new business model at the New York Times of creating false and sensational stories and headlines against conservatives to go viral and enhance their revenues.”
The university also announced that any proceeds awarded from the lawsuit would be used to help people and businesses recover from the virus and related economic shutdowns.
“When there were no reported cases of COVID19 in the Lynchburg area yet, the New York Times sent a reporter and photographer from actual virus hotspots to violate our campus containment zone and make up a completely false claim that we had created a hotspot on campus,” Jerry Falwell Jr., president of the university, said in the report. “They target us because the university is a conservative and Christian institution.”
“While this fulfilled their ‘clickbait’ business model, it also violated the law in many ways,” Falwell said. “Therefore, we are holding the New York Times accountable for their malicious and false reporting and their violation of the measures we took to protect our students.”
“Politically-motivated attacks by the mainstream news media that defame and libel conservatives and Christians should not be allowed in the United States of America and will not be tolerated by Liberty University,” Falwell said.
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