Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. announced this week that the university is bringing criminal trespassing charges against two journalists that traveled to campus to report on its decision to remain open during the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic. Falwell told the press that he made the decision to bring charges against the journalists over concerns that they could have spread the Chinese virus to students.
According to a report by the Associated Press, Liberty University is pursuing criminal charges against two journalists that traveled to campus to report on the university’s decision to remain open during the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic.
The university is pursuing charges against Alec MacGillis, a reporter for ProPublica, and Julia Rendleman, a photographer for the New York Times. Both MacGillis and Rendleman traveled to Liberty University in the past weeks to cover the controversy surrounding its decision to remain open.
“When people are coming from known hot spots, we feel we owe it to our students and our parents not to let that happen,” Falwell told the media. “The only way to send the message is to let them know they will be prosecuted.”
This week, Virginia Magistrate Kang Lee signed arrest warrants for MacGillis and Rendleman. Both will be charged with Class 1 misdemeanors for trespassing and face up to one year in prison.
New York Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy argued that Falwell is only pursuing criminal charges against the journalists because he wants to limit critical coverage of the university.
“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,” Murphy said.
Falwell published a column on April 7 about the national reception to his decision to keep Liberty University open. Falwell’s decision to remain open is reportedly based on a concern for international students and others without a home to return to. Although many of the campus’ facilities remain open in a limited manner, he also pointed out that all of Liberty University’s classes are currently being taught online. Falwell argued that some of the criticism directed at him is a consequence of his relationship with President Trump.
“These are the same people who regularly attack me and Liberty University, especially since I endorsed Donald Trump for president four years ago,” Falwell wrote. “I’m used to countering their unfounded accusations and dodging their slings and arrows, but in this case their hypocrisy and malice represent an actual threat to the health and safety of our students.”