Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia is suing The New York Times for $10 million for what it says is a “made up” story about the spread of COVID-19 at the campus earlier this year.
The March 29 story, originally titled “Liberty University Brings Back Its Students, and Coronavirus Too,” reported a “firestorm” was created when multiple cases of COVID-19 at the school were supposedly linked to the school’s decision not to close its campus down following spring break. The story quoted from a Dr. Thomas Eppes, identified as the head of the school’s student health services, who allegedly advised Dr. Jerry Falwell, Jr., the university’s president, that “we’ve lost the ability to corral this thing.” Eppes reportedly identified a dozen students whom he said were displaying symptoms of the virus.
There are more than a couple of problems with the story, Liberty alleges. First, Dr. Eppes is not the head of the university’s student health services. He has a private practice 10 miles down the road. There is a head of student health services that the Times reporter never spoke to, even after being told by Eppes who she was. Second, according to the lawsuit, no Liberty students tested positive for the virus or had symptoms associated with the virus. Liberty says that Eppes told the Times reporters the exact opposite of what was eventually reported as factual.
Also, two surprise inspections from the state health authority during and immediately after spring break found Liberty to be in compliance with all state health directives regarding the pandemic.
The title of the Times story was eventually changed in the online version to “Liberty University Brings Back Its Students, and Coronavirus Fears Too,” (emphasis added) a change that Liberty charges shows that the Times knew the original story was false.
The legal complaint filed in a Virginia court minces no words.
“Simply put, [the Times’] claim that ‘Liberty Brings Back its Students, and Coronavirus, Too’ was made up. Their claim that Liberty ‘Reopened and Students Got Sick’ was made up. Their claim that after purportedly reopening, ‘students started getting sick’ with ‘nearly a dozen Liberty students . . . sick with symptoms that suggest Covid-19’ was made up. And their claim that the ‘consequences’ of reopening had ‘come home to roost’ in the form of a COVID-19 outbreak was made up.”
Falwell says he thinks he knows why the Times targeted the school with the story.
“They target us because the University is a conservative and Christian institution,” Falwell said in a press release. “While this fulfilled their ‘clickbait’ business model, it also violated the law in many ways. 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, Jr. is also an outspoken supporter and admirer of President Donald Trump, a frequent subject of the Times’ reporting.
The case is Liberty University v. The New York Times.
Photo from Liberty University
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