As the leader of a Christian institution of higher learning, a conservative and a supporter of President Trump, I’m no stranger to smears from the news media.
Still, in the midst of one of the worst crises our country has ever faced, even I am shocked at how vicious and hypocritical the attacks on Liberty University have been.
From day one, we took prudent measures to prioritize the health and safety of our students, and we went above and beyond to implement the social distancing and stay-at-home orders issued by federal and state leaders. But you wouldn’t know it if you rely on agenda-driven activists masquerading as journalists to get your news. Both The New York Times and The Washington Post have taken it upon themselves to intentionally misrepresent and mislead the public about our crisis management, alleged cases of the virus in our campus community, and the course of action that Liberty University is taking to combat the crisis. They even spread a dangerous and consequential narrative that Liberty is contributing to the pandemic.
If they think the media firestorm they ignited will somehow make us cower or walk back our decisions, they are sorely mistaken. Liberty University’s decision to allow a small number of students to reside on campus with strict social distancing measures in force is not just a reasonable and compassionate course of action. This strategy also aligns with the common sense approach and actions taken by other universities around the country, both public and private. Located just 90 miles away, Virginia Tech, for instance, has roughly the same number of students on its campus as Liberty. These schools, of course, are conveniently excluded from the media narrative.
To be clear, Liberty University is not holding any classes at our Lynchburg campus — they are all offered online through Liberty University Online Programs, which already had 100,000 students registered before the COVID-19 outbreak in America. Only essential facilities remain open on a limited basis. Dining services are on a take-out basis only. We are not hosting convocation, athletics or any large gatherings of more than ten people. Our faculty members may work and conduct their office hours from home.
These decisions took thousands of staff-hours to plan and implement. Through a very thoughtful process, we concluded that we could be in total compliance with federal guidelines and state mandates (and even passed with flying colors two surprise inspections from the state health department) and also fulfill our Christian duty to provide for a limited number of students, including international students who have nowhere else to go.
From our normal residential student population of 8,000, approximately 1,000 of them are residing on campus now, and they are living a largely nomadic life by observing strict social distancing rules that are enforced by our staff and campus police force.
The New York Times’ erroneous report about 12 Liberty students who allegedly started getting sick upon returning to campus after spring break was false and malicious reporting. In truth, only one recent graduate who is now enrolled in one online course and lives off-campus tested positive for COVID-19. At the very least, the Times should have gotten their facts straight before running with a falsehood-laden story, which, tellingly, was published only hours after Liberty University was sent a list of extensive questions to answer – on a Sunday afternoon.
So why is the mainstream media — some of whom were railing against campus closures just a few weeks ago — now disingenuously claiming that Liberty University displayed a “staggering level of ignorance” by letting anyone return to campus on an as-needed basis?
The answer, unfortunately, is that anti-conservative and anti-Christian biases pervade much of the media. We were reminded of this just recently when liberal reporters engaged in a collective grief session because the President of the United States let a Christian business owner — my friend Mike Lindell, whose factory is producing essential masks for health care workers — give a call for prayer in the Rose Garden. CNN even cut away from its coverage of the White House coronavirus task force briefing rather than air Lindell’s remarks.
These are the same people who regularly attack me and Liberty University, especially since I endorsed Donald Trump for president four years ago. 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.
The truth is, not one case of person-to-person coronavirus transmission has been documented at Liberty University, contrary to the hysterical narrative being pushed by the media. God willing, our continued vigilance to enforce social distancing rules among the small number of people on our campus will continue to limit the spread of the virus.
A national public health emergency should be a time to put aside partisanship and bias in favor of unity — but for too many biased media outlets, it’s just business as usual.
Jerry Falwell, Jr. is the President of Liberty University and co-founder of the Falkirk Center