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NYT Faces $10 Million Defamation Suit from Liberty Univ.

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New York Times newsroomby McKenna Dallmeyer, Campus Reform

Liberty University is filing a $10 million defamation lawsuit against the New York Times after it “intentionally misrepresented” the college’s response to COVID-19.

Campus Reform previously reported on Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr.’s handling of the coronavirus on campus in April, specifically highlighting how the New York Times singled out the private, evangelical university that is run by one of President Donald Trump’s most vocal supporters. Liberty faced harsh scrutiny over its response while other colleges that responded in much the same way got a pass.

The 100-page lawsuit refutes the claims made in several articles published by the New York Times,  including an opinion editorial titled, “The Religious Right’s Hostility to Science is Crippling Our Coronavirus Response.” The suit claims that Falwell is painted as a science denier and “religious ultraconservative.” However, Falwell and Liberty University are currently not mentioned in the piece.

The New York Times also ran an opinion editorial titled “This Land of Denial and Death.” The piece characterizes Falwell as a science denier and claims that this disbelief led to the creation of “his own personal viral hot spot.”

The central piece of the lawsuit, however, is a “viral story” by New York Times feature writer Elizabeth Williamson, titled “Liberty University Brings Back Its Students, and Coronavirus Fears, Too.”

“The day after defendants published the story and made it go ‘viral’ with the sensational headline, ‘Liberty Brings Back its Students, and Coronavirus, Too,’ they changed the online headline to ‘Liberty Brings Back its Students, and Coronavirus Fears, Too.’” The suit argues that this alteration shows the “defendants’ understanding that their central claim was false.”

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