“The facts are that Liberty University’s response to the unfolding Covid-19 pandemic is indistinguishable from that of many, if not most, universities, and, more importantly, it had not experienced a single on-campus student or employee testing positive for Covid-19,” he said this week in a statement that ignored illnesses among off-campus members of the Liberty community.
To his supporters, he has been less temperate. The media, he said in a radio interview with John Fredericks, who identified himself as a Trump campaign operative, “just want power, they’re authoritarian, they’re like nothing I’ve seen since, if you go back in history, to Nazi Germany. That’s what they remind me of.”
And he has spared no effort to defend his actions since articles on Liberty’s reopening ran in ProPublica and The New York Times. He pursued arrest warrants for misdemeanor trespassing against two journalists, Alec MacGillis, a reporter for ProPublica, and Julia Rendleman, a freelance photographer for The Times. He enlisted a New York law firm to threaten legal action against the Times and, he has said, other outlets as well.
He called a Times reporter shortly before midnight, leaving a voice mail message that said, “you’re in some serious trouble.” He accused the journalists of putting his students at risk because they traveled from New York City. (They did not.)
Last week, Liberty ran full-page advertisements in regional newspapers saying that reopening the campus after spring break put Liberty “in pretty good company” with Virginia Tech, the University of California at Los Angeles, Texas A&M, and Arizona State University.
But all of those actions have had consequences.
Liberty’s legal threat against the photographer elicited a response from the newspaper’s counsel, David McCraw.
“Julia was engaged in the most routine form of news gathering: taking pictures for a news story,” Mr. McCraw said in a statement. “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 reopen campus in the midst of the pandemic.”