Jerry Falwell, Jr.

Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University Threatens Lawsuit Against Frank Report and New York Times

I received this email, on April 15, 2020, from a lawyer for Liberty University, a private evangelical Christian university in Lynchburg, Virginia.

By the way, Liberty is reportedly one of the largest evangelical Christian universities in the world. It is mostly an online school but, as of 2017, the university enrolled more than 15,000 students at its Lynchburg campus.

It has more than 94,000 students in online courses, for a total of about 110,000 students.

The school consists of 17 colleges, including a school of medicine and a school of law. It was founded by Jerry Falwell Sr. and its current president is Jerry Falwell Jr.

According to the New York Times, “Under the Falwell family’s leadership, Liberty University has grown in five decades from a modest Baptist college to an evangelical powerhouse with cash investments and endowments of nearly $2 billion, nearly 46,000 undergraduates and a campus that sprawls across Lynchburg and neighboring counties in Virginia.”

Dr. Jerry Falwell - Biography | About Liberty | Liberty University
Dr. Jerry Lamon Falwell Sr. (1933-2007) was an American Southern Baptist pastor, televangelist, and conservative activist. He was the founding pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church, a megachurch in Lynchburg, Virginia, and founder of Liberty University.

Here is the email I received from Liberty’s lawyer, Michael Bowe.

Michael J. Bowe - Brown Rudnick
Michael J. Bowe Esq.

RE: Liberty University

Dear Mr. Parlato,

This firm represents Liberty University.

On March 30, 2020, the Frank Report published an article titled “Now Arrested – Tampa Evangelist Keeps Church Open Despite Coronavirus Anticipating the Rapture – Advising Toilet Paper Will Appear from the Lord” (the “Article”), which republished, summarized, and extrapolated materially false and misleading statements regarding Liberty University published by the New York Times in a March 29, 2020 article titled “Liberty University Brings Back Its Students, and Coronavirus Fears, Too”  (the “NYT Article”).

Attached is a letter sent to the New York Times on April 8, 2020, notifying the New York Times that the NYT Article is factually inaccurate and libelous, demanding its immediate retraction, and threatening legal action.

The [Frank Report] Article is similarly libelous and has inflicted substantial harm on Liberty University’s reputation and caused it to expend substantial time and resources to address the false and misleading statements therein.

Liberty University hereby demands that the Article be immediately retracted in its entirety and that the Frank Report and those who worked on the Article immediately implement a litigation hold.

Sincerely,
BROWN RUDNICK LLP

Michael J. Bowe

[Ed. note: A litigation hold is a temporary suspension of a company’s document retention/destruction policies for the documents that may be relevant to a lawsuit.]

About Liberty | Liberty University
Liberty University

 

Before we publish the letter Michael Bowe sent to the New York Times, let me republish what was written about Liberty University in the Frank Report article  Now Arrested –Tampa Evangelist Keeps Church Open Despite Coronavirus Anticipating the Rapture – Advising Toilet Paper Will Appear From the Lord.

The bulk of this article is about Pastor Rodney Howard Browne, who was arrested in Tampa for conducting Sunday services in early April in his mega-church in violation of a county order limiting public gatherings.

As part of this article, Frank Report wrote:

“So far there have been no reports of anyone catching coronavirus from Pastor Howard-Browne’s church.

“However, several students at Jerry Falwell Jr’s university have been told to quarantine themselves after the evangelical leader reopened the campus of his Virginia’s Liberty University last week despite the growing coronavirus pandemic.

“Falwell said he believed he is ‘protecting’ students by keeping them on campus together.

“Officials in Lynchburg, Virginia, where the university is located, did not approve the campus reopening.

“As Liberty University’s spring break was drawing to a close this month, Falwell spoke with the physician who runs Liberty’s student health service about the rampaging coronavirus.

“’We’ve lost the ability to corral this thing,’ Dr. Thomas W. Eppes Jr. said he told Falwell.

“But he did not urge him to close the school. ‘I just am not going to be so presumptuous as to say, “This is what you should do and this is what you shouldn’t do,” Dr. Eppes told the NY Times.

‘Falwell reopened the university last week. As of Friday, Dr. Eppes said, nearly a dozen Liberty students were sick with symptoms that suggested Covid-19. Three were referred to local hospital centers for testing. An additional eight were told to self-isolate.

“As of 8 p.m. on March 29, of three students tested, one was positive. However, the student who tested positive lives off-campus.

“Of the 1,900 students who initially returned last week to campus, more than 800 had left.”

***

So here is Mr. Bowe’s email to the New York Times’ lawyer, Diana Brayton, which was copied to me:

Dear Ms. Brayton,
This firm represents Liberty University (“LU”).

On March 29, 2020, the New York Times rushed out a poorly investigated and materially false and misleading story that it has continued to refuse to properly correct. Among other things, this story’s central message was that LU had not honored promises to remain closed after spring break, “[t]hen students started getting sick,” which the story described as “nearly a dozen Liberty students sick with symptoms that suggested COVID-19,” “three were referred to local hospital centers for testing,” and “another eight were told to self-isolate.”

This account is factually inaccurate, libelous, and paints LU in a grossly false light. It also remains on the New York Times’ website despite LU having informed the New York Times of the true facts, and the story’s purported source publicly denying the core facts attributed solely to him and clarifying this with your bylined reporter.

As the New York Times is now aware:

(a) to date no campus residents have tested positive for COVID-19 or required testing because of symptoms;

(b) three off-campus students have been tested;

(c) only one of these three (a graduated student) tested positive but that student and his family live in Lynchburg, never left Lynchburg for spring break, was not enrolled in classes on campus, and was not on campus for more than two weeks prior to the time he tested positive;

(d) four on-campus students were instructed to self-isolate because they had returned from New York City area even though they were not symptomatic and three others who had close contact with them and also asymptomatic were instructed to self-isolate, as well.

These facts are irreconcilable with the story’s continued claim that about a “dozen” students became sick with COVID-19 symptoms as well as its connecting those non-existing illnesses to the reopening of the campus. The refusal to remove these false and defamatory claims from its website demonstrates the New York Times’ reckless disregard for the truth and malice. 

It is also undeniable that this false message the New York Times intentionally manufactured was exactly the message readers understood from the story. This false reporting  was republished innumerable times by other major and minor media outlets and on social media and created the false and defamatory understanding that LU experienced a Covid-19 outbreak and that this was connected to students being permitted to return from spring break.

This libelous story has inflicted substantial harm on Liberty University’s reputation and caused it to expend substantial time and resources addressing. LU hereby demands that this story be retracted in its entirety, and that the New York Times and those who worked on this story immediately implement a litigation hold as potential litigation is imminent.

Very truly yours,
Brown Rudnick LLP

Michael J. Bowe

As far as I can tell, the New York Times has not issued a retraction and their original story is still available online.

The Times seems to have made one addition to the story:

“After initial publication of this article, the university said it had asked four students who returned from the New York area and two of their roommates to self-quarantine, but none of them were referred for testing and none had symptoms. One student who returned from a county with a high number of cases was running a fever and had a cough. He was tested and elected to go home pending the results rather than self-isolate, the university said.”

For our part, Frank Report does not want to publish anything untruthful, and while we did get most of our information relative to Liberty University from the New York Times story, we accept Mr. Bowe’s word on the matter, so we have published his letter in full.

His main points are: No Liberty University Campus residents have tested positive for COVID-19, or required testing because of symptoms.

Three off-campus students were tested, and one tested positive but that student was not on campus when he got the coronavirus.

Seven on-campus students self-isolated because they returned from New York City or they had close contact with the students who returned from NYC. None of them were symptomatic.

Let this serve as clarification.

Meantime, in response to the New York Times report, Liberty president Jerry Falwell, Jr., wrote on Twitter: “Prime example of why you never believe anything @nytimes says about @LibertyU. Complete liars.”

In its statement about The Times story, Falwell, Jr. wrote, “The University promptly provided the reporter detailed numbers on the student cases and requested corrections. No correction has been forthcoming…”

The Times, however, was not done reporting on Liberty and reported on April 16  “Jerry Falwell Jr.’s angry counteroffensive against critics of his decision to invite Liberty University students back to its Lynchburg, Va., campus after spring break has played out in the media, the courts, even with the campus police.

“But his campaign has been undermined by the spread of a virus he cannot control.

“Since March 29, when the first case was diagnosed in a Liberty student living off-campus, confirmed coronavirus cases in the Central Virginia health district, which surrounds Lynchburg and Liberty, have grown from seven to 78. One person has died. On Tuesday, a Lynchburg city police officer tested positive, forcing another officer into quarantine and setting off a furious effort to trace all of the infected officer’s contacts.

“It is not known whether any of those cases are linked to returning Liberty students, but the university community is exposed as well. Liberty said on Wednesday night that two employees had tested positive for the coronavirus, two more had results pending, and seven were quarantined at home. Beyond the one acknowledged infection in a student, who the university said was not enrolled in classes, test results are due Friday on another student. Two other students have been relocated and quarantined in an annex with ‘no symptoms, no test.’….

“The furor in Lynchburg centers on Mr. Falwell’s decision to open the campus to all students and staff at a time when most American universities were closing for fear of spreading the disease. For weeks before that decision, Mr. Falwell had derided other universities’ coronavirus responses as overreactions driven by a desire to harm President Trump.

“’We think it’s irresponsible for so many universities to just say “closed, you can’t come back,” push the problem off on other communities and sit there in their ivory towers,’ he told a conservative radio host.

“…. Mr. Falwell, a close ally of Mr. Trump, has protested that his policies were no different than many other university administrators, and that he has been singled out for unfair criticism by liberal journalists bent on his destruction.

“…. 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.)

“City officials say that Mr. Falwell assured them during spring break that only about 300 students, who either live abroad or had nowhere else to go would return after spring break. Then he changed his mind, reopening the campus to a potential population of thousands….”

Jerry Falwell Jr defies calls for coronavirus closures and reopens ...
Donald Trump and Jerry Falwell Jr.

***

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. It is rather a question of Liberty versus safety.

Franklin warned “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Does that hold true in a pandemic?

 

 

 

 


About the author

Frank Parlato

Frank Report’s founder and lead writer Frank Parlato is one of the internet’s most acclaimed investigative journalists. His writing and investigations have helped expose major criminal organizations and scandals.

Frank’s work has been cited in major publications all over the world, including The New York Times, New York Post, The Daily Mail, VICE News, CNN, Rolling Stone, and more.

He is also the publisher and editor-in-chief of Artvoice, The Niagara Falls Reporter, Front Page and the South Buffalo News.

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  • Frank, sorry to see you’re being hassled by yet another culty group.

    This is reminiscent of Scientology’s legal playbook. Liberty is playing a very legalistic game in claiming that because they’ve found a way to avoid having the students who came down sick with COVID-19 like symptoms tested, no one can claim that the students have the illness. Plus it also calls to mind the Pharisees who Jesus denounced.

    • This isn’t being hassled, it’s part of what it means to be a journalist. LOL

      It’s just like Scott and Amway. They sued him and lost. LOL

  • Falwell is a crack pot, however, if the New York Times article is wrong it should be retracted.

    Most retractions are printed on unimportant back pages and seldom get the attention of the public. The damage is done.

    The Frank Report should not be attacked for reprinting an article.

    The First Amendment is in play.

    Frank would win the court case, but at the cost of thousands of dollars.

  • Kim Snyder
    Christian churches and universities are NONE of the Frank Reports BUSINESS!!!!!!
    Whether the church closed or didn’t close is NOT for someone to report about.
    The churches parish pastor and clergy is to say this. As for the false statements as to whether students got sick or not, is none of anyone’s business or NOT!
    The university, the church and the people who reside there, are NONE of anyone’s business- let’s talk about the VICTIMS of NXIVM- instead of going after a story that is NONE of any one’s business.
    This is being rude, unethical and plain NOSY!!!!!!! You better NOT attempt to go after the Catholic Church like that. They are closed- and have been for a good while now.
    You need to focus on your impending case- and the victims that Keith killed for NO reason!!!!!!!!!!! This story is awful!!!!! They have the right to retaliate.

    • Hi Kim,

      “Christian churches and universities are NONE of the Frank Reports BUSINESS!!!!!!”

      Two things:

      1. If the church people spread the virus and help to seed it in the population; It’s the public’s business.

      2. The Frank Report is now an actually valid media-news-organization. All news worthy events or stories in the public domain should be reported on; when the editor in chief decides the story has merit. And please try to remember the First Amendment. It comes before freedom of religion for a reason.

      BTW:
      When it comes to Christian ideals you forgot about loving thy brother.

      “That he who loveth God love his brother also.”- 1 John 4:21

      You forsake God a long time ago.

      Going to church and praying does not make you a good Christian. Following the Bible instructions makes you a good Christian.

      Don’t pretend to be a good Christian now.

    • Is the Falwell crowd so sacred that they are nobody’s business? Has Frank broken the law?
      If Falwell above the law, or does he have a security clearance that makes his activities legally a secret?
      Christ warned about false profits, I meant, prophets…
      He also said that whatsoever is hidden shall be revealed.
      And this site is a good place for revelation.

  • This is a strange quagmire. I have a lot of issues with the NYT, while at the same time I have supplied them with materials for stories, some of which was ignored – starting back in 2006, as they relied on ‘official’ information from corrupt NYC officials – rather than on my firsthand eye witness reports (the Picassos owned by William Kingsland aka Melvyn Kohn) – and never ran anything that might embarrass demcorats, even though it could have saved lives.
    Historically, the NYT refused/falied to embarrass Hitler and Democrat Hearst. LIves were lost.
    On the other hand, though I am a literal believer in God’s Word, Falwell to me stinks. When attending a Bible school, I asserted
    that Swaggart, Roberts, Robertson etc were evil. I was shunned; then proven correct.
    Falwell vs the NYT is to me is ironic.

    Incidentally, I am preparing another story for this very site which included many first hand observations on the epidemic in NYC and area – I went out to Hackensack Medical Center today and saw the numbers of corona patients, talked with medical staff etc., then went to Flushing, Fresh Meadows, Westchester and Connecticut.

    I am dividing into 2 groups the clusters of outbreaks. The first will be areas that are populated in close enclosures such as prisons, psyche wards and nursing homes; the second, groups that are not enclosed but that pose a danger in that they refuse or are unable to
    take measures of protection. The homeless, the careless, and last but not least the religious.

    Sadly, I saw groups of Hasidim in Borough Park on Friday walking around with no masks, sometimes 4-5 children frolicking in a public
    area with no masks or gloves. Much as I love the Orthodox communities, Christian and Jewish, I have to speak out.

    They ought not to be able to use (in vain) the name of the Lord to do foolish and dangerous acts.

    Falwell has no right to put people in danger. I am not sure that the NYT is 100% accurate about him in their story, that is being discussed on many levels as I write – but he is NOT the best example of a religious man; personally, I consider him a greedy,
    conniving, power hungry pest. A rich pest at that.

    And his school is not exactly Oxford or Harvard.

    I would not want to live in Lynchburg, VA, where a powerful and rich person might lack the common sense to do the right thing.

    It makes it worse that he uses the name of the Lord. To those of you who know the Word of the Lord, bear in mind that
    the Bible commands common sense.

    Which attribute I do not see in either the NYT or Mr Falwell.

    • Hard to imagine nobody listens to you, Gibson. With all of those tents in Central Park blowing into your apartment and all. LOL

  • Most people had completely forgotten that story, and now LU has given it new life: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect LOL

    I’m disappointed the Frank Report was not mentioned in the NYT article, which other “outlets” also received these threatening and unjustified letters?

    I’m just glad that when people click on the original story, they will see Scott warning others about Amway and other MLM scams. LOL

    I’m sure NiceGuy666 thinks Amway also threatened him and that’s why only the ghost of Scott is now making comments on this website, and Scott loves it! LOL

  • So much about this virus is unknown.
    It appeared in Wuhan, China about six months ago and the Chinese government has been very deceptive about the details of the virus.
    And Federal, state and local government agencies have been unable to provide many details about this novel virus.
    Recent testing from New York City and California indicate that as many as 6% of the population in those areas might have the virus in some form.
    AND THE VAST MAJORITY OF THOSE PEOPLE ARE ASYMPTOMATIC.

    Ultimately almost everyone in the world will be exposed to this virus.
    That is what happened with the Spanish Flu of 1918.

    This virus has disrupted institutions across our entire society and health officials and professionals are still studying potential causes already ,preventative steps and cures.
    I doubt if the New York Times and the Frank Report deliberately targeted Liberty University.

    I previously commented that I have had bouts with the flu two or three times in my life.
    The first two times were in my Freshman and Sophomore years in college.
    Because of the nature of dormitory living many students are packed closely together under crowded circumstances during a time of the year when viruses are common.
    Those are facts of life and must be acknowledged.
    I did not blame the college at any time for the cases of flu which I suffered from.
    AND NO ONE IS BLAMING LIBERTY UNIVERSITY FOR THIS EPIDEMIC.
    NO ONE IS TARGETING LIBERTY UNIVERSITY FOR PERSECUTION.

    America is based on Freedom and Liberty and the Right to discuss important issues.
    The most important issue of the day is how to confront this health care crisis with the minimum of disruption.
    Both disruption to people’s health and disruption to the economy and society as a whole.
    And disruptions to our freedoms.

    I would hope that Liberty University values the liberty to discuss important issues.

    • I think your cited figures for New York City are way off. The most recent results – which were based on antibodies tests that were randomly given to people who showed up at supermarkets – were closer to 21%.

      • Mr. Shadow is off in a number of areas. However, it is possible the people who visited the supermarkets had a higher rate of having the virus BECAUSE they were the ones in the household doing the shopping. The sacrificial lamb, so to speak. The best way to determine the true percentage is a small yet statistically significant, randomized sample of the population.

        • You are 100% correct that New York State’s recent analysis was not based on a random sample – which makes any hypotheses based on those results highly questionable. BTW, the inherent biases in sampling only from those who went to supermarkets could have gone in either direction: i.e., the people who go shopping could have a higher rate of infection – or a lower rate of infection – than the average resident of NYC. Until we have results that are based on methodologically sound sampling designs, we really won’t know much of anything.

          • If it were anywhere else than NYC, I would tend to agree with you. People in NYC simply don’t care about others, so it’s much more likely the sacrificial lamb scenario. LOL

      • If the New York City numbers are 21% that further bolsters my argument that everyone will eventually be exposed to the Wuhan virus.

        “Ultimately almost everyone in the world will be exposed to this virus.
        That is what happened with the Spanish Flu of 1918.”

        That fact renders any lockdowns pointless in preventing the Global spread of the Wuhan virus.
        All the lockdowns do is destroy the economy and bankrupt many poor people to the immense joy of the many people who hate Donald Trump.

        • Well, of course, everyone is eventually going to get exposed to the virus – in the same way they do for most other viruses. The point of the stay-at-home and social distancing initiatives was to flatten the curve. Doing so didn’t change the number under the curve – it just stretched that same number over a longer period of time in order to avoid having our medical facilities overrun by too many people being sick at the same time.

          The other reason for taking such preventative measures was to give scientists enough time to come up with (a) a treatment (and perhaps even a cure) and (b) a vaccine. If we can do those things before the next wave hits, then we may be able to spare some people from getting infected and others from dying.

          The fact that 21% of the residents of NYC have already been exposed is indeed good news. But it also means that there are still more than 6 million NYC residents who can contract the virus.

          If you remove the pseudo-political aspects of your analysis, you might be able to understand this whole thing a little better. What’s happening has nothing at all to do with Trump – but whether the country chooses to follow his recommendations regarding the coronavirus crisis certainly does.

          • Just-released data – which includes the results of a second-round of testing – indicates that 24.7% of NYC residents have already been infected. That still leaves about 6 million residents in NYC that can potentially become infected when the second round of coronavirus hits. Hopefully, before that happens, we’ll have some therapeutic drugs available – and be closer to having a true vaccine.

          • We don’t know whether a person can get sick multiple times from the Wuhan Chinese coronavirus. We don’t know how someone will react to different strains of the virus.

        • Shadow,

          Everyone will get the disease I agree agree.

          The only goal of the stay at home orders are so as to not overwhelm the healthcare system.

          It has nothing to do with Trump. Trump’s poll numbers will not be hurt either way.

About Frank Parlato

About Frank Parlato

Frank Parlato is an investigative journalist.

His work has been cited in major publications all over the world, including The New York Times, The Daily Mail, VICE News, CNN, Fox News, Rolling Stone, People Magazine, and more.

Frank Parlato was the lead investigator and coordinating producer of Investigation Discovery's 2 hour blockbuster special 'The Lost Women of NXIVM.'

Frank Report is dedicated to Frank's investigative journalism and the pursuit of truth.

Read more about Frank Report's mission.

If the whole world stands against you sword in hand, would you still dare to do what you think is right?

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