Last week, WORLD published a damning article about the “journalism” practiced at Liberty University. The students themselves were trying to do everything properly. They had every intention of publishing an objective piece about a progressive Christian rally in the area and an opinion piece criticizing Donald Trump.
Unfortunately for them, Liberty’s administrators put a stop to anything that either cast the school in a negative light or suggested Trump was doing anything but Making American Great Again. That’s because the school’s president Jerry Falwell, Jr. saw the newspaper as a public relations tool, nothing more. The since-fired Editor-in-Chief Jack Panyard even recorded Bruce Kirk, the dean of the School of Communication and Digital Content, telling the staff they’re not there to do actual reporting:
Kirk told the new staffers, “Your job is to keep the LU reputation and the image as it is. … Don’t destroy the image of LU. Pretty simple. OK? Well you might say, ‘Well, that’s not my job, my job is to do journalism. My job is to be First Amendment. My job is to go out and dig and investigate, and I should do anything I want to do because I’m a journalist.’ So let’s get that notion out of your head. OK?”
Because why would staffers at a student newspaper want to do journalism…?
Now, Falwell has responded to the piece. But you shouldn’t think of it as a rebuttal, because WORLD didn’t publish anything wrong. Mostly, Falwell rejects the notion that he’s censoring the students at all, instead attacking the press for even covering the story:
… the press covers my involvement as if I am the only person at Liberty University who should have no say in what is published in a newspaper that is owned and operated by the University.
It’s not that he can’t have a say. It’s that when he jumps into the fray, it’s often to get in the way of actual journalism that reflects poorly on the school or opinions that contradict his narrative. (Allowing “op-ed debates on both sides of highly controversial issues” isn’t the same thing as publishing an editorial reflecting an opinion he doesn’t like.)
After saying the campus newspaper “has always had editorial oversight” — as if anyone doubted that or claimed oversight was the problem — Falwell attempted to gaslight everyone on the controversial recording:
As for the recent comments by one of our professors, Bruce Kirk — comments secretly recorded by a student this past spring and handed over to an evangelical news magazine — Mr. Kirk spoke for himself. He was not speaking as a spokesman for the university, nor as a spokesman for me.
So Bruce Kirk, the dean of Liberty’s School of Communication and Digital Content, was leading a meeting of new staffers at the Liberty Champion, and telling them their jobs were to act as publicity peddlers for Liberty University… but it’s somehow a mistake to claim he was representing the school?
I guess if you believe the Bible must be taken literally, you’re gullible enough to believe anything. But that’s a stretch even for Falwell.
By the way, all staffers on the newspaper now have to sign a non-disclosure agreement agreeing to follow the rules or risk losing their scholarships:
Among those rules: Champion staffers cannot be sources for or subjects of stories by outside journalists without the Liberty administration’s “special permission” and submission to its “conditions.” They cannot comment on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media “about any publication of the Liberty Champion or its affiliated communication services.”
Don’t speak to reporters writing potentially damning stories about Liberty even if there’s journalistic value to it.
Don’t talk about the newspaper on social media.
Don’t do journalism.
That’s what Falwell wants these students to “learn” when they come to his school to become professional journalists.
I’m not surprised. It’s pretty much the same approach he uses for science majors. His goal is to punish the students for doing actual journalism (or working with actual journalists) if the end results reflects poorly on Falwell himself. He’s a coward with power. This is how they operate.
(via Right Wing Watch)