Liberty University files $10 million defamation suit against New York Times over COVID-19 coverage

Newspaper 'intentionally misrepresented' school's reopening, suit claims.

Updated: July 16, 2020 - 1:43pm

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Liberty University on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the New York Times, one of its reporters, and a local Virginia photographer, claiming that the parties defamed the conservative Christian institution in a report earlier this year and also committed trespass while covering the story.

The civil suit, filed in a Circuit Court in Lynchburg, asks for $10.35 million in damages stemming from a late-March article published in the Times shortly after the university partially reopened during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Liberty argues that the newspaper "intentionally misrepresented" the situation at the school by suggesting its reopening led to a wave of coronavirus infections on the campus.

The suit claims the paper's reporter, Elizabeth Williamson, incorrectly reported the comments of an on-campus doctor and failed to take "basic journalistic steps" to verify the information she alleged in her story. The reporter also "did not even try to make a meaningful inquiry of Liberty itself," the suit argues.

The complaint also alleges one count of civil trespass against the defendants — including including local photographer Julia Rendleman — arguing that they violated the school's no-trespassing policy while covering the story. 

The school, which says it has sustained "enormous harm to its business and reputation" as a result of the article, is seeking a $10 million settlement plus an additional $350,000 in "punitive damages" and "attorney's fees."

The school's president, Jerry Falwell, Jr., told Just the News in May that the university planned to "fight" the New York Times, "and they're not gonna get away with it, I promise."