For the last few years, there have been frequent reports of Liberty University faculty and administration burying stories in The Champion, the school’s student newspaper. Now, World Magazine has a lengthy report alleging a widespread culture of selectively spiked campus newspaper stories. The report indicates an unusual amount of direct involvement and editorial oversight from Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty’s famously contentious president.
World describes numerous incidents of faculty not only refusing to run stories that paint Liberty in an unflattering light, but spiking or editing stories that run contrary to Falwell’s stalwart support of President Donald Trump. A student even recounts the experience of not being allowed to cover a local protest organized by Red Letter Christians, an activist collective of Christian voices.
Jack Panyard, a Liberty junior and one-time editor-in-chief of The Champion, started recording meetings with Bruce Kirk, the dean of the school of Communication. Those recordings captured some pretty wild soundbites, including Kirk telling student journalists that:
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?
Eventually, Panyard would be let go of his position as editor-in-chief (and lose a $3,000 scholarship, two weeks before the semester ended).
It’s a pretty wild story, and showcases the tensions big institutions like Liberty must navigate in an era where journalism of all types—from the New York Times down to student newspapers—is under fire.
You can read the whole thing here.