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Papered over

Biblical truth-telling at college newspapers can sometimes conflict with the way administrators want to portray the school. Here’s a case study of how Liberty University handled the tension last spring

Papered over

The campus of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. (Corey Perrine/Genesis)

Liberty University junior Jack Panyard rejoiced on March 16 when newspaper adviser Deborah Huff told him he would be 2018-19 editor-in-chief of the weekly Liberty Champion—circulation 16,000.

For Panyard and the 15 other undergrad students on the college newspaper staff, the Champion was a beloved part of their daily lives. They hustled to the newspaper office between classes to write, edit, or just hang out. They spent weekends there. Panyard kept textbooks in the office and extra clothes in his desk in case he had to work through the night.

Despite some tension, the Champion staff had had a good year. Many of them studied together, watched movies together, and occasionally played the keyboard in copy editor Sarah Jackson’s house. They went out to eat at Shanghai Express, a Chinese restaurant Panyard described as “cheap and fatty,” and took trips together to tour Charlottesville, Roanoke, and Washington, D.C.

In the fall of 2017, assistant news editor Erin Covey told the group she had never been to a haunted house, so they went to Scaremare, Liberty’s evangelistic version. Just before Christmas, newspaper adviser Huff hosted a staff party. Early in 2018, Covey, editor-in-chief William Young, and news editor Panyard won first place for headline writing in the Virginia Press Association’s news and editorial contest. Young placed first in column writing.

The Champion office on the first floor of Green Hall was the staffers’ clubhouse. At first glance, the desks and gray carpet gave it a crisp, no-nonsense feel, but a whiteboard exhibited inside jokes, bulletin boards above the desks displayed pictures, and foam cups, open folders, and stray sheets of paper covered the desktops. One floor up sat the office of Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr.

Handout

Champion staffers last fall (from left to right): Elizabeth Lapp (opinion editor), TJ Davis (sports editor), Will Young (editor-in-chief), Sarah Jackson (copy editor, would-be incoming feature editor but resigned), Julie Bouton (friend, but not a Champion staff member), Erin Covey, Jack Panyard, Logan Smith (asst. sports editor, incoming managing editor) (Handout)

Tension between the newspaper and Falwell emerged in 2016: To the dismay of some Champion staffers, he strongly endorsed Donald Trump. Falwell began reviewing prior to publication Champion articles that mentioned Trump. On one occasion, he made Champion editors end opinion pieces with a note on how they were voting. Opinion writer Jordan Jarrett chose not to and found a note under her published article: “The writer refused to reveal which candidate she is supporting for president.”

In October 2016, The Washington Post released a 2005 recording of Trump describing advances he’d made on women. Sports editor Joel Schmieg wrote a column for the Champion criticizing Trump’s locker room talk, but Falwell told Schmieg’s editor not to run it. Falwell said the newspaper had one article about Trump that week, so Schmieg’s piece was redundant.

Frustrated, Schmieg posted it on his Facebook page, and Champion graduate assistant Nate Haywood approached Schmieg on behalf of Champion adviser Deborah Huff, warning him not to do anything like that again. Instead, Schmieg resigned: “I didn’t feel comfortable being told what I couldn’t write about by President Falwell.”

In October 2017, Liberty police escorted from campus Jonathan Martin, a “Red Letter” pastor, and threatened to arrest him if he returned. (Red Letter Christians are on the political left and focus on only the quoted words of Jesus. Martin had tweeted plans for a peaceful protest at Liberty.) Falwell said police removed Martin because Liberty does not allow uninvited protests on campus.

Steve Helber/AP

Falwell (Steve Helber/AP)

During the next few months, Champion editors and writers say, faculty members spiked other student articles. Through Liberty Communications Director Len Stevens, WORLD repeatedly requested interviews with Jerry Falwell Jr., faculty adviser Huff, and Bruce Kirk, dean of the School of Communication and Digital Content, but they all declined the opportunity.

Meanwhile, Liberty junior Jack Panyard was writing lots of bylined articles—but one he wrote did not have his name on it. Early in 2018 he interviewed the director and producer of a film, Commander, planned by Liberty’s Cinematic Arts program. Based on a 2017 book, the film was to tell the story of Mark Taylor, who spoke of his vision that Donald Trump would become president. Panyard’s piece indicated some uncertainty about Taylor’s descriptions of talking with God. When his article came back from vetting, those reservations were gone. Panyard took his name off the piece.

Handout

Huff (Handout)

Nevertheless, Huff in March 2018 chose Panyard to be editor-in-chief, a position that brought with it not only authority but a $3,000 scholarship per semester. Huff chose Erin Covey to be news editor.

In April, Panyard wrote a story about Liberty’s policy toward unmarried women who lived in the university’s dorms and became pregnant. He interviewed the president of Lifeline (Liberty’s pro-life ministry), the executive director of the residence life office, and a student kicked out of the dorms. Liberty spiked the story.

Also in April came an announcement of a “Red Letter Revival” in Lynchburg that would include a time of prayer on Liberty’s campus. Leader Shane Claiborne invited Falwell to attend. In response, Liberty police sent Claiborne a letter stating he would receive a $2,500 fine and possible jail time if he stepped onto campus.

Two or three Liberty students planned to speak at the Revival, and others planned to attend, so Covey decided to cover the event for the Champion. On April 5, the day before the event, she interviewed Don Golden, executive director of Red Letter Christians, and told him she planned to attend. He added her name to the list of media attendees. Covey emailed Falwell with a request for comment. He emailed back the same afternoon: “Let’s not run any articles about the event.”

‘Your job is to keep the LU reputation and the image as it is. … Don’t destroy the image of LU. Pretty simple. OK?’ —Bruce Kirk

Covey told Golden to take her off the media list because Liberty’s administration would prefer that the Champion not cover the event. It’s not clear how numerous journalists learned about the change, but soon The New York Times, Religion News Service, and NPR reporters were calling Covey. RNS quoted her as saying, “The level of oversight we have does make it difficult to pursue the accurate journalism that we’re taught in classes.”

On April 13, Bruce Kirk emailed Champion staff members to say he would interview them for next year’s positions. This was a first for the Champion. In the past, Huff chose staff members and had a casual conversation with them to confirm they were right for the job. Three days later Panyard walked alone to a conference room where Kirk waited to interview him for the position of editor-in-chief. Kirk shook Panyard’s hand and thumbed through his notes to remember his name.

Handout

Kirk (Handout)

Panyard said Kirk asked him how he would prevent another situation like Covey’s Red Letter Revival story. Panyard said the staff and the administration should have an open discussion about why to exclude a piece. Panyard left the meeting worried that he would lose the editor-in-chief’s job. He decided to record all future meetings with Kirk.

Two days later, April 18, Falwell addressed the current and incoming Champion staff in a hastily arranged conference call. A dozen students pulled their rolling desk chairs around the news editor’s desk to wait for the phone to ring. Staffers prayed that God would help them be respectful and everything would be resolved soon. Kirk and Huff were also in the room.

Falwell then called and told them the newspaper had been “established to champion the interests of the university, disseminate information about happenings on Liberty’s campus, as well as the positive impacts of Liberty in the community and beyond. And as such, the publisher of the publication, which is the university, is responsible for content decisions, to find stories to be covered by Champion personnel and makes all of the calls on the articles, photographs and other content. … We’re going to have to be stricter in the future if these protocols aren’t followed.”

He asked if there were any questions. The students were silent. Huff said, “I’m looking around the room. … I don’t see anybody with a hand up.” After Falwell hung up, Kirk said, “If you don’t know, I’m Dean Kirk. … In the real world, which this isn’t, let’s just be honest, right? … You will be beholden to an organization, to a company. … That is just part of life. And it’s part of life for all of us by the way. Put journalism aside for a second. Do I get to do everything that I want to do or does Jerry dictate what I get to do? … Somebody else decides what you do and what you don’t say or do.”

Later, Kirk spoke of the story about Red Letter Christians: “I think everybody here is intelligent enough to understand that that story has got some real negative overtones, undertones, potentials. … You have to consider that as a starting point and say, ‘OK, what’s the benefit for this? What’s going to happen that is positive for Liberty?’”

Covey asked how what happened at an educational institution might be different from what happened at a business. Kirk replied, “It’s not really that different. Frankly, I said it’s a family business, it is. I mean, Jerry Falwell and his dad Jerry before him and that’s how this university was founded, right? It wasn’t founded by somebody else. It was founded by the Falwells.” Staff members exchanged glances as he spoke, and some looked at the floor to avoid eye contact.

Kirk concluded, “I think it’s great that Jerry was willing to take even a few minutes to do this. He’s incredibly busy. It’s not every university paper that even gets to hear from their president, let alone ask a question if you wanted to. You were probably afraid to, and I get it. You don’t want him to label you as the one like, ‘Who asked that question? Who was that?’ You don’t want to be that person, I get that.” He asked the students to remember, “It’s their paper. They can do what they want. … If things aren’t followed, they’ll get stricter.”

Another week passed. During the Champion staff meeting on April 25, Panyard and Covey acted in their upcoming roles as editor-in-chief and news editor, leading the discussion on stories and planning the semester’s last two issues. But Kirk called Panyard to another meeting on April 27 and told him the Liberty administration had decided on “a serious restructuring of the Champion. … We’re doing away with the editor-in-chief position. … Bottom line is your services won’t be needed.”

Panyard asked, “So I’m fired?” Kirk replied, “Fired is not the right word. We’re not firing anybody, we’re just not putting you in that position.” Panyard asked if he would be part of the Champion at all. Kirk said no. Panyard said, “I’ve just worked very hard on this paper.” Kirk said, “Companies reorganize all the time.” Liberty’s reorganization: The Champion would now have a managing editor instead of an editor-in-chief.

Panyard had lost his position and its $3,000-per-semester scholarship. Erin Covey was next: Kirk told her about the reorganization, with the Champion now having an assistant content editor instead of a news editor. Neither Covey nor Panyard would be allowed to work even the last two weeks of the semester. When he returned to the Champion office a few hours later to collect his belongings, his key card had already been deactivated.

The firings had repercussions for the whole organization. Four staff members resigned from the Champion, two right before they graduated. Kirk offered the open positions to two students: One declined and one accepted.

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?”

He added, “It’s their newspaper. They can stop this newspaper today if they wanted to. And just so you know, they can do it. Too much trouble, too many problems, we’re getting ourselves in hot water, you guys are doing stories we can’t defend. We’re gonna stop.”

Now, edited stories before publication must go through a two- or three-stage approval process: first to the faculty adviser, then to a panel of faculty members, and after that possibly to Falwell himself for approval before publishing. It’s not clear how long that three-stage process of approval will take, nor whether students will be able to take any initiative.

Jack Panyard

A stack of the Liberty Champion student newspapers (Jack Panyard)

Plus, students on the newspaper staff who receive scholarships must now sign a nondisclosure agreement that says those scholarships are “conditioned on my full and continuous compliance with all the following Newspaper Rules throughout the fall and spring semesters of the 2018-2019 academic year.” 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.”

During the summer now concluding Jack Panyard worked as a barista and a waiter, and as an intern with an entertainment website. He has taken out loans for the next school year. In the fall, he anticipates working as a research assistant in the communications office for 20 hours a week to pay for his last year of school.

Update from WORLD Editor in Chief Marvin Olasky (8/17/18): I had a cordial conversation this afternoon with Scott Lamb, Liberty University’s Vice President of Special Literary Projects, who is part of Liberty’s Office of the President. Referring to what WORLD quoted from Bruce Kirk, Dean of the School of Communication and Visual Content, Lamb said, “Mr. Kirk spoke for himself. He was not speaking on behalf of the university or as a spokesman for the university.” Lamb said Kirk was “speaking his own thoughts, giving his own understanding of what he was communicating.”

—This story has been updated to correct the description of Jordan Jarrett’s role at the Liberty Champion in 2016, and to correct the description of how outside journalists learned the Champion would not cover the Red Letter Revival.

Corey Perrine/Genesis

Street signs on the campus of Liberty University (Corey Perrine/Genesis)


Against journalistic slavery

A British tradition I very much enjoy from afar is coming up on Sept. 8. That’s the last night of a concert series called The Proms (for musical promenades) that dates from 1895. Near the end, audiences in the London concert hall or watching on large screens in major parks throughout the realm stand and sing “Rule Britannia”—with its last line, “Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.”

That could be the theme of good journalism as well. Under financial pressure, most networks and major newspapers spin for their anti-Trump base and Fox News plays to its pro-Trump base. Given the way many reporters today are propagandists, it’s hard to speak of journalism and truth-telling in the same breath—but we need to recapture the idea of Biblical objectivity that once drove editors and writers.

One reason I’ve enjoyed so much my 26 years of editing WORLD is that I’ve never, never, never felt like a slave. WORLD has had four publishers during that period, but none has ever told me we couldn’t cover a news event or print a particular story. No board member or advertiser has killed a story. To the consternation of some, we’re not a conservative movement magazine or an evangelical public relations organ.

Through our World Journalism Institute, we try to instill in both college students and mid-career professionals a sense of Bible-based journalistic independence. The Brits on Sept. 8 will sing, “The nations, not so blest as thee, / Must, in their turns, to tyrants fall; / While thou shalt flourish great and free.” WORLD is not so great but we are free, and we see no reason why Christian college students should be crushingly told that the search for journalistic blessings is an impossible dream.

Independent reporters, of course, are irritants, and young ones may make more mistakes than older ones would. I was a Christian college provost/academic vice president for four years, put up with some negative stories in the college newspaper, and sometimes told the young journalists I thought they were wrong—but never said they couldn’t write a story, and never purged the editorial staff. The purpose of an educational institution is education, and its leaders need to decide whether they are teaching students to be slaves, or free men and women.

The Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians that not everything that’s lawful is profitable. Christian colleges have legal rights: They own the buildings, equipment, and other things necessary to produce school newspapers. But just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. The key question: Is this good for growing us in Christ?

Checks and balances are good: College newspaper advisers are a check on student liberty, but they should advise, not command. Journalists can be a check on government, including college government, but they should meld temerity with humility. Executives should administer and lead, but not execute those who disagree. —Marvin Olasky

Charissa Crotts

Charissa Crotts

Charissa is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and a reporter for WORLD.

Charissa Crotts

Elizabeth Rieth

Elizabeth is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.

Charissa Crotts

Isaiah Johnson

Isaiah is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.

Comments

  • Andy Knudsen
    Posted: Thu, 08/16/2018 02:26 pm

    Great article. I just graduated from Liberty University this spring. A lot of things about the school are very good (e.g. I had several excellent professors, enjoyed having serious Christian friends, and was able to hear famous Christians speak at convocations on campus three times a week), but this article highlights some issues that could develop into serious problems in the future (administrative fear of dissent, lack of administrative accountability).

  • John Kloosterman
    Posted: Mon, 08/20/2018 01:37 pm

    Grove City grad here.  I was very impressed by the letter published by the Liberty Students expressing their disagreement with Falwell's position.  Whatever the problems with the leadership, it's clear you have a strong community.

  • WILLIAM HUEGEL
    Posted: Thu, 08/16/2018 07:19 pm

    Thank you for this article. A free and independent press is crucial to insure any degree of democracy and a student newspaper deserves the same level of freedom. The excessive reigning in and ultimate dismissal of the staff is disturbing. Christians should be the first to be truth seekers because we serve the One who is the Truth. We have nothing to fear. Instead, as with Liberty, the truth is too often subservient to a predetermined agenda. Undemocratic and unchristian.

  • E Cole
    Posted: Thu, 08/16/2018 08:11 pm

    Well said, Mr. Huegel.

  • phillipW's picture
    phillipW
    Posted: Thu, 08/16/2018 09:31 pm

    This article is great journalism because it tells the truth about a situation as best it could. It would appear that Jerry Falwell is a cross between a Pharisee from Biblical times and a Nazi from Germany during World War II. The Pharisees were more concerned about their reputation then they were about truth. The Nazi’s did an outstanding job of creating propaganda through 100% control of news media and content. 

    The older I get, the angrier I get at authoritarians like Jerry Falwell who grew up under the thumb of a father who never confessed the sin of pride, and had plenty of “whitewashed tombs” in his backyard. Power and lording over these students will only teach them never to trust those in a position of authority over them. You’ve neutered their creativity and zeal for life, all before the age of 22. 

    Shame on you, Mr. Falwell, and shame on you, “Liberty” University!

     

  • CovenantWord
    Posted: Sat, 08/18/2018 10:31 pm

    phillipW: May I suggest that personal accusations are not helpful in this venue?

  • Janet B
    Posted: Fri, 08/17/2018 08:37 am

    An article about a very disturbing trend at Liberty, and an excellent commentary piece on why the trend is disturbing.  Thank you, Mr. Olasky.

  • Joe M
    Posted: Fri, 08/17/2018 08:48 am

    "The purpose of an educational institution is education" Well, maybe if you are a state school. Christian schools now have it a bit more complicated, and also have to be aware of the 'purpose' of simply staying allive. That also means maintaining a healthy PR facade, like it or not. The sudents who have such a problem with Falwell, Jr. have less problem with the financial success he brings to the school.

  • Bob C
    Posted: Fri, 08/17/2018 11:41 am

    What price are supposed believers willing to pay to sacrifice Truth, for mere financial success?  How can a school, in the name of Christ, be even willing to sacrifice Truth?

  • John Kloosterman
    Posted: Mon, 08/20/2018 01:35 pm

    Didn't realize that whitewashing was such an important part of being a Christian.  Rather interesting that you think state schools are free to be honest, but Christian schools are sometimes required to lie.

  • MamaC
    Posted: Fri, 08/17/2018 10:58 am

    Great article! Great summary statement by Mr. Olasky! And great comments by Andy, William, and Phillip! Bravo, WORLD!! Mr. Olasky said, "The purpose of an educational institution is education..." but I think the administration has made it clear that the bottom line is Liberty is a business, a "family business," and that the corporate "image" is key, rather than Mr. Olasky's key: "Is this good for growing us in Christ?"

     

  • MamaC
    Posted: Fri, 08/17/2018 10:13 am

    Since it's a "family business," perhaps they should change the name to Falwell University instead of Liberty. Truth in advertising.

  • KEN & PAM ELLIS
    Posted: Fri, 08/17/2018 10:21 am

    Educational institutions are about educating students? Where have you been the last 20 years? Universities in the US, both public and private, have become businesses. This is clear in this case from Liberty U’s actions and the words of its administrators. It is also clear that the “Champion “ is really just a public relations tool. And , being the owners of said paper, the University  has every right to use it that way, if they choose. Nevertheless, it is a sad time for our country when institutions misrepresent, whether intentionally or not, their true purpose. 

    And for the commentator suggesting a parallel to Nazis: keep your ignorant opinions to yourself. The fact that you don’t like someone does not make them a Nazi. You either have no idea how evil Nazism is and what they did, or you are deliberately playing the leftist libel and slander game. There is nothing going on in this country today that is anything close to what Nazis did in Germany. 

  • Web Editor
    Posted: Fri, 08/17/2018 03:37 pm

    Please feel free to disagree with other commenters but refrain from personal attacks. Please see our website comment policy.

  • John Kloosterman
    Posted: Mon, 08/20/2018 01:38 pm

    At the very least, then, we ought to reclassify Liberty University as no longer a Christian educational firm, but a secular business.  And maybe rebrand it as Falwell University?  I mean, since Liberty is clearly not the main concern.

  • TheAbundantLand
    Posted: Fri, 08/17/2018 10:49 am

    Why hasn’t World run positive articles about the Red-letter Christian movement? Maybe because it is heresy?

    Freedom of the Press means the press is being free from slavery to the Government AND free from the tyranny of an individual’s opinion. The press is free to determine what they print, irrespective of an individual’s desire to print something.

    If World had a staffer who wanted to run an article about the positive economic impacts of abortion, would you let them?

    If World had an editor who wanted to publish a story about the devastation felt by a woman who wants to become a man but the government healthcare refuses to store her eggs, would you publish that?

    No, I don't think so. World, like any other press, has every right to determine what to publish and how to tailor its publication for its audience. This includes the right to determine who to hire to begin with. World doesn’t just let anyone publish anything on their mind!

    Panyard has every right to start a blog or join another organization that fits his liberal values. But he has no right to force his views upon the press – in this case, the University itself. He has no right to highjack their audience for his purposes.

    I am disappointed in World and you specifically Martin for running a hit piece against Liberty University and its staff. You accuse them of tyranny! That’s a pretty tall accusation. Please consider the implications of this article and read James 4:11: “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers”.

  • WILLIAM HUEGEL
    Posted: Fri, 08/17/2018 11:02 am

    The administration of Liberty University is the governing authority of the student newspaper and Jerry Falwell is the individual opinion from which the press should be protected. 

    While the scenarios you have mentioned would certainly be contrary to the views of World, as journalists with integrity they should be willing to follow the facts and investigate. I would be hard-pressed to think that any facts would seriously substantiate those views. Truth will win out. 

    Also, while the account is under the name of William, it is actually me, Deborah, his wife who is responding to this article. I don’t want to get my poor husband in trouble for views that may, or may not represent his own. Especially as he is out of the country and can’t respond on his own behalf.

  • phillipW's picture
    phillipW
    Posted: Fri, 08/17/2018 01:23 pm

    Panyard was not allowed to post his own views on his personal Facebook page, which is virtually the same as a blog.  Liberty shut down his personal views that they didn't approve of.  This is totalitarianism.

    After re-reading this article, it was Schmeig who was condemned for posting a piece on his personal Facebook page, who then resigned later from the paper, due to the way they were treated by the University.  This is Orweilian behavior by "Liberty" University.

  • DAVID CONNON
    Posted: Sat, 08/18/2018 11:17 pm

    The tyranny at Liberty University is evident throughout much of this article.  

  • CovenantWord
    Posted: Sat, 08/25/2018 10:12 am

    Mrs. Huegel: It is true that "[t]he administration of Liberty University is the governing authority of the student newspaper"; however, this governance is not civil, but familial. This difference can be readilty observed in that the students, by and large, are not paying taxes; instead, someone else is funding their tuition. Thus, it is not the First Amendment that applies to this issue, but the Fifth Commandment. The admin of a residential college populated by young, unmarried students is in loco parentis, and as such, sustains a moral right -- indeed a moral obligation -- to exercise final editorial review over material published through the use of school resources. Concomitantly, the Fifth Commandment imposes wide-ranging responsibilities upon the parental authority itself, including avoiding the following:

    The sins of superiors are . . . inordinate seeking of . . . their own glory, . . . dissuading, discouraging, or discountenancing [inferiors] in that which is good; correcting them unduly; provoking them to wrath; or any way dishonouring themselves, or lessening their authority, by an unjust, indiscreet, rigorous, or remiss behaviour. (Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 130)

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Cyborg3
    Posted: Tue, 08/28/2018 01:40 am

    Thank you the AbundantLand, I couldn’t agree more! Jerry Falwell was a major player in fighting the cultural battle going all the way back to the 80’s.  It is so sad that many ignorant youth today don’t show him the respect that he deserves! 

  • KIRSTEN LEBLANC
    Posted: Fri, 08/17/2018 10:48 am

    As one who has watched Catholic universities morph into unbibilical enclaves, I applaud the leadership at Liberty University for sticking to their principles.  A school newspaper should celebrate the university's achievements and inform students about events and activities.  Many of us Christians are desperate for a sanctuary for our students where they can celebrate the joys of being in the midst of fellow Christians.  If a student doesn't like the polcies of a specific Christian school, he or she can attend hundreds of other schools that share his or her worldview; so few remain that are havens for those who wish to be immersed in a Christian-friendly college.  This reminds me of people who wish to change a specific denomination to fit their ideal rather than join a denomination that already represents it.  LIberty means the ability to choose one's path.  The university is aptly named.

  • TheAbundantLand
    Posted: Fri, 08/17/2018 10:52 am

    Amen Kirsten! The number of Christian institutions willing to resist conforming to this world is steadily shrinking. They deserve our support!

  • John Kloosterman
    Posted: Mon, 08/20/2018 01:44 pm

    Ah, so "free speech" actually means "freedom to take your speech somewhere else." Also, "Liberty" means the ability to choose one's path--unless one works for a newspaper, in which case one should find a different path.  Didn't realize.

    It's absolutely bewildering to me that so many commenters here are supporting Fallwell's behavior.  All the talk about "fake news" and the decrying of how the press kowtowed to Obama back in the day... but let's not teach our children that.  Let's teach our children that they shouldn't be a Daniel and should just accept orders.

  • AlanE
    Posted: Fri, 08/17/2018 11:51 am

    It is essentially Jerry Falwell, Jr.'s university and he can run it how he wants. And people can--and probably should--stay away in droves if they see red flags with how it is run. His tight-grip control over the school newspaper will undoubtedly be a red flag to many.

    I disagree a little, though, with the comment above about the campus newspaper that read "A school newspaper should celebrate the university's achievements and inform students about events and activities." Um, no, that might be the job of the school's public relations office, but shouldn't really be the job of the school newspaper. That would make the PR office and the school newspaper essentially redundant and, worse, would teach the students nothing about journalism. That Falwell has, in effect, made it so at Liberty tells us something important about Liberty. 

    I'm certain that balancing the rights and responsibilities of a student newspaper is always a difficult thing, but to the extent that the article above is accurate, Falwell is way too sensitive about what gets published in the school newspaper. If you're thinking about attending Liberty, that's one fact you should know in advance.

    I certainly wouldn't attend a church where any dissenting voices are handled in similar fashion.

  • altolibrarian
    Posted: Fri, 08/17/2018 12:37 pm

    Interesting the first thing that pops up when I logged in to comment was: "Note: Your comment may be delayed and require action by the moderator if our filters detect possible objectionable content."  So World can filter our comments but Liberty University is slammed for filtering its OWN publication?  I am not that familiar with Liberty but I can perceive a one-sided article when I read it.  Has anyone interviewed the other side involved in this horrible injustice?  It's natural for college kids to push the limits, but it's incumbent on Christian institutions and authority figures (parents, pastors, etc.) to have those limits.  If the adults in the room don't hold the line we all lose and the gospel is compromised.  I don't doubt there are problems at Liberty and those should be called out in the proper forum.  But to be told that because there are limits on a school newspaper editorial staff the institution is practicing Journalistic Slavery?  Ridiculous.

  • phillipW's picture
    phillipW
    Posted: Fri, 08/17/2018 01:26 pm

    You apparently have a reading comprehension problem.

    From the article, "Through Liberty Communications Director Len Stevens, WORLD repeatedly requested interviews with Jerry Falwell Jr., faculty adviser Huff, and Bruce Kirk, dean of the School of Communication and Digital Content, but they all declined the opportunity."

  • Web Editor
    Posted: Fri, 08/17/2018 03:39 pm

    Please feel free to disagree with other commenters but refrain from personal attacks. Please see our website comment policy.

  • BosLarJazz's picture
    BosLarJazz
    Posted: Fri, 08/17/2018 05:41 pm

    Perhaps the Champion needs to be more correctly labelled a PR instrument and then Dean Kirk can make that plain rather than confusing the message that his program and the experience expected to be gained from working on the paper should be called "journalism." I can understand and applaud if the the school wants to teach its students to present both sides of the story, and then the editorial section can weigh in from a biblical perspective. That would be useful and informative, but they might as well reduce the Champion to a brochure because it is no longer a news paper in the classic sense and it no longer represents a free press.

  • John Kloosterman
    Posted: Mon, 08/20/2018 01:46 pm

    Also, the university should probably drop the "Liberty" moniker.

  • OldMike
    Posted: Fri, 08/17/2018 05:47 pm

    Every media organization has an owner, and it’s the owner’s right to decide what viewpoints and events are covered. Doesn’t matter if it’s Washington Post, World News, or Jerry Jr’s student  newspaper. 

    But I agree that appearances matter, and the way Jr. is handling this does not look so great. Still, his right. 

  • Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Fri, 08/17/2018 09:39 pm

    His right, but not right.  Optics is secondary.

  • John Kloosterman
    Posted: Mon, 08/20/2018 01:46 pm

    Brendan, amen to that.

  • Lukemags
    Posted: Fri, 08/17/2018 08:44 pm

    Fascinating read. I have friends who graduated from Liberty and love the school. I support the work they do and hope they continue to succeed.

    But we ought not be upset when WORLD runs an article that negatively reflects on an institution, person, or political candidate that we support. Truth is truth, and we should "exhort one another daily", even if that means genlty confronting a wrong. I have found the journalists at WORLD to be willing to admit their mistakes, and I hope Liberty and Jerry Fallwell are willing to do the same. The evidence in this article is concerning, and hopefully will sharpen the school to continue in their mission to advance the kingdom of God.

     

  • WILLIAM VICKERY
    Posted: Fri, 08/17/2018 10:13 pm

    I went to school for journalism many years ago. One of the recurring themes in my classes, and in writing for the school newspaper, was to write objectively and to be aware of personal biases that creep into journalistic writing. Journalism is about reporting the news. And, yes, I get the current state of journalism and the lack of objectivity. It is disappointing that Liberty treats its newspaper with the same lack of objective reporting. 

    Simply put, this is not a newspaper. It should be advertised as a school publication that is used as a public outreach. Then people could read it for what it really is - a conflict-free magazine about Liberty. 

  • Thomas Peck
    Posted: Sat, 08/18/2018 05:29 am

    I am a little puzzled by the need for this article.  If I were on the newsletter committee at work I would have no trouble with the CEO okaying articles to be printed.  The same would be true of a club or even a church - the publication is to provide important information and promote the good of the organization.

    That is what Liberty wants for its newspaper - an opportunity for the honing of writing skills and something that will provide important information, and the CEO has every right to determine the parameters, just like the editors at World have every right to okay or nix a particular article as germane to the purpose of the publication. 

    This is not censorship or impeding the free press - it is making a mountain out of a molehill.

  • John Kloosterman
    Posted: Mon, 08/20/2018 01:50 pm

    Not certain about the church example.  If the minister of a church were making demands about what the newsletter published about him, or demanding that it print only things in favor of, say, a particular theological viewpoint, that would be problematic.

    What's also problematic is the candid admission that Liberty University is a business.  Generally there's an understanding that an educational institution should be dedicated to the pursuit of truth, not money.  Certainly one would expect a Christian university to aspire to it. 

  • Steve M
    Posted: Sat, 08/18/2018 11:54 am

    Thank you for this excellent article, I feel that I have gained insight into how the world of journalism generally, and appreciate that the warts are reported without demonization of the parties. 

  • Allen Johnson
    Posted: Sat, 08/18/2018 02:48 pm

    The biblical prophets are our example on how dissent is handled within institutional settings. Typically they are stoned, demeaned, or exiled. A challenge for the Church of today, whether a congregation, denomination, para-church group, or school, is whether prophetic voices are permitted and listened to who critique the particular institution.
    It is clear from this article that Jerry Falwell will not allow prophetic voices to challenge policy and ideology/theology/practice, whether from Red Letter folks or editorial staff.  The prophets are to judge the prophets, not the vested gatekeepers of their institutions.

  • Vista48
    Posted: Sat, 08/18/2018 03:40 pm

    While I don't agree with Falwell censoring articles, or requiring students to state their voting intentions, I also don't understand why the Champion staffers would be "dismayed" that Falwell supported Trump. Is it not his right to support whom he desires? Would it have been percieved differently had he supported Clinton? For all the blathering I hear of tolerance and inclusiveness, very few seem to understand what those terms actually mean. 

  • Peter Allen's picture
    Peter Allen
    Posted: Sat, 08/18/2018 04:09 pm

    The fortune 500 company I work for has "news" publications and press releases (public relations focused).  Everything is vetted for the good for the organization.  Of course, if something illegal was going on some of us may decide to approach other news agencies, or State and Federal commissions to look into it.  Point being I do not expect the Liberty paper to be anything but an arm of the organization.  I assume most graduates of such journalism / communications programs will end up in corporations anyway, and not in the shrinking independent news publication industry where oh so much is copied and repeated vs. being personally investigative.  Point being the oversight they experienced is good training.  Welcome to the world of the large organization / corporation.  

  • John Kloosterman
    Posted: Mon, 08/20/2018 01:54 pm

    And so as Christians we ought to simply accept this?  Say it's not only the way things are, but the way things ought to be?  More to the point, even in business, should we be teaching our children that they ought to just fold to whatever the boss wishes, even if it conflicts with their religious and political ideals.

    Then too there is the question of Falwell's behavior as a Christian.  Is it Christian to use one's position to squash other's opinions?  Should a Christian allow his desire for a "good image" and the money that comes with it to push him into enforcing silence on his followers?

  • Kevin Altman
    Posted: Sat, 08/18/2018 08:50 pm

    “[W]e’re not a...public relations organ.”  I interpreted Jerry Falwell Jr.’s and Bruce Kirk’s statements/sentiments to suggest that they wanted the school newspaper to function as a “public relations organ.”  Shame on me for not condemning them and calling for their public humiliation and excoriation, but I just don’t see the scandal here.

    It would give me pause if the administration exhorted journalism students and graduates to go out into the world AFTER they left Liberty and ignore their journalistic responsibilities so they could continuously sing the praises of Liberty University.  However, I think this is completely different.  Perhaps I’m just too crass or scandal-fatigued to be alarmed, but it seems like the administration wants the paper to serve as a marketing tool for the university.  

    Perhaps this could have been avoided by making it clear from the beginning that the primary purpose of the paper was to market the university.  Would that be wrong?  Don’t universities have marketing departments? [Note: I am not an academic, nor am I a journalist, nor am I affiliated in any way with Liberty University and I’m not an alumnus of the school.]

    As someone who does not have a dog in this fight, I think this story was unnecessarily alarmist.  To quote Phillip Johnson, “[Certain groups of people] love to see themselves as embattled dissenters.”  I guess that’s just more sexy than doing the boring, arduous work of promoting the institution with which they have voluntarily chosen to associate themselves.  

    Here’s a suggestion for these students: go off campus and start your own paper.  Be leaders instead of whiners, be entrepreneurs instead of victims.  

  • John Kloosterman
    Posted: Mon, 08/20/2018 01:58 pm

    What does it say to tell students: "Do this in the world--but not here."?  How responsible--how reliable is it to say: "be sure to stick to integrity and tell the truth objectively, just not as long as you're working for us."?  How seriously can we expect our children to take us if we say: "Don't force your beliefs on anyone else, but you WILL stick to my beliefs."?  Fallwell is exhibiting hypocrisy of the highest order here, and all he's likely to teach kids by this behavior is that Christians think the news OUGHT to be biased.

  • Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Sat, 08/18/2018 10:15 pm

    Jesus called himself the Truth, and the Holy Spirit the "Spirit of truth."  So why would a university that promises to train "Champions for Christ" censor good reporting?

  • CovenantWord
    Posted: Sat, 08/18/2018 11:09 pm

    The First Amendment does not prohibit the vetting of journalistic expression by ownership of media outlets, but rather the governmental censorship of citizen political opinion. The Ninth Commandment does not require "balanced" journalism, it prohibits the propogation of falsehood. Academic integrity does not require conformity to an externally generated standard of objectivity, but faithfulness to the ethos the leadership has determined to be most supportive of learning. Accordingly, the university is under no legal, moral, or academic necessity to tolerate publication of information or opinions the administration deems objectionable through media it sustains. That being said, I would advise an inquiring student to seek a university that encourages civil discourse of differences of opinion, while maintaining the authority of moral structure -- none too easy a task.

  • Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Sun, 08/19/2018 08:56 pm

    Liberty University wants the Champion to be a propaganda organ.  Propaganda organs naturally propagate falsehood by covering embarrassing facts.

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Cyborg3
    Posted: Tue, 08/28/2018 02:30 am

    Great response CovenantWord. The Christian University has every right to decide how much freedom to allow journalists reporting from the school newspaper. Here are some reasons why the Christian University would want to regulate the newspaper:

    1) Allowing the paper to promote heresy would not promote the Christian vision of the organization. What if a reporter thought they were a prophet teaching a new way to God? Should the Christian University allow the “freedom of the press”? Certainly not!

    2) If the Christian University sought to promote a conservative political view, why would they allow a liberal Christian to hijack their newspaper promoting a liberal view?

    3) If the reporter was promoting division within the university, then the leadership would need to censor the journalist. 

    4) If a reporter was giving the university a bad name, then the leadership would need to step in and censor the reporter, since the goal of the newspaper is to give the students a voice and to advocate for the university. Here, the Christian University would need to balance this by giving some editorial freedom but not allow the damage of the universities image. This takes wisdom to balance!

  • CovenantWord
    Posted: Sun, 08/19/2018 11:17 pm

    Brendan Bossard: Many and various institutions publish newsletters intended to burnish image, with no pretense of objectivity, yet they are not commonly understood to be "propaganda" in the vicious political sense; because those who disagree are free to express alternate opinions elsewhere and because the informed reader will take into account the nature and purpose of the publication. You raise a good point, however, about the imperative of truthfulness, that the revamped newspaper should be clearly presented as vetted by administration, rather than implied to be unfettered student opinion.

  • Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Mon, 08/20/2018 11:40 pm

    From above:

    "In October 2016, The Washington Post released a 2005 recording of Trump describing advances he’d made on women. Sports editor Joel Schmieg wrote a column for the Champion criticizing Trump’s locker room talk, but Falwell told Schmieg’s editor not to run it. Falwell said the newspaper had one article about Trump that week, so Schmieg’s piece was redundant.

    "Frustrated, Schmieg posted it on his Facebook page, and Champion graduate assistant Nate Haywood approached Schmieg on behalf of Champion adviser Deborah Huff, warning him not to do anything like that again. Instead, Schmieg resigned: 'I didn’t feel comfortable being told what I couldn’t write about by President Falwell.'"

    Schmieg was not allowed to express his opinion elsewhere.  Pres. Falwell, who has been a vocal supporter of Trump since during the 2016 primaries, had a conflict of interest.  This is the way propaganda works.

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Mon, 08/20/2018 06:50 am

    What bothers me the most about this is the firing of the students. A firing by any other name is still a firing. How this situation was handled along with the implications of losing scholarships and other fallout, intended or not, concerns me a lot. It seems, though I’m not sure of all of the “facts” presented, that this could have been handled better.

    I do know a bit about the university and was recently there and have been many times over the last few years. There is much to wonder about and of concern. And yet there is also a lot to be excited about and some great graduates going into the world with a desire to honor Jesus in what they do.  

    Having attended a Christian college that had been a Bible institute and then in time lost much of its Christian perspective and influence reminds me of the challenges of the balancing act of being a liberal arts college in this world. How do you do it and retain Christian core values and belief? It is a tightrope walk to be sure. One can only hope that LU can stay on the rope and not fall into the abyss as my college did and had to close its doors.

    I also must add that World has a penchant for taking the side of people over institutions and organizations. So I’m not completely convinced of the balance and perspective presented here. I’ve seen editorial bias and misrepresentation before so will not accept this as the final word.

  • CovenantWord
    Posted: Mon, 08/20/2018 09:32 am

    This article helpfully reports (pending a possible response from aministration) that the apparently ham-handed newspaper revamp raises questions about the kind of education LU intends to offer. Nonetheless, I hold that that the proffered alternative premise, that the absence of slavery constitutes freedom, is not a biblical proposition. The British national anthem notwithstanding, all men are slaves to the set of principles, the entities, persons, or beings to whom they ascribe the highest authority. (See Psalm 115, especially verses 8 and 18. Also, the Apostle Paul advertises himself as the slave of Christ.) The question is not, therefore, whether we are slaves, but which slavery will conduce genuine freedom. In the public high school where I labor, the spirit of teaching in all subjects (other than STEM) encourages the students to express their (generally uninformed) opinions, which are deemed good by the mere fact that the individual student holds them. As a result, most of our graduates are woefully weak in rhetoric, logic, and even reading comprehension. On a larger scale, the modern insistence on the right of absolute uncensored journalism has resulted in a field dismayingly unmoored to civil discourse. The student who aspires to a career in journalism must learn how to disagree respectfully with others, even with his own publisher. This means -- this requires -- authoritative intervention from faculty, and, yes, even from admin. The respectful expression of thoughtful opinion is a flower that must be carefully cultivated, for it does not bloom naturally.  Granted, admin's exercising comprehensive authority over publication does not stimulate this invaluable skill; but, then, neither does comprehensive student authority.

    I am glad to note that Mr. Olasky's addendum, "Against Journalistic Slavery," softens the article's apparent premise in the direction I advocate herein.

  • MTJanet
    Posted: Mon, 08/20/2018 05:19 pm

    Completely unimpressed, unsurprised and undismayed by LU administrators making decisions about what goes in their paper and what does not.  The problem here is how they handled the students, and hopefully they will do better going forward.  

  • Bob C
    Posted: Wed, 08/22/2018 03:48 pm

    I think the efforts to get more control the campus newspaper are fine. But Mr. Falwell and the administration went about it in a very unchristian way.  The school has achieved amazing growth and I expect they have goals for more. But they face challenges with a generally falling student population. From 2011 to 2016 the population of 18 to 24 years olds shrank from 31.1 to 30.8 million. The student population shrank from 21.0 to 20.2 million over the same period.  The Liberty “On Campus” student population grew from 7,066 to 8,105 in that same time period. So Liberty has been growing in light of a shrinking population of available students.  Mr. Falwell is apparently very concerned about any bad press.  But thanks to the reporters at WORLD Magazine, Liberty is being held accountable, at lease to some degree, for abusing the students who were on the newspaper staff.

  • KEITH WADLEY
    Posted: Fri, 08/24/2018 02:10 pm

    There is a disconnect in what the students thought they were being hired to do.  Falwell Jr. is not doing anything illegal or unethical as far as the purpose of the publication is concerned.  Firing two people and disguising it as restructuring was not Christ-like though.  

    There are several comments that think this is about free speech.  The paper has a purpose per Falwell Jr. it was "established to champion the interests of the university, disseminate information about happenings on Liberty’s campus, as well as the positive impacts of Liberty in the community and beyond. And as such, the publisher of the publication, which is the university, is responsible for content decisions, to find stories to be covered by Championpersonnel and makes all of the calls on the articles, photographs and other content."  

    I am not sure why they would have any articles on Trump in the publication based on that statement.  

    We don't have enough details about the Facebook posting of the article on Trump that was not allowed into the publication.  The student being told to not do it again or there would be consequences, may be because of how the post was presented.  We need more information before making a judgment there.  

    I would rather have seen an article on our foreign policy and corporate partnerships with Saudi Arabi are putting soldiers, sailors, and airmen in harms way in Yemen, Libya, and Syria.  LU has a school newspaper that is really a marketing publication.  They just need to fix their job descriptions for the students and clearly define the boundaries for what can go into the publication.  

  • Kenneth B
    Posted: Sat, 08/25/2018 08:12 am

    Thanks to WORLD's editor team for running this article. You surely realized that it might tick off a sizable portion of your subscriber base but you ran it anyway. (WORLD's reporting on Trump's campaign had the same gutsiness.) That's why I like reading WORLD-- thoughtful, honest opinions from fellow Christians regardless of possible consequences.

  • MamaC
    Posted: Mon, 08/27/2018 08:55 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree! 

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Cyborg3
    Posted: Tue, 08/28/2018 02:53 am

    There is nothing gutsy about advocating a foolish political stance harming the candidate who was best promoting and benefiting Christians. Now some idealistic and foolish youth may say the Christian cause would be benefited best by Hillary Clinton being elected, but I would only laugh given what Trump has achieved. Would you trade Trump’s judicial picks for Hillary’s? I hope we are smarter than that! 

  • JIM FEDAKO
    Posted: Sun, 09/02/2018 04:55 pm

    Marvin,

    "Journalistic slavery"? Really. It is a very Derrida-esque use of "slavery." Do you really term conformance to work policies "journalistic slavery"? Is so, then what term do you use for chattel slavery?

    Also, that you have not had a story "killed" at WORLD is more proof that you have not challenged implicit policies than proof there are no policies.

    Jim Fedako