Todd Starnes, the best-selling author and host of the “Todd Starnes Radio Show” slammed the New York Times for labeling him a “far-right conspiracy theorist” in a “straight news” article meant to criticize Liberty University’s decision to reopen after spring break.
Jerry Falwell Jr., the school’s president, was interviewed by Starnes last week about his decision and said other universities were wrong to just close their doors on students in need of a place to stay. He said the school was under attack because it is conservative and Christian.
Starnes took umbrage with the paper’s description of his ideology.
“I guess we should not be surprised that The New York Times has once again been caught trying to spread fake news,” Starnes said. “What is especially appalling and egregious is that Elizabeth Williamson is supposed to be a news reporter. She offered no evidence to back up her claim. It was a deliberate smear against Liberty University and me.”
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He wrote that “in that spirit, I guess we could surmise that Ms. Williamson is a Christ-hating, leftwing bigot.”
Falwell has said the media is misrepresenting what is occurring at the school. Politico reported that he told the Virginia school’s news service last week that the university only allowed students to return to their dorms and wrap up the semester by using online courses.
“We think Liberty’s practices will become the model for all colleges to follow in the fall, if coronavirus is still an issue,” he said, according to the report. Falwell also said that there will be accommodations for older faculty who may be at greater risk for the virus.
The new coronavirus has upended the way of life for Americans and there is no end in sight. Health experts have stressed that one of the most important ways to fight the virus—since there is no cure or vaccine—is to stop the spread.
So state and local governments have taken the initiative to shut down businesses and other venues where there could be a large group. Churches across the U.S. have said they have been unfairly targeted at a time followers need spiritual nourishment in a scary and challenging time.
Falwell has said the criticism he faced has been unfair.
“I think we have a responsibility to our students — who paid to be here, who want to be here, who love it here — to give them the ability to be with their friends, to continue their studies, enjoy the room and board they’ve already paid for and to not interrupt their college life,” Falwell told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He continued, “Ninety-nine percent of them are not at the age to be at risk and they don’t have conditions that put them at risk.”
Still, Falwell has faced criticism for his decision for reopening the Lynchburg campus. Gov. Ralph Northam criticized the evangelical school with 46,000 undergraduates and said Falwell should look to other universities to see how to set a strong example in this health crisis and to please reconsider, according to the Associated Press.
The school responded in a statement saying that health inspectors found no violations during an unannounced inspection last week.
“Our students are part of the Lynchburg community!” the school said in a statement. “They work jobs, have apartments, make economic contributions and pay taxes. That they should be banned or discouraged from choosing to utilize the shelter and food sources that they paid for in a time of crisis is unthinkable.”
The New York Times, citing a doctor from the school’s health service, reported that by Friday nearly a dozen students have symptoms of COVID-19.
“Liberty will be notifying the community as deemed appropriate and required by law,” Falwell said in an interview Sunday, according to the Times.