The Daily Beast and the Richmond Times-Dispatch report that Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr. is again drawing criticism for pulling an anti-Trump column in the student newspaper and defends his actions by saying the column’s content was “redundant” in comparison with a letter to the editor run in the same issue.
The column deletion comes on the heels of a statement against Trump and criticizing Falwell, released last week and signed by more than 2,500 students (see Cafe post here).
From the Times-Dispatch:
“It’s all just a joke that it got any attention whatsoever, and that’s why I got kind of mad on Twitter last night because it was much ado about nothing,” Falwell said in an interview.
“The story that we ran was much stronger than the redundant one that we deleted,” he said, calling it “more anti-Trump and pro-Hillary.”
The pulled column was written by the paper’s sports editor:
…Joel Schmieg, the sports editor for the Liberty Champion, the university’s official newspaper, said Falwell’s explanation “seems to have some holes.”
“My column runs in the same spot on the same page every week. It has been there all semester. By pulling the column, I was forced to fill space in the sports section,” he said in an email.
The other piece the newspaper ran about Trump “was a letter to the editor endorsing Hillary. That should not be something that keeps a weekly column from a staff editor from running,” he said.
The column that did not run addresses the 2005 tape in which Trump talks in vulgar terms about how he has groped women he finds beautiful.
An excerpt from Schmieg’s column, reproduced in the Daily Beast:
The things that come out of a man’s mouth when his guard is down is probably what is in his heart.
With that said, everyone deserves forgiveness for things that seem to be in the past. But in this instance, the words said do not seem to truly be in the past. He was never accosted for his atrocious words. And most importantly, it seems the words spoken are par for the course.
Donald Trump may have issued an apology for the words he said, but the fact that he can brush them off with a description of “locker room talk,” tells me that he does not believe what he said is truly bad. It tells me that this man says things like this all the time, because it is casual talk to him.
Ladies, please hear me when I say the words spoken by Trump are not normal. That is not what decent men talk about. Not even in high school. You mean so much more than that, and you deserve so much better than that.
The Times-Dispatch answers questions of editorial control in its reporting:
As for the editorial authority he holds over the student newspaper — unusual at the college level — Falwell said that he reviews content because the university is the owner and publisher of the Liberty Champion.
“The students are not the publishers of the newspaper,” he said. “Liberty has full editorial control over the newspaper.”
Asked for comment, Sarah Rodriguez, the paper’s editor-in-chief, said in an email that “as a student newspaper of a private university, we at the Liberty Champion submit to the authority of the university in our publishing of the weekly paper.”
In its guide for the private school press, the Student Press Law Center, an advocate for student First Amendment rights, notes that private institutions “are not generally subject to the limitations imposed by the First Amendment.”
An email thread posted by the website Refined Right includes a message Monday from Rodriguez responding to a request she said she had received to send Falwell “all the political stories we are running.” She said she was sending all but “our coverage of Gary Johnson’s convocation speech from this morning because the story is still being worked on.”
Falwell replied that “only one column about Trump’s videotape should run,” and at first he suggests pulling the letter written by a medical student.
“On second thought, keep the column by the medical student and get rid of the one by the student athlete about the videotape,” he responds later.
Falwell verified the emails but said it is not the case that he reviews all political stories, only opinion articles to make sure they cannot be misinterpreted as representing the position of the university.