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Reporters Committee statement on Liberty University defamation lawsuit against New York Times

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‘Liberty University's lawsuit is an affront to the First Amendment,’ RCFP Legal Director Katie Townsend said.
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Liberty University filed a lawsuit against the New York Times and two of its journalists on Wednesday over a story reporting that students at the Virginia school contracted COVID-19 after the university partially re-opened campus amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In response to the lawsuit, Katie Townsend, legal director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, made the following statement:

“This lawsuit is an affront to the First Amendment and the guarantee of a free press. It’s clearly intended to harass journalists and a news organization simply for reporting on the impact of Liberty University’s decision to partially reopen during a pandemic.

“People across the country are relying on the news media for accurate, critical information about how institutions are responding to COVID-19, and journalists and news organizations should not have to face retaliation or threats of criminal penalties for fulfilling that responsibility.”

The lawsuit comes four months after Liberty University Police filed arrest warrants for ProPublica reporter Alec MacGillis and Rendleman, claiming they trespassed on university property. The Reporters Committee issued a statement condemning the criminal trespassing charges, which were later dismissed by a local prosecutor.


The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.