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Pursuit of coronavirus story has Liberty University pressing charges against two journalists
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NEW YORK — Liberty University has pushed for criminal trespassing charges against two journalists who pursued stories about why the evangelical college in Virginia has remained partially open during the coronavirus outbreak.
The college, in Lynchburg, Virginia, is led by Jerry Falwell Jr., a supporter of President Donald Trump who has suggested coverage of the epidemic was overblown. Falwell said the university is conducting classes online and obeying social distancing directives.
But he said he has kept the campus open for international students and those with nowhere else to go. On Thursday, there were about 1,000 students living on campus, roughly one-eighth of its normal residential population.
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After stories were written saying Liberty's decision caused concerns in the community, the university pursued charges against Alec MacGillis, a reporter for ProPublica, and Julia Rendleman, a photographer who illustrated a March 29 story in The New York Times.
Virginia Magistrate Kang Lee signed arrest warrants for Class 1 Misdemeanors against the two journalists, punishable by up to a year in jail. It's up to Lynchburg Commonwealth’s Attorney Bethany Harrison to decide whether to prosecute, and she said Thursday she hasn't seen any details on the case.
Liberty's security forces investigated the journalists following publication of their articles, collecting witness accounts that they were on campus without permission, Falwell said.