Another bizarre twist in the Jerry Falwell Jr. story came Tuesday when the Liberty University president accused former board members and employees of an “attempted coup.”
That claim came a day after a long, negative Politico piece on Falwell quoted two dozen anonymous sources characterized as “current and former high-ranking Liberty University officials and close associates of Falwell.”
How bad are things for Falwell and Liberty?
Well, both of their official Twitter accounts tweeted my GetReligion post from Monday in which I declared, “Sorry, but Politico's long exposé on Jerry Falwell Jr. lacks adequate named sources to be taken seriously.”
If you missed that post, you really should read it before finishing this one. What I am about to say will make much more sense with that background in mind. Also, that post has generated a lot of good discussion along with a few typical troll comments from people who obviously didn’t take time to read what I wrote.
After all, my post was no fan letter to Falwell.
Certainly, it should be stressed, too, that Politico’s piece contains a fair amount of on-the-record material that seems to support its case that Falwell is a greedy hypocrite more in love with power and politics than a crucified savior who washed people’s feet.
But as an old-school journalist, I just can’t get past the lack of sourcing.
Back to Thursday’s news: The Associated Press has a solid straight news report on the latest:
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. said Tuesday that he is asking the FBI to investigate what he called a “criminal” smear campaign orchestrated against him by several disgruntled former board members and employees.
Falwell told The Associated Press he has evidence that the group improperly shared emails belonging to the university with reporters in an attempt to discredit him. He said the “attempted coup” was partially motivated by his ardent backing of President Donald Trump.
Falwell, head of the nation’s most high-profile evangelical college, was among the earliest Christian conservatives to endorse Trump’s campaign.
His allegations come after the publication of a story in Politico Magazine on Monday that alleged Falwell “presides over a culture of self-dealing” at Liberty that has improperly benefited him and his family. The story cited unnamed sources described as current and former officials or Falwell associates.
“I’m not going to dignify the lies that were reported yesterday with a response, but I am going to the authorities and I am going to civil court,” Falwell said, referring to the reporter as a “little boy.”
Those reading closely will notice that Falwell blames the purported coup on “former” board members and employees, while the Politico story identified a number of its anonymous sources as “current” employees. Politico’s identification of those quoted pointed to “a trusted adviser to Falwell,” “a senior university official with inside knowledge,” a “current high-level employee of the school,” etc. So is Falwell maintaining that the coup is from the outside — or does he believe inside forces are involved, too?
Meanwhile, Politico published an update Tuesday related to photos of Falwell at a Miami nightclub.
One day after POLITICO published a piece in which Jerry Falwell Jr. denied visiting a Miami Beach nightclub in July 2014 and alleged that any images showing such were “photo-shopped,” a new trove of photos showing Falwell at the club has been released.
Seth Browarnik, the owner of World Red Eye, a photography company that documents Miami’s bustling nightlife scene, says he was unaware how many photos he had of Falwell until Falwell alleged that his site’s images were manipulated—prompting Browarnik to explore his photo archive to prove otherwise.
On Twitter, Falwell responded:
The story prompted this response from one reader:
Pay attention out there, folks.
As with many red-hot stories mixing politics and religion in the Trump era, there’s a lot of noise — some of it helpful, some of it not — on both sides of the Falwell story.
My advice remains the same: Rely most heavily on on-the-record sources, documents and facts. Be careful about accepting as the gospel truth undocumented statements and claims, especially from those who decline to be named.