Top Virginia Official Hits CBS With $400M Defamation Suit

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – In a $400 million defamation lawsuit filed Thursday, Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax claims news giant CBS defamed him when it aired a segment featuring what he says are unsubstantiated claims of sexual assault from two women he encountered over 15 years ago.

Virginia Lt. Gov Justin Fairfax looks over a briefing book prior to the start of a Senate session in Richmond, Va., on Feb. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Filed in Alexandria, Virginia, federal court, the lieutenant governor’s 51-page complaint alleges CBS’s airing of interviews with Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson damaged his reputation, caused significant emotional distress and was little more than a ploy to sanitize CBS’s own name in light of its own sexual assault scandals.

“That CBS chose to air these false claims of sexual assault is not surprising. Since 2017, CBS has been publicly excoriated with its own #MeToo scandals involving several high ranking figures at the network including CBS This Morning co-anchor Charlie Rose, former CBS News chairman and executive producer of 60 Minutes Jeff Fager and former CEO Les Moonves,” the complaint states.

Represented by Sara Kropf of the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Kropf Moseley, Fairfax argues “CBS This Morning” host Gayle King, who interviewed Tyson and Watson, failed to apply the most basic of journalistic standards during the interview.

“CBS intentionally did not ask Watson and Tyson basic factual questions meant to pressure test the veracity of their allegations. Instead, it went into the stories with a preconceived narrative in mind, that Fairfax was guilty, and did everything possible to make sure the aired interviews were consistent with that narrative,” Kropf wrote in the complaint.

For instance, during Watson’s April 2 interview with King, she never mentioned there was an eyewitness in the room during their sexual encounter at Duke University in 2000. This, the governor argues, is particularly frustrating because as recently as February, Fairfax and the eyewitness discussed their mutual recollection of his encounter with Watson and it was identical.

Further, Fairfax says that information was shared with a lawyer at CBS who was either “unable to prevent CBS from airing the Watson interview” or refused to take any steps to stop the interview from going live, according to the lawsuit.

As for Fairfax’s interaction with Tyson during the Democratic National Convention in 2004, he disputes her claim of choking or gagging during oral sex. Instead, the complaint says the interaction was “unambiguously” consensual and a one-night fling “not uncommon” during the major political event.

The allegations from the women also surfaced at a critical time in his political career, Fairfax contends.

Elected lieutenant governor in November 2017, Fairfax was only the second black man ever elected to statewide office in Virginia and as lieutenant he was first in line to assume Governor Ralph Northam’s job should he be unable to serve.

Two years into Northam’s term, the governor was embroiled in a scandal of his own. He was purportedly caught in either blackface or a Ku Klux Klan hood in a medical school yearbook photo but the governor refused to step down.

The CBS interview shortly followed, sullied Fairfax’s name and hurt his chances for the governorship, a spot he was considered a top contender for in 2021, the lawsuit alleges.

A spokesperson from CBS said Thursday the network stands by its reporting.

Debra Katz, Vanessa Tyson’s attorney, told CNN on Thursday that Fairfax’s “threats” and “bullying” would not deter Tyson from speaking up.

“She looks forward to testifying under oath to the Virginia General Assembly about Mr. Fairfax’s sexual assault of her,” Katz said.

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