Justin Fairfax, the lieutenant governor of Virginia, filed a $400 million defamation lawsuit against CBS on Thursday after the network aired two interviews with women who accused him of sexual assault.
Gayle King interviewed the two women, Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, for airing on CBS This Morning. Fairfax contends that “both encounters were entirely consensual.”
In the lawsuit, Fairfax claims that the network had access to information indicating that the that the accusations were false, but the network “recklessly disregarded whether what Watson and Tyson were saying was, in fact, true.”
Fairfax “filed this lawsuit so that he can fight these allegations in a court of law, with the protections of due process, and on a level playing field.”
CBS News issued a statement in response to the lawsuit. “We stand by our reporting and we will vigorously defend this lawsuit.”
The women came forward just as it looked like Gov. Ralph Northam would step down in the midst of a scandal over whether he wore blackface in a photo for a yearbook during his years in medical school. But he refused to resign. Fairfax also has remained in office, but his lawsuit claims that “his once promising career and political prospects have been severely harmed by the reckless airing of these false allegations.”
The women described the alleged assaults in graphic detail in interviews that aired on CBS in April.
The lawsuit was filed in the Eastern District of Virginia. Read it here.
In the complaint, Fairfax claims that Watson and Tyson’s allegations were “politically motivated,” and an effort to prevent him from becoming the state’s next governor.
The lawsuit claims that both women have resisted independent law enforcement investigations of their allegations.
Tyson said that Fairfax sexually assaulted her during an encounter at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Watson claims that he raped her in 2000, when they were both students at Duke University.
Fairfax contends that the network ran the interviews “despite having ample opportunity and resources to investigate the veracity of their stories. CBS also had information before and after publishing these defamatory interviews indicating that both allegations had not been corroborated by any independent investigation.”
He claims that King and the CBS This Morning team “intentionally failed to investigate leads” that Fairfax provided to them that “would have placed the truthfulness of Watson’s and Tyson’s stories in serious doubt.”
The lawsuit ties CBS’s decision to air the interviews to the networks “own MeToo scandals,” involving former CBS This Morning co-anchor Charlie Rose, former 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager and former CEO Les Moonves.
“Upon information and belief, in the immediate aftermath of those high-profile #MeToo scandals, the network sought to visibly align itself on the side of perceived victims to improve its public image,” Fairfax claims in the lawsuit.
He also claims that a current CBS legal officer, who was one of his and Watson’s classmates and fraternity brothers at Duke, had information “all along” that he did not assault her.
The lawsuit also picks apart the interviews, claiming that the network “went into the stories with a “preconceived narrative in mind” and “did everything possible to make sure the aired interviews were consistent with that narrative.”
The lawsuit said that there was an eyewitness present to the encounter between Fairfax and Watson, and has stated to “multiple people that he was in the room and that Fairfax did not rape of sexually assault Watson.”
But CBS, Fairfax says, did not Watson on-air whether she encountered anyone other that Fairfax upon entering or exiting the room or building.
The network attorney, identified only as an associate general counsel, also was a fraternity brother to the eyewitness to the encounter. Fairfax and the associate general counsel “exchanged numerous text messages and had several conversations since Watson went public with her false accusation against Fairfax in February 2019. Most of these communications occurred before the April 2019 interviews were aired by the AGC’s employer and client, CBS.”