1:20pm PT by Ashley Cullins
CBS Hit With $400M Defamation Suit From Virginia Lt. Gov. Over "Political Hit Job"
Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax on Thursday filed a $400 million lawsuit against CBS over Gayle King's interviews with two women who allege he sexually assaulted them.
Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson appeared in separate segments with King on CBS This Morning on April 1 and April 2, respectively, according to the complaint filed in Virginia federal court. Fairfax says his 2000 encounter with Wilson at Duke University and 2004 encounter with Tyson at the Democratic National Convention were consensual and the claims were politically motivated.
"Watson and Tyson falsely and publicly claimed they had been sexually assaulted by Fairfax, just as Fairfax was poised to ascend to the Governorship of Virginia following a blackface photo scandal affecting current Governor Ralph Northam," states the complaint, which is posted below. "The timing and circumstances of these false and salacious allegations demonstrate that it was a political hit job — a deliberate and calculated effort to permanently harm Fairfax’s political and professional career and to attempt to prevent him from becoming Governor of Virginia."
Fairfax alleges in the complaint that Watson "unambiguously manifested her consent" and there was an eyewitness in the room the whole time. With regard to Tyson, he also alleges that she consented to the encounter in his hotel room and when they left the room (which was on a secure floor) together they passed campaign staff for then-vice presidential nominee John Edwards and security personnel who "would have been attuned to any distress on the part of any person they encountered." His attorneys in June sent letters to the Assistant District Attorneys in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, and Durham County, North Carolina, asking them to investigate the allegations.
Fairfax alleges CBS didn't investigate the truth of the women's claims because the network wanted to "visibly align itself on the side of perceived victims" following a series of #MeToo scandals. As a public figure, Fairfax will have to show the network knew the information was false or acted with reckless disregard for the truth in order to sustain a defamation claim. He says he warned CBS on multiple occasions that information, including the existence of an exculpatory witness, was available to refute their accounts.
"CBS intentionally did not ask Watson and Tyson basic factual questions meant to 'pressure-test' the veracity of their allegations," states the complaint. "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."
Fairfax argues he has been falsely labeled a rapist, predator and sexual abuser and, as a result, chose to relinquish his partnership at Morrison & Forester, through which he says he would have earned millions of dollars.
CBS News responded to the lawsuit in a statement, saying, "We stand by our reporting and we will vigorously defend this lawsuit."
Fairfax is suing for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.