The embattled Lt. Governor is suing CBS for airing interviews with the women who have accused him of sexual assault.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax filed a $400 million defamation lawsuit Thursday against CBS Corp. and CBS Broadcasting, stating the network aired “intentionally fabricated, false, and politically motivated statements.”
Fairfax, a lawyer, claims the network aired false statements from Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, the two women who allege they were sexually assaulted by Fairfax 15 and 19 years ago, respectively.
The lawsuit criticizes the network for “intentionally” failing to investigate leads “that would have placed the truthfulness of Watson’s and Tyson’s stories in serious doubt.” The lawsuit alleges the allegations were “a political hit job.”
Fairfax said CBS “recklessly disregarded” attempts to verify the women’s claims by not running an independent investigation. He also said the “defamatory statements have been repeatedly and foreseeably republished by media outlets and other third parties throughout the country,” which has damaged his reputation and ability to earn a living.
CBS said in a statement: “We stand by our reporting and we will vigorously defend this lawsuit.”
The allegations originally surfaced in February, at a time when — according to the lawsuit — Fairfax “was poised to ascend to the Governorship of Virginia” as calls rose for the resignation of Gov. Ralph Northam following a blackface scandal. All three of the state’s top executive branch Democrats were engulfed in scandal within a week of the discovery of a photograph in Northam’s medical school yearbook showing a man in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan garb.
Tyson came forward with sexual assault allegations against Fairfax days after the blackface photo was released. Not long after that, Attorney General Mark Herring — who had called for Northam’s resignation — admitted wearing blackface to a party in the 1980s.
Fairfax accused CBS of acting with actual malice by “hyping” allegations and that airing the interviews was “calculated to maximize ratings for CBS in light of the ongoing scandal involving Governor Northam.”
Fairfax has claimed his innocence since the beginning and said he had consensual intimacy with both women. He has maintained that law enforcement should investigate the accusations, though no charges have been filed against him. After the CBS interviews aired, Fairfax released the results of polygraph examinations that he said exonerate him.
The lawsuit is intended to “restore his reputation and clear his name, ensure the truth prevails, stop the weaponization of false allegations of sexual assault against him, and vindicate his rights under civil law.”
Fairfax stated that the network was attempting to align with #MeToo victims after scandals rippled up to CBS CEO Les Moonves, who was fired over sexual misconduct allegations. “CBS This Morning” co-anchor Charlie Rose was fired after eight women made sexual harassment allegations. “60 Minutes” executive producer Jeff Fager left the network also in the face of sexual misconduct allegations.
Fairfax’s legal team concluded that “the network sought to visibly align itself on the side of perceived victims to improve its public image.”
Fairfax takes aim at others in the lawsuit, including Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. The lawsuit says Stoney views Fairfax as a “political rival who has been positioned to delay Stoney’s desired run for Governor.”
Tyson’s allegations went viral on media outlets on Feb.4. The lawsuit claims a message was originally shared by Adria Scharf, who is married to Thad Williamson, Stoney’s former adviser. Williamson, according to the lawsuit, has been friends with Tyson since college.
“Stoney, Williamson, and Scharf intended to promote a supposedly damaging, uncorroborated accusation against Fairfax involving Tyson in an attempt to harm Fairfax personally and professionally and to derail his political future,” the lawsuit claims.
In February, a spokesman for Stoney denied the mayor is involved, saying the insinuation was “100 percent not true.”
In addition to demanding at least $400 million in compensation and a jury trial, the lawsuit also asks for an injunction that would stop the network from “disseminating, distributing, or publishing any footage or statements that are judicially determined to be defamatory.”
Written By McKenzie Lambert, Capital News Service. Photos via CNS