Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax on Thursday filed a lawsuit against CBS, alleging the network defamed him when it aired interviews earlier this year with two women who accused him of sexual assault.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia, demands $400 million for alleged defamation and “severe emotional distress” caused by the reporting.
In April, “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King aired interviews with Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson. Both women alleged that Fairfax assaulted them years ago, in 2004 and 2000 respectively.
Fairfax has denied their claims and said the encounters he had with the two women were consensual. Hours after CBS began promoting King’s interviews, Fairfax’s office issued a statement saying that Fairfax had been “steadfast from the start in saying that serious, fair, and impartial investigation and examination of the facts would demonstrate that these allegations are false and that he engaged in no wrongdoing whatsoever.”
The allegations against Fairfax erupted as Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam was embroiled in his own scandal over a decades-old blackface photo that resurfaced. Prior to the sexual assault allegations, it was thought that Fairfax had a good chance of assuming the governorship if Northam were to step down.
In his lawsuit, Fairfax argued that CBS and King failed to do their due diligence before airing the interviews with Watson and Tyson.
The lawsuit contended that King “failed to ask basic questions” of the two women, and “failed to separately investigate the allegations in advance of the airing date, and instead only spoke to Watson, Tyson and their representatives.”
Specifically, the lawsuit alleged that CBS “failed to interview other individuals who may have been able to confirm or contradict the allegations.”
The lawsuit alleged that CBS employs a lawyer who is a mutual friend of Watson, Fairfax, and an eyewitness to the encounter Watson had with Fairfax. According to the lawsuit, the eyewitness “has stated to multiple people” that Fairfax “did not rape or sexually assault Watson.”
The lawsuit said that Watson “did not mention an eyewitness in her interview with King or at any other time.”
The complaint argued that the CBS lawyer either was “unable to prevent CBS from airing the Watson interview” or “did not take steps to prevent CBS from airing” the interview despite knowledge from the eyewitness and Fairfax her story was “false and that there was an eyewitness corroborating that Watson’s story was false.”
A CBS spokesperson said, “We stand by our reporting and we will vigorously defend this lawsuit.”
Nancy Erika Smith, an attorney for Watson, told CNN, “We look forward to everyone testifying under oath now that this matter is in Court.”
Debra Katz, an attorney for Tyson, said Fairfax’s lawsuit “rehashed” some of the “same discredited allegations” her client had previously faced.
“As we have said previously,” Katz said, “threats, bullying and victim-blaming by Mr. Fairfax will not deter Dr. Tyson from speaking up, and she looks forward to testifying under oath to the Virginia General Assembly about Mr. Fairfax’s sexual assault of her.”