NORFOLK, Va. – Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax filed a defamation lawsuit against CBS on Thursday seeking $400 million.
CBS News aired interviews with two women who have accused Fairfax of sexually assaulting them. CBS News anchor Gayle King interviewed both Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson earlier this year, where they described their encounters with Fairfax. He denies the encounters were non-consensual.
The lawsuit is filed in federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia. It says Fairfax’s character was defamed and says CBS intentionally inflicted emotional distress on him.
In the lawsuit, Fairfax alleges CBS News had information before the stories aired “indicating that both allegations had not been corroborated by any independent investigation. Yes, CBS recklessly disregarded whether what Watson and Tyson were saying was, in fact, true.”
Both women came publicly forward in February as it appeared Fairfax might ascend to become governor. Gov. Ralph Northam faced calls for his resignation after a racist photo was discovered in his yearbook. Northam initially apologized for the photo, but later denied being in it. He remains in office.
Tyson says Fairfax sexually assaulted her in 2004 at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. Watson says Fairfax raped her in 2000 when the two were students at Duke University.
Fairfax also claims a lawyer for CBS knows him and Watson because the lawyer also went to Duke. Fairfax says CBS either didn’t listen to the lawyer or the lawyer didn’t take steps to prevent the story from airing.
In addition, he believes former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney attempted to use Tyson’s allegation against him for political purposes. All three are potential candidates for governor in 2021.
Fairfax says the allegations have hurt his career and family. “Most importantly, Fairfax has been falsely branded a ‘rapist,’ ‘predator’ and ‘sexual abuser,'” the lawsuit says. “His once promising career and political prospects have been severely harmed by the reckless airing of these false allegations.”
Both Tyson and Watson have called on state lawmakers to hold a hearing to address the allegations, but Fairfax has resisted, claiming that would turn into a circus.
“CBS must be held accountable for its reckless disregard for the truth, knowing failure to follow even rudimentary journalistic standards, and its failure to follow up on leads that would demonstrate the allegations to be false,” a spokesperson for Fairfax said in a statement.
In a statement, CBS News said, “We stand by our reporting and we will vigorously defend this lawsuit.”
Attorneys for Tyson said their client stands by the account she told CBS News. “Mr. Fairfax’s suggestion that Dr. Tyson came forward – at great personal risk – to detail her harrowing account of forced oral sex as part of a political conspiracy to prevent him from being Governor of Virginia is ludicrous,” Debra S. Katz and Lisa J. Banks said in a statement.