The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax’s defamation suit against CBS on Thursday. In 2019, Fairfax sued CBS for defamation after CBS This Morning aired interviews with two women who alleged Fairfax sexually assaulted them in separate incidents in the early and mid 2000s. Fairfax has emphasized that the encounters were consensual.
Fairfax’s lawyer Tillman Breckenridge argued on Thursday, “CBS did not just report the false allegations of rape and sexual assault against Justin Fairfax. It heavily promoted direct interviews resurrecting the false allegations, two months after they were made and then doubled down by endorsing them.”
A district court judge dismissed the lawsuit in February 2020, arguing that Fairfax’s case did not meet an “actual malice” requirement for libel lawsuits against public figures, according to CNN.
Although the Fourth Circuit judges expressed concern on Thursday over the nature of some of the statements made in the CBS show, Fairfax needed to prove that “actual malice” was behind the CBS reporting.
Breckenridge said, “Looking at that presentation I don’t find it two-sided at all. I find it very one-sided. They give these long segments of interview and then they quickly give Mr. Fairfax’s denial and they immediately follow that up with their commentary that undermines Mr. Fairfax’s denial.”
However, CBS attorney Jay Brown argued that both sides of the story were presented and defined “actual malice.” He said, “It’s the state of mind of persons at CBS responsible for this broadcast. That’s an important point. Whether those individuals responsible for the broadcasts either knew that the women’s allegations were false or went ahead and broadcast the interviews in question while seriously doubting whether they were true.”
A Fairfax spokesperson said they expect the court to make a ruling in three months.
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Justin Fairfax” by Justin Fairfax. Background Photo “Virginia Capitol” by Skip Plitt – C’ville Photography. CC BY-SA 3.0.