In February 2019, former Virginia lieutenant governor Justin Fairfax, a Democrat, was accused of sexual assault by two women. The assaults allegedly took place decades earlier. The accusations occurred the same week that the state’s governor, Ralph Northam, was slammed in the media over a yearbook photo that seemed to depict him in blackface or in a Klan outfit. Northam was being pressured to resign, and it would seem that Fairfax would step into to the power seat. But then the sexual allegations hit, allegations Fairfax vehemently denied.
Democrat Terry McAuliffe ultimately ran for Virginia governor in 2021, but lost to current Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
The media jumped on Fairfax and the accusations. One of those journalists is Sophia A. Nelson, who now regrets calling for Fairfax to resign. But the damage to his promising political career had already been done.
In an opinion piece for The Washington Post, Nelson, a former House Republican Congressional Committee counsel and the author of the book “Be the One You Need: 21 Life Lessons I Learned Taking Care of Everyone but Me,” apologized to Fairfax, writing, “I regret calling for Justin Fairfax to resign.”
Nelson is a German-born Black journalist who grew up in Somerdale, New Jersey. But before she became a journalist she was very involved in politics as a Republican. In 1988, she became politically active as a Republican and was legal counsel to New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman. Nelson later ran for Congress in New Jersey’s 1st congressional district in 1996. She was also a GOP counsel for the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee. After giving up her political aspirations, she became a journalist and author. Since 2020, she has been a political independent.
She recently tweeted, “Today I offered a public apology to former Virginia @LGJustinFairfax he was wronged by all of us in the media. I hope my media colleagues follow my path. Humility. Truth. Honor. How we treat people matters.”
In response tie Nelson’s Washington Post article, Fairfax tweeted, “#WilliamFairfaxJrsPomise is powerfully removing cruelty from our politics & culture. It took nearly 4 years for anyone to investigate, find these accusations were fabricated & publicly apologize. Today, we will publicly forgive anyone who publicly apologizes. #WeRiseTogether.”
In the article, Nelson called Fairfax a once “shining, rising star in Virginia politics.” And she admitted her part in helping take him down.
Fairfax was, she wrote, “a former federal prosecutor with a spotless personal and ethical record and a great future ahead. Until the bottom fell out in early 2019, when two accused him of sexual assault decades prior, he became a target for the #MeToo movement. But evidence has emerged recently that Fairfax might have been the victim of a coordinated smear campaign.” Nelson not only helped cancel Fairfax, she too got canceled in the midst of the scandal.
She wasn’t the own journalist who helped end Fairfax’s political rise. Fairfax has filed a $35 million defamation suit against New York Public Radio, one of the media outlets that ran with the assault accusations.
According to the lawsuit, the accusations were “intentionally fabricated, false, and politically-motivated express and implied defamatory per se and per quod statements” and were made with “actual malice” by both accusers Meredith Watson and Vanessa Tyson. The suit stated that the two women are alleging “fictitious and intentionally fabricated sexual assaults” by Fairfax against them in 2000 and 2004, respectively.
The suit says that the statements by the women were then presented as fact with “actual malice” by New York Public Radio and Melissa Harris-Perry, host of New York Public Radio’s news program, The Takeaway, on or around August 6, 2021, during a broadcast titled “Politics, Power, and Abuse,” WRIC reported.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is also now investigating the accusations to see if they were politically motivated, according to five sources who’ve been interviewed by the FBI.
The women have also stood by their stories.
Investigators, the sources (including Fairfax) told The Intercept, are examining the role of Democrat Richmond, Virginia, Mayor Levar Stoney’s political network in the spreading the allegations.
Stoney and Fairfax have long been political rivals, but Stoney is an ally of McAuliffe.
Justin Fairfax, former Virginia lieutenant governor, April 7, 2013, (Lee District Democratic Committee) https://www.flickr.com/people/13106421@N03
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en / Sophia A. Nelson, former House Republican Congressional Committee counsel, Iamsophianelson, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=User:Iamsophianelson&action=edit&redlink=1