Personal trainer files $10 million defamation suit over tweets claiming Jerry Falwell Jr ‘wanted to do him’
Jerry Falwell Jr’s former personal trainer is suing Reuters, alleging the outlet implied he “unjustly benefited from an intimate personal relationship” with the evangelist.
Filed in federal court, the lawsuit says that Benjamin Crosswhite, the owner of Crosswhite Athletic Club in Lynchburg, Virginia, is seeking $9.35 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
In August 2019, Reuters published an article which alleged that Falwell “personally approved” a real estate transaction by Liberty University that “helped his personal fitness trainer obtain valuable university property”.
Reuters reported that Falwell “urged other Liberty personnel in an email to cut Crosswhite a ‘sweet deal’ allowing him to offer private gym training at the Lynchburg fitness facility”.
The article reported that Falwell wrote in an email: “Becki [his wife] and I wouldn’t mind working out there with Ben as a trainer because it is more private.”
Crosswhite’s lawsuit accuses Reuters of insinuating that he was “another Falwell ‘pool boy'”. This is a reference to Giancarlo Granda, who made explosive claims in a 2020 Reuters article that he had been in a “years-long sexual relationship involving Falwell’s wife [Becki Falwell] and the evangelical leader”.
Granda told Reuters that the “relationship involved him having sex with Becki Falwell while Jerry Falwell looked on”. Jerry Falwell Jr has denied he was involved in the affair.
Crosswhite’s suit states there is “nothing scandalous about the relationship between Plaintiff and his clients, the Falwells”. Uploaded by local news outlet WSET, it claims Reuters “juxtaposed a series of facts so as to falsely imply a defamatory connection between them, including a connection and/or similarity between the Falwells’ notorious dealings with Granda and Plaintiff”.
The suit alleges that Crosswhite “enjoyed an untarnished reputation as a personal trainer and businessman” until Reuters “published the false and defamatory statements”, and accuses the news organisation of “intentionally omitt[ing] material facts because Reuters knew that those facts would destroy its preconceived ‘pool boy’ thesis about Plaintiff”.
A spokesperson for Reuters told PinkNews: “Reuters stands by its story, which was fair, factual and in the public interest.”
The August article published by Reuters mentioned a “relationship between the Falwells and Giancarlo Granda, a young man they befriended while he worked as a pool attendant at a luxury Miami Beach hotel and later backed in a business venture involving a youth hostel”.
It reads: “The support Falwell provided to the two young men, Granda and Crosswhite, has some parallels. Both were aided in business ventures and both have flown on the nonprofit university’s corporate jet.”
But nowhere does article explicitly claim that Crosswhite had an intimate relationship with the Falwells. Instead, the article states: “When Falwell helped Crosswhite, he used the assets of Liberty, the tax-emept university he has led since 2008.”
WSET reported Crosswhite has previously defended the 2016 deal with Falwell and Liberty University for the property, in which Crosswhite purchased a tennis and gym facility for $1.2 million.
The suit claimed that, after Reuters started promoting the August 2019 article, as well as a follow-up piece, on its social media platforms, Twitter users “made disparaging statements about Plaintiff such as ‘Poolboy got to get paid’, ‘Grifters gotta Grift’, ‘Why does he do these ‘acquaintances’ [sic] such huge financial favours while abusing his position with #LibertyUniversity? Hmmmm’, ‘Liberty University now offers a duel major in Personal Fitness and Pool Attendance [sic]’, ‘first the pool boy, now the trainer… who’s next?’, ‘guess it is called @LibertyU and not Integrity U’, and ‘Definitely sounds like he wanted to do his personal trainer. A favour.'”
It argues that Reuters is liable for “the republications of the false and defamatory statements by third-parties”.
PinkNews contacted the counsel for Benjamin Crosswhite.
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