The owner of a Lynchburg personal training gym who has been a personal fitness coach to former Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. and his wife filed a $9.35 million lawsuit Thursday against the media corporation Thomson Reuters.
Ben Crosswhite’s suit, filed in federal court, argues the company’s news division, Reuters, committed “defamation by implication” in articles published last year detailing what Reuters described as “favorable” property deals offered to Crosswhite by Liberty University.
Crosswhite bought the $1.2 million training gym property on Davis Cup Road from LU in 2016 after three years of leasing the facility for $2,300 per month, according to the August Reuters article that’s most relevant to the lawsuit. LU received no money up front for the 2016 transaction, the article states, cut around $650,000 out of the deal to lease tennis courts at the property back from Crosswhite and financed it for 3% interest.
The lawsuit claimed Reuters misrepresented records of the deal and omitted facts to imply the deal was corrupt. It states the financing and purchase were at fair market rate and the building was a “huge financial drain on Liberty.”
Reuters’ article appears to address that aspect, stating university officials circulated concerns in 2017 that Crosswhite wasn’t fulfilling maintenance duties in the contract and LU subsequently opened a $75,000 line of credit to finance repairs.
More central to the lawsuit, though, are parallels drawn by Reuters and the public between Crosswhite’s situation and deals Falwell made with Giancarlo Granda, referred to in the complaint as “the Falwell’s infamous ‘pool boy.’”
In August 2020, Reuters ran an article where Granda claimed he had an affair with Falwell Jr.’s wife, Becki. Jerry Falwell Jr. resigned as LU’s president that same day.
Granda was a benefactor in Falwell Jr.’s purchase of a youth hostel in Miami Beach, which was detailed in court documents over a settled lawsuit involving that property and news articles following it.
Crosswhite’s suit states there was “nothing scandalous” about his relationship with the couple and the gym deal was “entirely fair and above board.” It claims Reuters “deliberately or recklessly conveyed a false implication” that Crosswhite was “another Falwell ‘pool boy.’”
He claims the gist of the articles is false and bases his suit in “defamation by implication.”
The lawsuit frequently relies on tweets, articles from other news outlets and magazines putting their own twist on the story and even a Yelp review to demonstrate that through its articles, Reuters exposed Crosswhite to “scorn, ridicule and public humiliation.”
Allegations in the suit also take a political slant: In its introduction, Crosswhite refers to “unscrupulous media … whose goal is to ‘sensationalize’ the news for self-glory and profit and to advance the agendas of the Democratic Party.”
Reached Friday, a Reuters spokesperson said the publication “stands by its story, which was fair, factual and in the public interest.”
Crosswhite’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment by press time.