Journalist Catherine Herridge held in civil contempt for refusing to reveal sources

 March 3, 2024

In another shocking attack on press freedom in the United States, a federal judge appointed by former President Barack Obama has held journalist Catherine Herridge in civil contempt of court for declining to reveal sources related to her reporting on a Chinese American scientist who was the subject of an FBI probe, as the New York Post reports.

As a result of the decision by U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper, Herridge is now on the hook for a fine of $800 for each subsequent day in which she does not turn over the names of the source or sources with whom she collaborated on work done for her former employer, Fox News.

Contempt finding made

As the Post explains, Herridge has declined to answer when asked about confidential sources used to produce the aforementioned stories roughly seven years ago, citing her First Amendment rights in doing so.

The scientist who was the subject of Herridge's reporting, Yanping Chen, had sought the names of those who provided the journalist with details of the FBI's probe into her activities and statements.

Though Chen never faced charges as a result of the investigation, Herridge's reporting was centered on her ties to the Chinese military and sensitive data concerning American service members that she obtained through a school she had founded in Virginia.

Given that Chen later filed a lawsuit against the government over the leaks she said were designed to “smear her reputation and damage her livelihood,” Judge Cooper ruled that her right to the information for litigation purposes takes precedence over Herridge's free press claim.

Cooper declared, “Herridge and many of her colleagues in the journalism community may disagree with that decision and prefer that a different balance be struck, but she is not permitted to flout a federal court's order with impunity.”

Latest in string of setbacks

Judge Cooper's decision represents just the latest setback for the esteemed journalist, as late last month, Herridge was let go from her position at CBS News in a move that shocked the media world for the jarring manner in which her dismissal was handled, as the Daily Mail reported.

Not only did Herridge lose her job, but the network was also accused of seizing her notes, files, and information gleaned from confidential sources, a practice experts suggested was highly unusual in such situations.

Soon after Herridge's firing, SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents CBS employees, issued a statement saying that it “strongly condemns CBS News' decision to seize Catherine Herridge's reporter notes and research from her office, including confidential source information.”

“This action is deeply concerning to the union because it sets a dangerous precedent for all media professionals and threatens the very foundation of the First Amendment,” the union's communication continued.

Perhaps as a result of the ensuing backlash, CBS News eventually returned Herridge's files, as the Post noted separately, including her work laptop computer, items she used in investigating such high-profile stories as the Hunter Biden laptop and other matters potentially implicating the Biden family and administration.

Congressional probe launched

In the wake of Herridge's dismissal and the seizure of her materials, the House Judiciary Committee announced the initiation of a probe of CBS News' actions, calling attention to the potential harm such conduct could do to the First Amendment rights of journalists.

A letter from the panel said, “The unprecedented actions of CBS News threaten to chill good journalism and ultimately weaken our nation's commitment to a free press” and demanded details and documents related to the network's actions concerning Herridge, but where the probe might go from here, only time will tell.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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