In a move that has journalists unnerved, a federal judge demanded that a former Fox News reporter reveal the name of a confidential source she used for a series of stories about an FBI investigation.
According to CNN, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Christopher Cooper issued the ruling to CBS News senior correspondent Catherine Herridge.
While working for Fox New in 2017, Herridge wrote about how the University of Management and Technology had drawn "the attention of the FBI, the Justice Department, the Pentagon, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS)."
At issue were alleged ties between the Chinese military and the school's leadership, including scientist and university president scientist Yanping Chen Frame.
Herridge noted in her story that Frame had served as an officer in the People's Liberation Army and included a photo of Frame being saluted by her husband as she held a Chinese military uniform.
Frame has since filed a lawsuit, alleging that federal authorities violated the Privacy Act by leaking her personal information to Herridge.
This led Cooper to last Tuesday rule that Herridge must submit to a sworn deposition concerning the confidential source or sources that she used in her reporting.
While attorneys for Herridge and Fox News argued that the journalist's work is covered by press freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment, Cooper disagreed.
Judge orders Catherine Herridge to reveal sources for stories on FBI, Chinese American scientist | Just The News https://t.co/8xyyxlqtee
— John Solomon (@jsolomonReports) August 7, 2023
"The Court recognizes both the vital importance of a free press and the critical role that confidential sources play in the work of investigative journalists like Herridge," Cooper was quoted as stating.
"But applying the binding case law of this Circuit, the Court concludes that Chen’s need for the requested evidence overcomes Herridge’s qualified First Amendment privilege in this case," he added.
Cooper's decision was alarming to Gabe Rottman, who serves as director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
"Investigative journalism cannot function without credible assurances of confidentiality to sources," Rottman told CNN.
"While the Privacy Act provides essential protections for the public, using it to breach reporter-source confidentiality poses significant risks to a free press," he stressed.