Catherine Herridge: Fox News defends journalist held in contempt

Estimated read time 4 min read

A court ruling found veteran TV news correspondent Catherine Herridge in civil contempt for refusing to identify sources related to a 2017 investigation she reported for Fox News.

Herridge, who until recently worked for CBS News, declined to divulge information about how she learned of an FBI probe into an academic when she was deposed on the matter in September.

U.S. District Court Judge Christopher R. Cooper imposed a fine of $800 a day until Herridge complies. She will have time to appeal the decision before the fine goes into effect.

Cooper had ordered Herridge in August to reveal her sourcing for a 2017 story on Dr. Yanping Chen, a Chinese American scientist who founded the University of Management and Technology. The Virginia-based school attracted military service members who received tuition assistance from the Department of Defense.

Chen became the subject of an FBI investigation in 2010 concerning statements she made on immigration forms about her work related to a Chinese astronaut program. Her home was searched and materials were seized, but no charges were filed against her.

Years after the investigation, Herridge reported a number of stories for Fox News about the case, which looked into whether Chen concealed her former membership in the Chinese military on her immigration forms. The investigation also examined whether Chen used her school to funnel information about the U.S. military to the Chinese government.

The Fox News reports included family photographs of Chen, excerpts from her immigration forms and a portion of an FBI memorandum.

Chen filed suit against the FBI and the Department of Defense in 2018, claiming the records were leaked in violation of the Privacy Act, which generally prohibits federal agencies from disclosing internal records about a person without her consent. She is seeking an admission of guilt and damages, as she contends the leaks hurt her reputation and professional livelihood.

Chen has been seeking the source of the government leak for years to no avail, which led her to target Herridge and Fox News.

In 2022, Chen’s attorneys served Herridge and Fox News with subpoenas. Herridge and the network moved to quash them, asserting her work was protected by the 1st Amendment.

But the judge ruled that Chen’s need to know for the sake of her lawsuit against the government overcomes Herridge’s right to shield her source.

Cooper wrote that he recognized the “paramount importance of a free press in our society” and the need to use confidential sources in investigative journalism. But he added the court “also has its own role to play in upholding the law and safeguarding judicial authority.”

In a statement, Fox News Media expressed its support for Herridge.

“Holding a journalist in contempt for protecting a confidential source has a deeply chilling effect on journalism,” the company said in a statement. “Fox News Media remains committed to protecting the rights of a free press and freedom of speech and believes this decision should be appealed.”

Chen’s attorney Andrew C. Phillips praised the decision.

“It is important to understand that without the protections of the Privacy Act, federal law enforcement can exploit its expansive powers to invade an American citizen’s private life and then selectively leak documents to smear reputations or score political points,” Phillips said in a statement. “Such misconduct should not be without recourse just because a rogue government official happens to launder his or her wrongdoing via a journalist.”

Herridge moved to CBS News in 2018, where she was a senior investigative correspondent. She left the network earlier this month as part of a round of across-the-board staff cuts at CBS News parent Paramount Global.

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