Judge Finds Correspondent Catherine Herridge In Civil Contempt For Not Revealing News Source

Judge Finds Correspondent Catherine Herridge In Civil Contempt For Not Revealing News Source

A federal judge has found Catherine Herridge in civil contempt of his order that she reveal the source of stories she wrote when she worked for Fox News.

U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper set a fine of $800 per day, but he stayed the ruling to give her time to appeal.

The judge had ordered Herridge to reveal her sources for 2017 stories that reported on a federal investigation of Yanping Chen, a naturalized U.S. citizen who founded the University of Management and Technology in Virginia. The stories had to do with Chen’s affiliations with the Chinese military. The FBI investigation examined statements she made on immigration forms about her work in China in the 1980s.

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Chen was not charged, but sued the federal government, claiming that someone leaked information about her to Herridge and Fox in violation of the Privacy Act.

Herridge since went to work for CBS News, but was laid off earlier this month.

“The Court does not reach this result lightly,” Cooper wrote in his order. “It recognizes the paramount importance of a free press in our society and the critical role that confidential sources play in the work of investigative journalists like Herridge. Yet the Court also has its own role to play in upholding the law and safeguarding judicial authority. Applying binding precedent in this Circuit, the Court resolved that Chen’s need for the requested information to vindicate her rights under the Privacy Act overcame Herridge’s qualified First Amendment reporter’s privilege in this case.”

Read the judge’s contempt order against Catherine Herridge.

Herridge had been subpoenaed to give a deposition in the case last year, but she refused to reveal her sources when she sat for questioning in September.

Fox News and Herridge had tried to quash the subpoena, asserting a qualified First Amendment reporter’s privilege, or urging the court to adopt a federal common law newsgathering privilege. But the judge ultimately issued an order that “Chen may depose Herridge regarding the identity and intent of the source or sources of the documents and images allegedly provided to her in violation of the Privacy Act, and any non-privileged other matters relevant to her Privacy Act claim.”

In his opinion, the judge seemed to dismiss the idea that fewer sources would come forward if courts are compelling more reporters to disclose their sources. “At a minimum, any marginal chilling effect has certainly not frozen the information pipeline. Instances of journalism built on confidential sources remain legion,” the judge wrote.

Cooper also noted the lack of a federal shield law, writing that Congress could resolve the issue with a “few strokes of a pen, but it has not done so.”

“Absent congressional intervention or a shift in Circuit precedent, the Court’s duty is to apply and enforce the law on the books,” the judge wrote.

An attorney for Herridge did not immediately return a request for comment.

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