Former Fox News Reporter Held in Contempt After Refusing to Reveal Sources

Catherine Herridge plans to appeal ruling that orders her to pay $800 a day until she names confidential sources

Catherine Herridge
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A Washington judge held former Fox News reporter Catherine Herridge in contempt of court and ordered her to pay $800 a day until she reveals her sources for stories about a scientist who was investigated by the FBI.

The fines against the veteran investigative journalist, who moved to CBS from Fox in 2019 and was among 20 news staffers hit with layoffs last month, were stayed for 30 days to give her a chance to appeal, The New York Times reported.

Patrick Philbin, a lawyer for Ms. Herridge, told the Times in an email, “We disagree with the district court’s decision, and to protect Ms. Herridge’s First Amendment rights, we intend to appeal.”

The ruling Thursday came seven months after Judge Christopher Cooper of the US District Court for the District of Columbia ordered Herridge to reveal her sources for the stories, which detailed a probe of the scientist, Dr. Yanping Chen, a Chinese American who is president of the University of Management and Technology in Arlington, Virginia.

Chen filed suit against the FBI and other federal agencies, claiming that her privacy was violated when Herridge reported that she had been the subject a federal counterintelligence investigation over whether she had lied about her military service in China and whether her school’s student database could be accessed from China, according to The Washington Post.

Chen claimed the information was improperly leaked by officials at federal agencies, which never brought any charges against her. The investigation ended a year before Herridge’s reports, The Associated Press reported.

“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,” Cooper wrote.

“Today’s ruling is an important one to ensure that government officials can be held to account for outrageous abuses of power,” Chen’s lawyer Andrew C. Phillips, said in a statement to the Times, noting that if privacy rights are not protected, the government could “exploit its expansive powers to invade an American citizen’s private life and then selectively leak documents to smear reputations or score political points.”

The case has alarmed First Amendment advocates, who point to the need for reporters to be able to protect sources who provide information confidentially.

Gabe Rottman of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press told the post it was “a relief” that Herridge will be able to appeal without having to immediately pay daily fines.

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

A CBS spokesperson told the AP the contempt order “should be concerning to all Americans who value the role of the free press in our democracy and understand that reliance on confidential sources is critical to the mission of journalism.”

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