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Federal Judge Holds Investigative Reporter in Contempt for Refusing to Reveal Sources

BusinessFederal Judge Holds Investigative Reporter in Contempt for Refusing to Reveal Sources

A federal judge held investigative reporter Catherine Herridge in contempt for refusing to disclose her sources regarding articles about an F.B.I.-investigated scientist.

The judge, Christopher Cooper of U.S. District Court in Washington, ordered Herridge to pay $800 per day until she revealed the information. However, he stayed the fine for 30 days to allow Herridge time to appeal the decision.

The case revolves around a series of articles authored by Herridge and her colleagues in 2017, during her tenure at Fox News. The investigation centered on suspicions of Dr. Chen’s alleged ties to the Chinese military and whether she misrepresented information on U.S. immigration forms.

Although the F.B.I. concluded its investigation without pressing charges against Dr. Chen, she later filed a lawsuit in 2018 against the F.B.I. and other government agencies, alleging violations of the Privacy Act. Dr. Chen claimed that federal agencies leaked information to Herridge, violating the Privacy Act’s protections for personal information collected by such agencies.

Last year, Judge Cooper ruled that Herridge must reveal her confidential sources. On Thursday, he held her in civil contempt for defying the court order. Judge Cooper emphasized that while Herridge and her journalistic peers might disagree with his decision, Dr. Chen’s need for the information outweighed Herridge’s First Amendment protections.

Patrick Philbin, Herridge’s attorney, expressed disagreement with the district court’s ruling and stated their intent to appeal to safeguard Herridge’s First Amendment rights.

Herridge, who transitioned from Fox News to CBS News as a senior investigative correspondent in 2019, was among the journalists laid off by CBS News earlier this month.

Andrew C. Phillips, Dr. Chen’s lawyer, highlighted the significance of the ruling in ensuring government accountability and protecting individuals’ privacy rights. He cautioned against potential abuses of power by federal law enforcement agencies and emphasized the importance of holding officials accountable for such actions.

A spokeswoman for Fox News condemned the decision to hold Herridge in contempt, citing its chilling effect on journalism and emphasizing the network’s commitment to defending press freedom. She called for an appeal of the ruling.

Gabe Rottman, a senior lawyer at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, expressed relief that Judge Cooper allowed Herridge to pursue an appeal without facing daily fines. While disagreeing with the ruling against Herridge, Rottman underscored the need for Congress to pass a federal shield law to protect journalists and their sources.

The case involving Catherine Herridge raises important questions about press freedom, source confidentiality, and government accountability. As Herridge prepares to appeal the contempt ruling, the outcome of this legal battle could have far-reaching implications for investigative journalism and the protection of journalists’ rights to maintain source confidentiality.

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