Judge holds Catherine Herridge in contempt, ordered to pay fines until China-connected source revealed

An Obama-appointed judge has held veteran reporter Catherine Herridge in contempt of court for not revealing her sources in a move so shocking even the left-wing media is raising concerns about it.

“In a case that has worried press advocates, veteran journalist Catherine Herridge was held in contempt on Thursday and ordered to pay $800 per day until she reveals the source for stories she wrote about Chinese American scientist Yanping Chen,” The Washington Post lamented.

“The case could have sweeping First Amendment implications for journalists and news organizations across the country,” CNN added.

The case concerns Chinese American scientist Yanping Chen, who sued the FBI after Herridge reported in 2017 for Fox News that she was under investigation by them.

Chen has claimed that the FBI leaked information about her to Herridge in a violation of the Privacy Act, and to prove this theory, she then subpoenaed Herridge and Fox News to expose the reporter’s sources.

“Fox News and Herridge aggressively fought the move, arguing that Cooper should quash the subpoenas because of First Amendment protections afforded to the press,” CNN notes.

US District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Christopher Cooper disagreed and ruled in September that Herridge must reveal her sources, arguing that “Chen’s need for the requested evidence overcomes Herridge’s qualified First Amendment privilege in this case.”

Following his ruling, Herridge was deposed on Sept. 26th but steadfastly refused during the interrogation to reveal her sources, thus prompting the contempt of court ruling made Thursday.

“The Court does not reach this result lightly,” the judge wrote. “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.”

Herridge’s attorney, Patrick Philbin, has vowed to appeal the ruling.

“We disagree with the district court’s decision, and to protect Ms. Herridge’s First Amendment rights, we intend to appeal,” he said.

Fox News has also released a statement.

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

First Amendment advocates with the Freedom of the Press Foundation have also weighed in.

“The court’s order holding journalist Catherine Herridge in contempt for refusing to name her confidential source is unfortunate and should disturb anyone who cares about press freedom,” foundation deputy director of advocacy Caitlin Vogus told the Post.

“When courts force journalists to burn their sources, it absolutely undermines the public’s right to know,” she added.

Chen’s attorney, Andrew C. Phillips, predictably views things differently. In a statement, he said that “today’s ruling is an important one to ensure that government officials can be held to account for outrageous abuses of power.”

But the only one being “held to account” is a journalist …

The Post notes that Herridge had requested that she be fined only $1 per day, but the judge decreed that this wasn’t enough.

“Such a trivial sanction would not serve the fundamental purpose of civil contempt: ensuring compliance with a court order,” he wrote. “It would permit Herridge to pay pittance in perpetuity while continuously violating the Court’s directive and effectively vitiating Chen’s right to pursue her Privacy Act claim.”

All this comes months after lawmakers introduced legislation last June, the Protect Reporters from Exploitive State Spying Act, that “would offer important safeguards to journalists, including preventing the government from compelling reporters to disclose their sources,” according to CNN.

The legislation was introduced by Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat, and Rep. Kevin Kiley, a Republican.

“As acknowledged by America’s founders, the freedom of the press to report on and disseminate information is critical to our republic,” Kiley said in a statement at the time. “Our bipartisan legislation further codifies these First Amendment principles into law and will mitigate infringement upon the Constitution by the federal government.”

Vivek Saxena


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