The Washington Post: A CBS reporter refusing to reveal her sources could be held in contempt

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Catherine Herridge, pictured in 2022, has declined to reveal how she learned information for her work about a federal investigation of a Chinese American scientist. Credit: Shedrick Pelt/Getty Images)

First Amendment advocates are alarmed by the case of Catherine Herridge, who is facing an imminent court deadline and steep fines

By Jeremy Barr

In a rapidly escalating case that is worrying First Amendment advocates, journalist Catherine Herridge could soon be held in contempt of court if she does not reveal her source for the investigative stories she wrote in 2017.

Herridge, now a reporter for CBS News who worked for Fox News at the time, has a Thursday deadline to explain to a federal judge why she should not face the civil sanction — and the hefty, accumulating fines that could come with it.

U.S. District Court Judge Christopher R. Cooper ruled Aug. 1 that Herridge must reveal how she learned about a federal probe into a Chinese American scientist who operated a graduate program in Virginia — the subject of several stories Herridge reported for Fox.

Yanping Chen was never charged as a result of the investigation, which sought to determine whether she had lied about her military service and whether her school’s student database could be accessed from China, as the Fox News reports revealed. But after those stories brought the probe to light, Chen sued the federal government alleging that Herridge had been given leaked materials that violated her privacy, including photographs and images of internal government documents.

After Chen’s lawyers conducted 18 depositions of government and other officials without learning the source of the leak, according to her legal filing, Chen has argued that only the journalist could provide the information she needed to pursue her grievance against the government.

The judge came to the same conclusion. While acknowledging “the vital importance of a free press and the critical role that confidential sources play in the work of investigative journalists,” Cooper ruled in August that Chen’s need for the evidence “overcomes Herridge’s qualified First Amendment privilege.”


Others raised concerns about the essence of Herridge’s stories and how they came about. Chen has said that the reports caused enrollment and funding to drop at her University of Management and Technology.

Bethany Li, legal director for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said the investigation into Chen was “another unfortunate example of how the government is targeting our community as an enemy without any justification.” While she said that journalists should be able to protect their sources, she added, “I also think there’s significant public interest … in making sure that individuals’ rights aren’t violated by a rogue FBI agent who wants to share their private information.”



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