OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author’s opinion.
Former star Fox News investigative reporter Catherine Herridge could be spending some time behind bars soon, according to a Saturday report.
The Epoch Times notes that Herridge, now with CBS News, is facing a contempt charge for refusing to reveal the identify of a confidential source who provided her with information while she was still with Fox News. A court has ordered her to reveal the source’s identity.
Herridge “was ordered in August to disclose the identity and motive of the source, who provided information about an FBI investigation into a Chinese scientist,” the outlet reported.
However, Herridge, during a deposition following the court order, “refused to answer questions regarding the identity of her confidential source(s) and other aspects of her reporting process and editorial decision-making,” lawyers for Yanping Chen, the scientist, noted in a filing. Chen’s attorneys asked that she be held in contempt, which could involve jail time.
U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper, an Obama appointee who issued the order, said last week that Herridge would likely be held in contempt if she refused to provide the information.
“With contempt proceedings now teed up, one of two outcomes appears likely: either Herridge will be held in contempt in the near future and can immediately appeal that order, or, as sometimes occurs in these cases, the sources may release Herridge from the privilege rather than watch her undergo the consequences of contempt,” Cooper wrote in his ruling.
The Epoch Times added:
Ms. Herridge’s lawyers had said the judge’s August order contained language indicating he thought he was forced to require contempt before an appeal but that the court actually had the discretion to certify an appeal ahead of a contempt ruling.
“The court should exercise its discretion to avoid forcing Ms. Herridge to suffer a contempt sanction as the price for securing review of her First Amendment rights,” they said.
Cooper responded that he was aware he had such discretion and was exercising it when he rejected her motion because, he argued, it is standard practice to defer appellate proceedings until a defendant has defied a court order and thus was actually in contempt.
“The court thus makes clear what may have been murky before: Exercising its discretion, the court concludes that certification is not warranted in this case because Herridge can appeal a subsequent contempt order,” Judge Cooper said.
The Epoch Times added: “The case stems from three reports published by Fox News starting in 2017 that disclosed the FBI had investigated Ms. Chen, a naturalized U.S. citizen who founded and owned a university attended by multiple U.S. military personnel. Ms. Chen was informed in 2016 that she was not being charged.
“The Department of Defense moved in 2018 to stop helping pay the tuition of military members to attend Ms. Chen’s university. Ms. Chen sued the FBI, alleging it or other government entities had leaked the previously private information to Ms. Herridge,” the report continued.
Cooper has ruled that Chen’s “need for the requested evidence overcomes Herridge’s qualified First Amendment privilege.”
Several press freedom organizations have blasted Cooper’s ruling.
“Requiring reporters to face contempt before they can appeal may discourage them from insisting on their First Amendment right to protect confidential sources by taking their objection to a higher court,” Caitlin Vogus, deputy director of advocacy for the Freedom of the Press Foundation, noted in a recent blog post.
“Journalists are already under great pressure any time they face a legal demand to reveal a confidential source or other newsgathering material. If they can’t appeal an order requiring them to name a source without facing a potentially large fine or long jail sentence, some may think twice about continuing to resist,” Vogus added.