Former star Fox News investigative reporter Catherine Herridge faces the prospect of spending time in jail due to her refusal to reveal the identity of a confidential source.
This comes from an article published by The Epoch Times on Saturday.
In August, Herridge was ordered by U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper (an Obama appointee) to disclose who provided her with information concerning an FBI investigation into a Chinese scientist named Yanping Chen. However, during a deposition following Cooper’s order, Herridge refused to answer questions about the identity of her source or other aspects of her reporting process and editorial decision-making.
As a result, lawyers for Chen asked that she be held in contempt – which could involve jail time – and last week Cooper indicated that she likely would be if she continued to refuse the disclosure.
“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 acknowledged that he had the authority to make such a decision, and exercised it when denying the motion as it is customary to delay appellate proceedings until the defendant has disobeyed a court order and is 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.
Organizations advocating for press freedom have severely criticized Cooper’s ruling, claiming that it could set a dangerous precedent by forcing reporters to confront contempt charges while appealing.
“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.