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Judge fines ex-Fox News reporter for failing to reveal sources


A federal judge on Thursday held a veteran investigative journalist in contempt of court for failing to reveal her sources for stories she wrote about a scientist under FBI investigation.

Reporter Catherine Herridge, formerly of CBS News and Fox News, was ordered to pay $800 per day until she disclosed the information. The judge, Christopher Cooper, of the US District Court in Washington, suspended the fine for 30 days to give Ms Herridge time to appeal.

The case, which alarmed First Amendment supporters, concerns a series of articles which were written by Ms. Herridge and her colleagues in 2017, while she worked at Fox News. The reports revealed that the FBI had investigated the scientist, Dr. Yanping Chen, a Chinese American who is president of the University of Management and Technology in Arlington, Virginia, on suspicion of ties to the Chinese army and if she had lied about American immigration. shapes.

The FBI completed its investigation without bringing charges against Dr. Chen, a year before Ms. Herridge and her colleagues published and broadcast their reporting.

In 2018, Dr. Chen sued the FBI and other government agencies, accusing them of violating privacy law by disclosing information to Ms. Herridge. The Privacy Act protects personal information collected by federal agencies.

Mr Justice Cooper ruled last year that Ms Herridge must reveal her confidential sources. On Thursday, he held her in civil contempt for disobeying that order. He said he did not issue the order lightly, deciding that Dr. Chen’s need for information outweighed Ms. Herridge’s First Amendment protections.

“Herridge and many of her colleagues in the journalism community may disagree with this decision and prefer that a different balance be struck, but she is not permitted to flout a federal court order with impunity,” wrote Judge Cooper in Thursday’s decision.

Patrick Philbin, Ms. Herridge’s attorney, said in an email: “We disagree with the district court’s decision, and to protect Ms. Herridge’s First Amendment rights, we intend to do call. »

Ms. Herridge, who left Fox in 2019 to join CBS News as a senior investigative correspondent, was among nearly two dozen CBS News journalists who were laid off by the network this month.

Andrew C. Phillips, Dr. Chen’s attorney, said in a statement that without the protections of the Privacy Act, federal law enforcement could “exploit its broad powers to invade the privacy of a U.S. citizen and then selectively leak documents to smear his reputation or score political points.

“Today’s decision is important to ensure that government officials can be held accountable for their outrageous abuses of power,” Phillips said.

A Fox News spokeswoman said scorning a reporter for protecting a confidential source “has a profound chilling effect on journalism.”

“Fox News Media remains committed to protecting the rights of the free press and freedom of expression and believes this decision should be appealed,” she said.

Gabe Rottman, senior attorney for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said Thursday that while he disagreed with the ruling against Ms. Herridge, “it’s a relief that Judge Cooper allows you to appeal without the financial pressure of daily fines.

“The court’s opinion makes clear that the answer here must be for Congress to pass a federal protective law,” Mr. Rottman said.


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