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April 13, 2024

You know the story, at least the part that’s been made public, about CBS NEWS’ firing of reporter Catherine Herridge and essentially locking her out of the building, denying her access to hundreds of pages of her own work materials.  When this was first reported, it was as part of a larger story of big layoffs at Paramount +, NBC’s parent company.  But there apparently is much more to her case.

Recall that Herridge, a longtime correspondent for FOX NEWS before this, was hired to CBS ostensibly to provide some balance to their broadcasts.  Alas, that appears now to have been just lip service.  Hey, at least they tried to give the appearance of even-handedness!  They gave that a shot for as long as they could stand it.

A number of journalists have commented that the way her bosses withheld her own records from her, including information on confidential sources, is something they’ve never seen during their careers.  Even Wikipedia says in Judge Cooper’s bio that his ruling to hold Herridge in civil contempt “has been widely criticized by journalists and First Amendment advocates.”

Multiple sources have expressed to Herridge their concern that working with her to expose government corruption could end up exposing THEM.  One might imagine that, depending on what she was working on, some of them might now be feeling the need to sleep with one eye open, or perhaps are facing investigations and/or audits.

Professional media groups, including her union, SAG/AFTRA, have spoken out in support of her.  In fact, it was the statement from SAG/AFTRA that appears to have led CBS NEWS to give Herridge her materials back.  (CBS NEWS claims not to have looked at them, but all she has is their word.  And she has no way to know who else might have looked.)

Herridge testified before the House Judiciary Committee (their Subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government, a noble cause) on Thursday morning, saying that the way her employer did this was not normal, that it “crossed a red line” that should “never be crossed by any media organization.”

She’s still not sure why she was fired, as they never said --- firing her by Zoom call --- but cited differences with her superiors regarding the Hunter Biden laptop story and other reporting regarding the Biden administration.  There was “tension,” she said, though she “can’t say for sure” why she was let go.

She thought she was being brought in by CBS to provide balance, she said, but told the panel that from the beginning, executives “limited points of view and voices.”

“I was uncomfortable with that,” Herridge said, “because I think good journalism is about diverse voices.”  Diversity of opinion --- how old-school.

(Side note:  Herridge’s experience at CBS sounds very much like the revelations that we brought you just a couple of days ago about National Public Radio, whose taxpayer-supported newsroom employs 87 Democrats and zero Republicans.)

At the time Herridge was excommunicated from CBS NEWS, she was still facing litigation over an investigative series she did for FOX NEWS, concerning an FBI probe into a Chinese scientist named Yanping Chen.  For a lawsuit brought by Chen under the Privacy Act in which Herridge was only a witness, Chen had been trying to learn the identity of her sources, which, of course, she would not reveal, so Chen asked that she be ordered by a court to provide this information.  U.S. District Judge Chris Cooper, appointed by President Obama after working on his transition team in 2008, so ordered last year.

“Chen’s need for the requested evidence overcomes Herridge’s qualified First Amendment privilege in this case,” Judge Cooper wrote.  (Ah, “qualified.”)   He ruled in a 28-page filing that she would have to sit for a deposition and answer questions under oath about the “identity and intent” of sources for her series.

“The Court recognizes both the vital importance of a free press and the critical role that confidential sources play in the work of investigative journalists like Herridge,” Cooper wrote.  (Really??  I sense a “but” coming.)  “But” (see, there it is!) “applying the binding case law of this Circuit, the court concludes that Chen’s need for the requested evidence overcomes Herridge’s qualified First Amendment privilege in this case.” (FYI to the judge: The First Amendment is a right, not a “privilege.”)

Lawyers for FOX NEWS, who, to FOX’s credit went to court with Herridge and are continuing to represent her, had argued that the First Amendment protects journalists in cases like this and Chen’s request had not met the threshold to override it.  They argued the weakness of Chen’s case, whether she had the names of these sources or not, asserting that “the balance of interests overwhelmingly favors protecting sources.”

Chen went all-out to try to independently confirm Herridge’s sources, even taking 18 depositions of current and former government employees.  Chen believes it was an FBI leak but hasn’t been able to confirm that.  “The identity of Herridge’s source is central to Chen’s claim,” Judge Cooper wrote, “and despite exhaustive recovery, Chen has been unable to ferret out his or her identity.  The only reasonable option left is for Chen to ask Herridge herself.”

At this point, Herridge decided that HER only reasonable option, as a journalist, was to refuse to answer Chen’s questions.

If you’d like more information on the Chen case, Zachary Steiber at THE EPOCH TIMES has it, in a report from August of last year.  (Apologies if you have trouble linking to this; some ET stories are “premium” but we don’t see a label to that effect.)

Judge Cooper, after holding Herridge in contempt of court in February, imposed a fine of $800 per day until Herridge complies and reveals her sources, though he has stayed that order until the appellate court in DC has ruled.  That is where the case is now.  During her testimony Thursday, Herridge said she was “living a legal nightmare.”

Congress holds these oversight hearings in part to help them craft and pass legislation to address issues.  During her testimony, Herridge asked Congress to pass H.R. 4250, the Protect Reporters from Exploitative State Spying Act, or “PRESS Act.”  (Say, Congress, how about protecting ALL of us from exploitative state spying while you’re at it?)

“The legislation provides strong protections at the federal level,” she said in her opening statement, “for reporters and their sources.  It will block litigants and the federal government from prying into a reporter’s files, except when there’s an imminent threat of violence, including terrorism, and in defamation cases.  At the state level, similar rules are already in place to protect press freedom.”

“I hope I am the last journalist who has to spend two years in the federal courts, fighting to protect my confidential sources,” Herridge said.  “...Forcing a reporter to disclose confidential sources would have a crippling effect on investigative journalism.”  Sad to say, but many in politics and the legal system would say confidentially that this effect of crippling is not a bug, it’s a feature.  They’d like nothing better than to cripple independent reporters who go sniffing around where they shouldn’t. (Case in point:  recently-arrested J6 reporter Steve Baker.)

“The First Amendment, the protection of confidential sources, are my guiding principles,” she said.  “They are my North Star.”

Seeing Herridge speak out like this sure should remind us all of how much we’ve missed her at FOX NEWS.  So much forthrightness, so much class --- two qualities on the endangered species list in the news media.  Sharyl Attkisson, another fine journalist now working independently, testified as well.  Video of Herridge’s full opening statement is at REDSTATE.

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