A federal judge has ordered CBS News senior correspondent Catherine Herridge to disclose her sources in relation to a compelling series of stories she covered during her tenure at Fox News. These stories delved into the FBI's investigation of a Chinese American scientist, Yanping Chen.
Chen claims that the FBI violated the privacy act by unlawfully leaking information about her. Back in 2017, Herridge, a reputable investigative journalist, utilized a confidential source or sources to gather substantial material about the federal counterintelligence probe involving Chen. The Fox series brought the spotlight onto Chen, who had associations with China's People's Liberation Army and held an influential position as the president of the taxpayer-funded University of Management and Technology located in Rosslyn, Virginia.
Even after the FBI raided the university twice in 2012, it received a significant amount of funding from the Defense Department, surpassing $6 million. As part of her case against the FBI, Chen subpoenaed Herridge and Fox, aiming to unveil the identity of the source(s) responsible for the articles. Fox and Herridge, both staunch defenders of the freedom of the press enshrined by the First Amendment, contested the subpoenas, urging the judge to quash them.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper, an appointee during the Obama administration, acknowledged the integral role that investigative journalists like Herridge play in society and the importance of maintaining a free press. However, Cooper determined that Chen's need for the requested evidence outweighed Herridge's qualified First Amendment privilege in this particular case.
Worth noting is that the judge confined Chen's deposition subpoena to solely non-privileged matters pertaining to her Privacy Act claim. As for Chen's document subpoena, it has been temporarily postponed. Chen has already taken the depositions of 18 current and former government employees, including four FBI personnel, and obtained 22 government declarations. Despite these efforts, she has been unable to ascertain the sources behind the Fox story, as stated in court documents.
This ruling raises significant concerns surrounding the protection of press freedom. Gabe Rottman, the Director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, expressed these concerns, stressing that while the Privacy Act offers crucial safeguards for the public, utilizing it to impede reporter-source confidentiality carries substantial risks to the fundamental principles of a free press.