Journalist Held In Contempt For Refusing To Expose Sources

U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper has held investigative reporter Catherine Herridge in civil contempt for refusing to betray a confidential source in support of a Privacy Act lawsuit.

Catherine Herridge reported on Yanping Chen in a series of investigative articles in 2017, related to an FBI investigation of Chen that ended without charges. Chen claims that much of the information in the articles should have only been available to the FBI itself.

Chen sued the FBI and Justice Department in 2018 for violating her Privacy Act protections by leaking the information to Herridge.

The judge imposed a fine of $800 a day until Harridge reveals her source. The fine will not go into effect quite yet so that Herridge has time to appeal.

For journalists, it’s incredibly important to protect sources’ anonymity. Without confidence in their safety, few informants would be willing to reveal critical information th the public.

“Holding a journalist in contempt for protecting a confidential source has a deeply chilling effect on journalism,” Fox News said in a statement on the case. “FOX News Media remains committed to protecting the rights of a free press and freedom of speech and believes this decision should be appealed.”

CNN shares a similar opinion about the need for journalists to protect their sources:

Chen’s attorney, Andrew C. Phillips, said in a statement that “today’s ruling is an important one to ensure that government officials can be held to account for outrageous abuses of power.”

Unfortunately, the ruling means that a journalist is now being punished for a government official’s actions. Considering all of the implications of this case, it’s easy to see why a precedent like this could lead to more “outrageous abuses of power” by government officials in the future.

If the government is able to force journalists to reveal confidential sources at will, future confidants will think twice before revealing information about the government’s actions. Without laws in place against this sort of subpoena, the government could more effectively cover up actions that many would rather the public know about.