Journalist Catherine Herridge Breaks Silence on Capitol Hill Over Source-Protection Legal Battle: ‘I Hope I Am the Last’

Catherine Herridge, a former Fox News and CBS News reporter in the middle of a consequential First Amendment case over journalists’ right to protect anonymity, testified at a Thursday hearing on Capitol Hill – her first public statements on being held in contempt of court for refusing to reveal her sources. During her testimony she called CBS News’ actions after her firing “journalistic rape,” as the network released a statement denying that they “seized” her records in the first place.

The House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government held the hearing titled “Fighting for a Free Press: Protecting Journalists and their Sources,” which examined the federal government’s infringement on the First Amendment’s guarantee of press freedom.

Herridge, who has been held in contempt of court for not revealing her sources for stories about a scientist who was investigated by the FBI, moved over to CBS News from Fox News in 2019. She was among 20 staffers laid off in February.

“I’m here today with a deep sense of gratitude and humility,” Herridge said on Thursday. “I appreciate the subcommittee taking the time to focus again on the importance of protecting reporters sources and the vital safeguards provided by the Press Act.”

Herridge invoked her latest legal struggles saying “I think my current situation can help put the importance of the Press Act into context.”

“One of our children recently asked me if I would go to jail if we would lose our house. And if we would lose our family savings to protect my reporting sources,” Herridge said. “I wanted to answer that in this United States where we say we value democracy and the role of a vibrant and free press that it was impossible but I could not offer that assurance.”

Herridge came out in full support of the bipartisan Press Act, which she said will “put an end to the sort of legal jeopardy that I have experienced firsthand in the federal courts.”

“I hope that I am the last journalist who has to spend two years in the federal courts fighting to protect my confidential sources,” Herridge added.

“Forcing a reporter to disclose content sources would have a crippling effect on investigative journalism because, without reliable assurances of confidentiality, sources will not come forward,” Herridge said. “The First Amendment provides protections for the press because an Informed Electorate is at the foundation of our democracy.”

Herridge noted that she did not attend the hearing to “litigate the case,” which will play out before an appellate court, “But the fact that I had been fighting in the courts for two years and that I am now facing potentially crippling fines of $800 a day to protect my reporting sources underscores the vital importance of the Press Act.”

The journalist then discussed the controversial nature of her layoff from CBS News, claiming that the network “locked me out of the building and seized hundreds of pages of my reporting files, including confidential source information.”

“CBS News’s decision to seize my reporting records crossed a red line that I believe should never be crossed again by any media organization in the future,” Herridge said.

“The litigation and being held in contempt have taken a toll on me and my career,” Herridge continued. “This is not a battle you can fight alone.”

CBS News has denied interference of this nature, saying that the actions taken were to protect Herridge’s material following her layoff, in a letter sent to the House Judiciary Committee, obtained by TheWrap.

“Contrary to several false press reports, absolutely none of Ms. Herridge’s files were ‘seized,'” the letter, which was introduced to the record during the hearing on Thursday, reads. “Rather, CBS acted to secure and protect the material in Ms. Herridge’s office. Promptly after it notified Ms. Herridge of her termination, company Human Resources collected all of Ms. Herridge’s apparent personal belongings in her office … and returned them to her. Human Resources entered the office to retrieve these belongings, but at no time did anyone review any of the files or other materials in it. Her office remained secure.”

Later in the hearing, Herridge went even further in her description of the actions of her former network saying, “When the network of Walter Cronkite seizes your reporting files including confidential information that is an attack on investigative journalism.”

“When my records were seized, I felt it was a journalistic rape,” Herridge added.

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