Former FOX News reporter Catherine Herridge, now with CBS, has been ordered by United States District Judge Christopher Cooper to reveal the sources she used for reports made in 2017 regarding Chinese-American Yanping Chen. In 2020, Chen, president of the Virginia-based University of Management and Technology, filed suit against the FBI and others, alleging in the course of its six-year investigation of her (which began in 2010) for possible ties to the CCP, it violated her rights by improperly leaking personal information.
Quoting from Judge Cooper’s ruling in the matter:
Beginning in 2010, Chen, a naturalized U.S. citizen, became the focus of an FBI investigation concerning statements she made on certain immigration forms about her work in China in the 1980s. As a part of that investigation, the FBI executed search warrants for Chen’s home and the main office of UMT, seizing materials during both searches.
Prosecutors eventually informed Chen (EDITOR’S NOTE: This was in 2016) that no charges would be filed against her, but about a year later, Fox News Network (“Fox”) ran a series of television segments and news articles about her. The articles, authored by then-Fox reporter Catherine Herridge, focused on Chen’s alleged ties to the Chinese military and former role as a colonel in the People’s Liberation Army.
The severity of these allegations stems from the University of Management and Technology’s nature. Founded in 1998 by Chen and her husband, J. Davidson Frame, the institution boasts online of its close ties to the American military:
UMT is committed to providing the highest quality online educational programs to the men and women who serve our country. UMT realizes this commitment by offering military benefits which enable them to earn their degrees efficiently and affordably.
We know the military. UMT HQ is located just ten minutes from the Pentagon. We work regularly with all the armed services and we feel the pulse!
Given that during her time in China, Chen was allegedly an officer in the People’s Liberation Army, one can see where this might prove problematic.
Back to the lawsuit. The ruling that Herridge must supply the identity of her sources to Chen begins as follows (italics mine):
In 2017, Fox News Network aired a series of investigative reports about Plaintiff Yanping Chen. The thrust of the stories, principally authored by journalist Catherine Herridge, was that Ms. Chen had concealed her former membership in the Chinese military on her U.S. immigration forms and might have been using a professional school she founded in Virginia to funnel valuable information about the American military to the Chinese government. The reports also contained materials—including photographs and images of internal government documents—that Chen alleges were leaked by government personnel to Herridge and Fox, in violation of the Privacy Act. After extensive discovery and several opinions by this Court, Chen has been unable to identify the source of the alleged leak. She thus issued subpoenas to Herridge and Fox, seeking to compel them to reveal their confidential source or sources. Asserting the First Amendment’s qualified privilege for journalists, and urging the Court to adopt a federal common law newsgathering privilege, Herridge and Fox moved to quash the subpoenas.
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. But 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. The identity of Herridge’s source is central to Chen’s claim, and despite exhaustive discovery, Chen has been unable to ferret out his or her identity. The only reasonable option left is for Chen to ask Herridge herself.
Regardless of how one feels about the press, its ability to work freely cannot be hindered by the government in any manner, including the allowance of legal action designed to silence media information sources. It bears mention that in a 2020 ruling in the matter, in the course of denying a Department of Justice request to dismiss the matter, the court neither affirmed nor denied that the Privacy Act, under which Chen makes her claims, covers said claims.
RedState has broken several exclusive stories in recent years. For example:
While Herridge has made no public announcement regarding whether she will comply with the order instead of appealing the decision, one hopes she will not. This is important not only to her personally and professionally but to all genuine newsgathering efforts and national security itself. Without immunity from court-ordered harassment of such journalistic efforts, the Washington Post’s joke of the slogan “democracy dies in darkness” becomes chillingly real.