The story behind Catherine Herridge’s refusal to reveal her sources


The story behind Catherine Herridge’s refusal to reveal her sources is deeply rooted in journalistic principles and the complexities of legal battles involving privacy, national security, and the First Amendment. Herridge, a veteran investigative journalist, found herself in the midst of a legal storm due to her reporting in 2017 for Fox News on Yanping Chen, a Chinese American scientist with alleged ties to the Chinese military.

Herridge’s reports suggested that Chen might have been using a professional school she founded in Virginia to facilitate the Chinese government’s access to information about American servicemembers. These reports were based on leaked information, including FBI documents and personal data about Chen.

Chen, who was investigated by the FBI but never charged, filed a lawsuit against the government, claiming that the leaks violated the Privacy Act by improperly disclosing her personal information, aiming to tarnish her reputation and livelihood.


As part of her lawsuit, Chen sought to uncover the sources of Herridge’s reporting by subpoenaing her and Fox News. Herridge, standing by the journalistic principle of protecting sources, refused to disclose this information, even after being ordered by U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper. Cooper ruled that Chen’s need to prove her case outweighed Herridge’s right to protect her sources, leading to Herridge being held in civil contempt and fined $800 per day, a penalty suspended pending appeal.

Herridge’s refusal to reveal her sources underscores the tension between the need for journalistic confidentiality and the legal system’s demands for evidence in litigation. This case highlights the critical role of confidential sources in investigative journalism and the potential chilling effect on press freedom when journalists are compelled to breach this confidentiality.

Herridge’s stance, supported by Fox News and reflecting broader concerns within the journalism community, emphasizes the importance of a free press and the protection of sources as fundamental to the pursuit of truth and accountability in society.