U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Former Fox News reporter held in contempt for refusing to comply with subpoena

Incident Details


A portion of the order holding former Fox News reporter Catherine Herridge in civil contempt on Feb. 29, 2024, for her refusal to comply with a subpoena seeking testimony about a confidential source.

February 29, 2024

Journalist Catherine Herridge was held in civil contempt Feb. 29, 2024, for refusing to comply with a subpoena compelling her to reveal a confidential source, according to court documents reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

The ruling stemmed from a series of Fox News investigative online articles and broadcast reports by then-correspondent Herridge published in early 2017 about a federal investigation into the possible foreign military ties of a Chinese American scientist, Yanping Chen.

The articles cited, and included excerpts of, materials from the investigation, such as FBI interviews, Chen’s immigration forms and photos of her in a Chinese military uniform. The six-year investigation was concluded in 2016.

No charges were brought against Chen, and in December 2018 she sued the FBI and the departments of Justice, Defense and Homeland Security, arguing that investigators violated her rights under the Privacy Act when her personal information was leaked to Herridge.

Chen subpoenaed Herridge in June 2022, seeking documents, communications and testimony concerning the federal investigation as well as sufficient information to identify her source. Fox News and producers Pamela K. Browne and Cyd Upson — who were also bylined on the articles — received similar subpoenas for documents and testimony. The Tracker has documented each of the subpoenas here.

While U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper quashed the requests for documents, he ruled in August 2023 that the identity of the confidential source was central to the lawsuit’s claim and ordered Herridge to testify about her reporting and any sources. “Chen’s need for the requested evidence overcomes Herridge’s qualified First Amendment privilege,” he wrote.

Herridge sat for a deposition in September, but refused to answer any questions about the identity or intent of her sources, according to court filings.

Herridge attempted to appeal the ruling, but was instructed by the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals that the proper procedure required her to refuse to comply and then appeal the resulting contempt order. In November 2023, Chen asked the court to hold Herridge in contempt and proposed a graduated fine of $500 a day for the first seven days, $1,000 a day the following week and $5,000 for each day after.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed an amicus brief in support of Herridge, arguing that holding her in contempt would have a significant chilling effect on national security reporting.

“The ability of journalists to assure sources that their identities will remain confidential is central to preserving the press’s structural role as a check on government, particularly in the national security sphere,” RCFP wrote. “When sources stop talking to journalists because they fear that their identities cannot be protected, that loss impairs the electorate’s ability to make informed political, social, and economic decisions, and to hold elected officials and others in power accountable.”

Cooper held Herridge in contempt in February 2024. “The Court does not reach this result lightly,” Cooper wrote in his decision. “Herridge and many of her colleagues in the journalism community may disagree with that decision and prefer that a different balance be struck, but she is not permitted to flout a federal court’s order with impunity.”

He ordered that Herridge be fined $800 a day until she complies with the subpoena, but stayed the fine for 30 days or until an appeal of the ruling is completed, whichever comes later.

Neither Herridge nor her attorney were immediately available to comment.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].