‘Journalistic Rape’; Here Are the Big Moments From Catherine Herridge’s House Hearing

April 11th, 2024 7:04 PM

On Thursday before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government, former CBS News correspondent Catherine Herridge emerged to give her first set of extended public remarks about her sudden firing from CBS News and what she would describe as a “journalistic rape” and the crossing of “a red line that...should never be crossed again” in the (temporary) seizure of her files that contained sensitive details about sources.

Joined by Sinclair’s Sharyl Attkisson, SAG-AFTRA’s Mary Cavallaro, and the Knight First Amendment Institute’s Nadine Farid Johnson, Herridge spoke out in favor of the bipartisan PRESS Act, which would largely protect journalists from being forced by the government to disclose the identity of their sources.

Herridge has particular interest as, in addition to sudden unemployment, she was recently held in contempt and ordered (pending a stay) to divulge a source relating to a story from her Fox News tenure or face a $500/day fine.

Herridge largely took the high road, such as in her opening statement thanking the House for “taking the time to focus again on the importance of protecting reporter sources and the vital safeguards provided by the PRESS Act”.

She explained what the contempt case has done to her family and the impact it’d have on (actual) journalism (click “expand”):

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’s savings to protect my reporting sources. 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. The bipartisan PRESS Act, which came out of this House Committee, would put it into the sort of legal jeopardy that I had experienced firsthand in the federal courts. And without the legislation, more journalists will run into the uncertainty of the contempt gauntlet in the future. This legislation will provide protections for every working journalist in the United States, now and for the next generation. The legislation provides strong protections at the federal level for reporters and their sources. It would block litigants and federal governments from prying into reporters files, except when there’s imminent threat of violence, including terrorism and in defamation cases. At the state level, similar rules are already in place at the state level to protect press freedom. It is my sincere hope the passage of the PRESS Act will provide similar protections at the federal level. I hope I am the last journalist who has to spin two years in the federal courts fighting to protect my confidential sources. My current situation arises from a privacy act lawsuit. I am only a witness in the case. It is not common for these cases to reach the stage of holding a reporter in contempt. But when such cases happen, they have profound consequences, impacting every journalist in the United States. Forcing a reporter to dispose confidential source would have a crippling effect on investigative journalism because, without reliable assurances of confidentiality, sources will not come forward. The First Amendment provides protections for the press because an informed electorate is at the foundation of our democracy. If confidential sources are not protected, I fear investigative journalism is dead. Each day, I feel the weight of that responsibility. As you know, I was held in contempt of court for upholding the basic journalistic principle of maintaining the pledge of confidentiality to my sources.

Acknowledging this and losing your job “gives you clarity”, Herridge said it’s solidified “the importance of protecting confidential sources” with some having reached out when her CBS files were seized and “were concerned that, by working with me to expose government corruption and misconduct, they would be identified and exposed.”

Despite the fact she did receive her files, she added this “decision to receive my reporting records crossed a red line that I believe should never be crossed again by any media organization in the future”, especially because such legal threats and fines would be crushing for smaller and independent journalists.

For her part, Attkisson tied in the host of stories she’s covered, the Obama administration spying on her, and need for confidential sources to the Deep State’s unrepentant penchant for targeting those they perceive to be enemies.

Herridge refused to throw CBS under the bus for letting her go. In answering questions from Congressman Tom McClintock (R-CA) about whether “if CBS actions were influenced by the government in any way,” Herridge declined to answer as she’s “not someone who is known to offer speculation.”

Attkisson, however, wadded in with the reality that government interference in the liberal media “happens everyday” with “[m]embers of committees, heads of committees, members of Congress and the White House” having “called the bureau in Washington, D.C., contacts that they have, editors and managers up in New York to try to shape our coverage.”

Herridge did open up when Congresswoman Harriett Hageman (R-WY) astutely invited her to expand on why government coercion to reveal sources is dangerous (and in particular for stories aiming to hold those in power to account).

At one point, Herridge said she hasn’t “lost a night’s sleep about my decision to protect my confidential sources” and taking anonymity off the table severely decreases the likelihood whistleblowers will reveal government wrongdoing (click the tweet to read the full thread):

A little later on and after Congressman Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) walked Attkisson through many of her major, career-defining scoops and the necessity to have sources, Herridge told Jordan her career hasn’t been about focusing just on, say, the Biden family, but “call[ing] balls and strikes” and the seizure of her files was “not my experience in the other two networks I worked at or with my colleagues at CBS News.”

“When the network of Walter Cronkite seizes the reporting files, including confidential source information, that is an attack on investigative journalism,” she added.

Jordan laid out summation of what seems to happen to journalists who dare to be “critical of the government”, which is “a pattern” in which “all kinds of strange things” happen to them, whether it’s suddenly losing one’s job to having files seized to communications surveilled.

“That’s scary...[Y]ou talk about a chilling effect on the First Amendment, I don’t know how we could be more chilly,” he said.

Herridge became more pointed:

Wherever you work, if this happened to you, it’s an attack on free press. It’s an attack on the First Amendment. It makes it more challenging for reporters to work in the future. That disrupts the free flow of information to the public. They call it — journalism a profession for a reason because it’s about an informed electorate, and it’s a cornerstone of our democracy. I can only speak for myself. When my records were seized, I felt it was a journalistic rape.

Herridge further opened up to Subcommittee Chairman and Congressman Chip Roy (R-TX) about pressure she felt at CBS when covering Biden family corruption after Roy observed there was “[n]othing” to “indicate that there was a failure to perform your duties” when CBS laid her off (click “expand”):

HERRIDGE: Congressman, I think what you are asking me is whether I was terminated for — for poor performance. I don’t believe that my record would reflect that. I don’t know what factors the CBS News executives considered when they terminated my position. There was tension over the Hunter Biden reporting and the Biden administration, but I can’t speak for sure why I was let go.

ROY: And you mentioned tension. You had been one of the — the reporters certainly in what we might define as the mainstream media that was focusing intently on the Hunter Biden laptop, on the various facts surrounding the Biden family and the flow of money and all of those things involved with that. Is that correct?

HERRIDGE: That is correct. For the full picture, though, I was also the reporter at CBS News who obtained the audiotape of former President Trump apparently bragging about the Iran classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, and I also exposed how 50 soldiers were denied the Purple Heart under the Trump administration in an effort to descalate after a ballistic missile attack in Iran. I — I’m someone who calls balls and strikes, Congressman. I just follow the facts where they lead. That has always been my calling card.

ROY: When CBS let you go, was it around the time of you calling out the Trump administration or around the time that you were pursuing more of the Hunter Biden?

HERRIDGE: Ah, I was let go a few days after the Special Counsel — Robert Hur report into President Biden’s handling of classified information.


ROY: In closing, can you just reiterate the extent of your belief of what this means for other journalists/ And you alluded to before, smaller journalists without the protection of the kind of corporate structure that we’ve got with Fox backing you up from your previous reporting.

HERRIDGE: I just don’t think any journalists could withstand the threat of significant and crippling financial sanctions. They may not have a former employer or a current employer who’s in position to mount a vigorous or costly defense. I think it’s a very dangerous period for journalism. The PRESS Act would close the legal cap in the system, this ambiguity I’ve had to deal with for two years and I want to emphasize. This is not about a single journalist. It’s not about a single-story. It’s not about a single network. What happens in my case, the passage of the PRESS Act is going to impact every journalism — journalist working in this room and it’s going to impact every journalist in the United States and for the next generation to come. If there’s anything I can accomplish in my career as a journalist, it’s going to get this over the finish line. I feel this with every core of my being.

Herridge showed more of her cards to Congressman Dan Bishop (R-NC) as he closed out the hearing, including an admission about the bias she saw at CBS:

The left often parodies conservatives and Republicans as anti-media, but like most things out of the so-called fact-checkers, it couldn’t be any further from the truth.

Click the tweet to see a thread containing the opening statement from Roy:

Jordan sounded similar tunes, noting: “[i]t’s not just the press that’s under attack” in recent years, but “[e]very single liberty we enjoy under the First Amendment’s been assaulted in the last couple years”:

To see the relevant transcript from the April 11 hearing, click here.