Journalist Catherine Herridge calls for passage of the PRESS Act

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Screenshot of journalist Catherine Herridge testifying before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee on the importance of the bipartisan PRESS Act for investigative journalists, their sources and American democracy.

Veteran journalist Catherine Herridge threw her full support behind the PRESS Act, the federal bill to put an end to surveillance and subpoenas to force journalists to out their sources, during Congressional testimony today. 

“If there’s anything I can accomplish in my career as a journalist it’s going to be getting this over the finish line. I feel this with every core of my being,” she told the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government. 

Herridge, who most recently worked for CBS News, was held in contempt of court for refusing to divulge sources for her reporting during her time at Fox News. She is facing a fine of $800 every day that she does not burn her sources, although the penalty is stayed while she appeals. 

“Forcing a reporter to disclose confidential sources would have a crippling effect on investigative journalism,” said Herridge, later adding that “If you cannot offer a source a promise of confidentiality as a journalist, your toolbox is empty.” 

Although Herridge said she “has not lost a night’s sleep about my decision to protect my confidential sources,” she noted that one of her children had asked her whether she was going to go to jail, and whether they were going to lose their home and savings, all because she refused to renege on her promises to her sources. “I wanted to answer that in this United States, … it was impossible, but I could not offer that assurance,” she said. 

“I hope that I am the last journalist that has to spend two years in the federal courts fighting to protect my confidential sources,” Herridge proclaimed. “If confidential sources are not protected, I fear investigative journalism is dead.”  

The PRESS Act passed the House unanimously and with broad bipartisan sponsorship in January, and representatives from Jim Jordan to Jerry Nadler reiterated their support for the bill at today’s hearing.  It’s now pending in the Senate, with strong bipartisan support in that chamber as well, but it needs to clear the Senate Judiciary Committee to further advance. 

The highest-ranking senators from both parties that sit on that committee, Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham, are both sponsors of the bill. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer recently told the New York Post that he’d like to see the bill on the president’s desk this year.

Other witnesses at today’s hearing also testified powerfully in favor of the PRESS Act. Nadine Farid Johnson, policy director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, explained that “Modern newsgathering requires that reporters are able to give assurances of confidentiality to their sources.” She noted that the Supreme Court had “invited” Congress in 1972 to pass a law protecting journalist-source confidentiality and encouraged it to finally do so. 

Like Herridge, Farid Johnson emphasized the PRESS Act’s broad definition of “journalist,” explaining that “in the digital age, a significant amount of important reporting is done by journalists who do not fit a traditional mold,” and that journalists must be protected “whether writing for The Washington Post or offering a subscription on Substack.” 

Journalist Sharyl Attkisson added that “countless news stories that I broke or facets of them could not have been reported without sources whose identities needed to be protected.” She added that “there’s no way to quantify with any certainty the impact of what we’ve lost and what we’re not able to do” without adequate protection for journalist-source confidentiality. “But I don’t think there are many investigative reporters who would say it isn’t having a big impact.” 

Mary Cavallaro, chief broadcast officer, SAG-AFTRA News & Broadcast Department, also endorsed the PRESS Act. “This long-overdue legislation represents a significant leap forward not just for journalists, but for the sanctity of journalism itself, and for the constitutional right to freedom of the press,” she said. 

Herridge noted in her testimony that the PRESS Act is supported by numerous press freedom and civil liberties organizations, including Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF). 

Seth Stern, FPF’s Advocacy Director, said: “The PRESS Act is the most important press freedom legislation in modern times. It’s truly remarkable that, despite all the political divisions in Congress, legislators from both parties proudly support the PRESS Act. We hope that senators in both parties take the testimony of Catherine Herridge and others to heart and advance this crucial legislation without further delay.”  

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