Media Union Condemns Alleged Seizure of Reporter’s Files by CBS News

SAG-AFTRA expressed deep concern over the reported actions of CBS News.
Media Union Condemns Alleged Seizure of Reporter’s Files by CBS News
Catherine Herridge attends the White House Correspondents' Dinner after-party in Washington, on April 30, 2022. (Photo by Shedrick Pelt/Getty Images)
Caden Pearson

The union responsible for broadcast journalists issued a statement on Thursday condemning CBS News’ alleged decision to seize the notes and research of investigative reporter Catherine Herridge after her recent layoff.

In a strongly worded statement, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) expressed deep concern over the reported actions of CBS News, stating that the alleged move to seize Ms. Herridge’s reporter notes, which include confidential source information, is not only “deeply concerning” but also sets a “dangerous precedent” that threatens the core principles of the First Amendment.

Ms. Herridge, an investigative broadcast journalist, was among the CBS News employees laid off earlier this month. In an op-ed published in The Hill on Thursday, it was claimed that the outlet seized her files, which remain locked in her office.

“It is completely inappropriate for an employer to lay off a reporter and take the very unusual step of retaining and searching the reporter’s files, inclusive of confidential source identification and information,” SAG-AFTRA said in its statement following news reports.

The union said that, from the perspective of the First Amendment, a news media outlet calling a reporter’s research and confidential source reporting “proprietary information” is both “shocking and absurd.”

The union urged CBS to promptly return Ms. Herridge’s materials, asserting that the retention of a media professional’s reporting materials by a former employer constitutes a “serious break with traditional practices.”

“We are encouraged by recent outreach by CBS News to SAG-AFTRA on this matter, and we are hopeful that it will be resolved shortly,” SAG-AFTRA added in its statement.

CBS Says It Hasn’t Gone Through the Files

A CBS spokesperson said the outlet has not gone through Ms. Herridge’s files, in a statement to The Epoch Times.

“Catherine’s personal belongings were delivered to her home one week ago, and we are prepared to pack up the rest of her files immediately on her behalf—with her representative present as she requested,” the spokesperson said.

“We are awaiting a response from Catherine and/or her representative to do so. We have respected her request to not go through the files, and out of our concern for confidential sources, the office she occupied has remained secure since her departure.”

Ms. Herridge has not officially made a statement in response to the reports of her files being seized. However, on Thursday, she reposted SAG-AFTRA’s statement condemning CBS News’ reported actions on X (formerly Twitter).
News of her dismissal garnered criticism from journalists and others, with Michael Shellenberger, an author and journalist, decrying the reported claims about her reporter notes as a “gross violation of journalistic ethics.” In a previous post, he praised Ms. Herridge as a “hero” for “protecting her sources.”

Ms. Herridge, who joined CBS in 2019 as a balanced voice covering both sides of the political spectrum, is a respected investigative reporter. Her departure from CBS has raised questions, particularly given her ongoing legal battle over a 2017 piece she wrote for Fox News.

CBS News recently laid off employees as part of larger cuts by parent company Paramount Global, according to reports.

At the time of her termination, Ms. Herridge, formerly the chief intelligence correspondent for Fox News, was investigating stories related to President Biden’s mental state, corruption allegations, and the Hunter Biden laptop scandal.

On Feb. 13, just before she was let go, Ms. Herridge reported that three powerful GOP House panels were concerned that President Biden “may have retained sensitive documents related to specific countries involving his family’s foreign business dealings.”

Her dismissal also comes amid a legal dispute stemming from her 2017 report on an FBI investigation into a Chinese scientist.

Last August, a federal judge appointed by President Barack Obama ordered Ms. Herridge to disclose her sources for the report. This prompted pushback from press groups.

U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper ruled that Ms. Herridge must sit for a deposition and answer questions under oath about the identity and intent of the sources.

Lawyers representing Ms. Herridge and Fox, who are paying the legal expenses, argued that the reporter is protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. Ms. Herridge may face charges of contempt of court for refusing to disclose her source in the report, which detailed an investigation into the scientist’s alleged provision of false information on immigration forms that related to her work on a Chinese astronaut program.

Ms. Herridge may be subjected to a $5,000 daily penalty for non-compliance with the court’s order to reveal her source.

Zack Stieber contributed to this report.
This report was updated with a statement from a CBS spokesperson.