The New CBS Reporter Driving Democrats—and Some of Her Own Colleagues—Crazy
Since jumping from Fox News to CBS last year, journalist Catherine Herridge has frustrated Democrats and some of her own co-workers, who worry she pushes “GOP talking points.”
When Attorney General William Barr wanted to defend a decision that thousands of the Department of Justice alumni called indefensible, he knew just the reporter to turn to.
Catherine Herridge has a long history on the justice beat. She also possesses one of the rarer attributes in TV journalism: a massive mainstream platform, serving now as CBS’s senior investigative correspondent. And she has reporting roots at the nation’s leading conservative media outlet, having made the jump late last year from Fox News, where she served for 20 years.
So when Barr announced he would drop charges against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials, few in the industry were surprised that Herridge scored the exclusive.
Not many were surprised that the interview proved to be far from a grilling.
Rather than aggressively pressing Barr on the decision to not pursue charges against Flynn, Herridge peppered the attorney general with leading questions: “It sounds to me like one of your objectives is to never allow the Justice Department to be used as a political weapon. That’s what you're saying you think happened here?” she added later.
She also lobbed softball questions like, “Has this been one of the most consequential decisions that you have made as attorney general?” And when she was out of questions on the subject, Herridge just rhetorically handed Barr the microphone: “Before we leave this topic, is there anything that you would like to add?”
Days later, Herridge made news again. As acting Director of National Intelligence Ric Grenell prepared to release the names of those officials who had asked to identify Flynn back when he was an unknown subject of a U.S. government surveillance operation, the list found its way to Herridge first.
“Wonder how she got it,” one Democratic campaign operative remarked, with unstated but overflowing snark.
Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign was far less diplomatic. “SCOOP: Catherine Herridge is a partisan, rightwing hack who is a regular conduit for conservative media manipulation ploys because she agrees to publicize things before contacting the target to ask for comment,” snarled the campaign’s rapid-response director Andrew Bates in a now-deleted tweet.
Mainstream media figures, including CNN anchor Jake Tapper, defended Herridge, particularly on the grounds that she was merely performing her job of disseminating a newsworthy document to the public. National security attorney Mark S. Zaid, a Daily Beast contributor who represented the first Trump whistleblower, also defended the CBS reporter: “I’ve worked with @CBS_Herridge for many years & this is untrue. It is also beneath integrity of Biden campaign.”
With President Donald Trump attempting to undo the legal consequences of the Russia investigation and weaponize the original allegations against his political opponents, few journalists seem poised to play as pivotal a role in the media ecosystem as Herridge. While Trumpworld has heralded her work as evidence that mainstream outlets are now balancing out their reporting, and while members of the press corps have defended her from attacks, some frustrations with her reporting have been brewing ever since she made the jump to CBS.
Democrats on Capitol Hill have grown particularly irked by her work, believing she’s become a de facto clearing house for conservative conspiracy theorists who want to give their material the veneer of mainstream objectivity. There is a belief that Herridge will tweet out stories that would have been reported differently had they been subject to the processes for making it onto an evening news broadcast. Several Democratic aides said she regularly declines to ask their offices for comment even when they’re the subject of one of the stories she does. Things have gotten so bad that communications staffers from the House and Senate raised concerns about her to the network’s D.C. bureau chief.
“The problem we had with the Russia stuff and FISA stuff from day one was that people are getting two sets of news depending on what you watch,” one Democratic hill staffer said. “Some Dems were willing to live with that if it was limited to Fox News. But at CBS you are giving it the imprimatur of neutrality and that of a serious news organization.”
Herridge has also occasionally shaken up the normal course of business at CBS News, which has a reputation for by-the-book, no-nonsense reporting without a hint of bias. Some staff have privately grumbled that she gives the network the appearance of partisan political bias.
“Personally I and a few of my other colleagues are really frustrated because we thought she wanted to come to CBS to do real news, not just GOP talking points, but she’s just doing more of the same stuff,” one insider said. Several CBS staffers noted how the Fox News editorial standards are different than those at the more buttoned-up traditional broadcast news outlet, perhaps an inherent challenge in Herridge’s transition to her new outlet.
And that transition has not been without some hiccups.
On internal email lists, Herridge and another CBS reporter have debated (politely) over the meaning of new revelations about the FISA story. And some of Herridge’s stories have been relegated from television to the CBS’s online-only network CBSN. According to one person with knowledge, CBS News bumped part of her interview with former national security council official Kash Patel to its digital streaming platform amid some concerns that an initial segment didn’t have enough opposing voices.
According to multiple network insiders, many of the FISA scoops she’s shared internally haven’t made it to air because they’re too in the weeds for the evening news, which relies heavily on brief and concise reportage on the day’s biggest stories.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, the network lauded Herridge. “Catherine is a deeply sourced reporter who has worked the national security beat for two decades and just last week secured one of the biggest newsmaker interviews with Attorney General William Barr, which was cited by national and international outlets,” a spokesperson said. “This is the kind of aggressive reporting we applaud at CBS News."
And while Herridge does have her share of detractors, there is no shortage of defenders too.
She’s considered a star in conservative media circles for being one of the few genuine reporters who shares their editorial sensibilities. And even non-conservatives acknowledge her serious credentials as a professional broadcaster. She’s covered national security for years, and developed a reputation during her time at Fox News for breaking major stories related to terrorism.
Indeed, Herridge was a staple of the Fox News on-air roster since the network’s earliest days. Where there was a big national law-enforcement or intelligence story of interest to conservative media over the past several decades, Herridge was there. During the Obama administration, she also was one of Fox’s top reporters covering the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. She tossed cold water on a viral CNN story about pulling an intelligence asset from Russia over concerns about Trump, and pushed back on damning information about a call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Herridge has been careful to never cross the line into overt advocacy. Her recent scoops largely consist of statements, documents, or reports from GOP politicians in the House and Senate, as well as letters or memos from inside various intelligence agencies. Her final few years at Fox News were often remarked upon for how frequently she’d hold up printed papers as props while on-air, underscoring for viewers the documentary evidence behind her reporting. Such appearances made her appealing to the brass at CBS News, which she joined late last year as her Fox contract neared its end and CBS was on the hunt for a new justice correspondent.
The change to CBS has put a new spotlight on her work. And, for Democrats, it has transformed their routine discomforts with her reporting into far more existential concerns, as they fear she’s now being used by conservative activists to try and mainstream their pet issues.
“The Republicans are using her to build a narrative that was once limited to Fox News,” said one Democratic Senate aide. “And it doesn’t matter that every other serious reporter will push back on it. It is astonishing that they aren’t exerting more control over her.”