Since moving from Fox News to CBS late last year, reporter Catherine Herridge has used her mainstream platform to spread right-wing talking points and lend legitimacy to the right’s “deep state” conspiracy theories.
Herridge’s CBS reporting, particularly a May interview with Attorney General William Barr, has drawn criticism from other journalists, including some of her own colleagues. In fact, The Daily Beast reported that some CBS employees have expressed concern that Herridge is pushing “GOP talking points.” The Daily Beast has also reported concerns among Democrats on Capitol Hill that Herridge has essentially “become a de facto clearing house for conservative conspiracy theorists who want to give their material the veneer of mainstream objectivity.” In turn, right-wing media, including Herridge’s former employer, have been more than happy to come to her defense.
Through conducting softball interviews with President Donald Trump and Barr, tweeting government documents that came straight from the GOP, and presenting coverage of the aftermath of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation without important context, Herridge has fueled right-wing conspiracy theories while reaching a wider audience.
Softball interviews with Trump and Barr
Herridge interviewed Trump on July 14, and based on the clips CBS released, she offered little to no pushback to the president’s wild claims. Herridge rarely challenged Trump to his face when he made false or misleading claims, such as when he said more white people are killed by police than Black people or that parents and children are “dying” because schools are closed. In the clip posted to CBS’s YouTube channel, Herridge also did not question the president when he said he would welcome former national security adviser Michael Flynn -- who has publicly supported the dangerous QAnon conspiracy theory since leaving the White House -- back into his administration. None of the CBS clips provided further context for viewers about Flynn’s connections to QAnon either.
The Trump interview is similar to Herridge’s May interview with Barr, which took place right after the Department of Justice attempted to drop its case against Flynn for lying to the FBI about his calls with the Russian ambassador in 2016. (Herridge was one of Flynn’s first defenders in 2017.)
Reporting that lends legitimacy to the debunked “Obamagate” conspiracy theory
Herridge has also repeatedly used her platform at CBS to try to lend legitimacy to the right-wing conspiracy theory known as “Obamagate” -- a rebrand of the right’s broader “deep state” narrative that alleges high-profile government officials are trying to take down Trump.
CBS has published multiple articles on its site in which Herridge sacrificed greater context while poring over the minutiae of the Mueller investigation and the Obama administration's actions during the 2016 campaign, including old interviews with George Papadopoulos and allegations of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant abuse. She has often aligned with hyped-up conservative talking points, giving the pro-Trump media echo chamber plenty of fodder to continue pushing the “Obamagate” conspiracy theory.
For example, Herridge’s reporting for CBS on Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s probe into the Russia investigation focused on tiny details buried in government documents while neglecting the big picture that Horowitz found no evidence of conspiracy against the Trump administration.
Additionally, her reporting on Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) pursuit of FISA violations has been remarkably one-sided. One article in particular presented Graham’s allegations during an interview with Face the Nation at face value despite Graham’s less than credible behavior, including spreading conspiracy theories about an impeachment witness in the same interview. In the article itself, Herridge quotes only Republicans in reporting on a Senate Judiciary Committee probe that has been characterized by some Democrats on the committee as a waste of time, with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) calling it “absurd.” This consistently one-sided perspective makes it appear as though Herridge’s reporting backs up the “Obamagate” narrative that holdover bureaucrats from the Obama administration were abusing the FISA system and the FBI to target Trump and Flynn, which has been repeatedly debunked.
Tweeting out dense government documents without context
Herridge also has a habit of tweeting out government documents with little commentary or context, leaving the dense details open for interpretation and manipulation by bad-faith actors in right-wing media.
One document she released on May 13, calling it a “SCOOP” that shows a Flynn “‘unmasking list,’” was just the opposite. It was a noncontroversial list of Obama-era officials who received Flynn’s name after they followed the National Security Agency’s standard process to unmask the identity of an individual who was generically referenced in an NSA report they were authorized to read. Right-wing media claim they purposely targeted Flynn by illegally unmasking him.
On July 19, Herridge tweeted a picture of an annotated section of the Horowitz report that discussed problems with the Steele dossier, a private intelligence report that alleged a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. (Right-wing media falsely claim former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and other Democrats unlawfully pushed the dossier in order to sabotage Trump’s 2016 campaign.) Herridge neglected to mention that while Horowitz found flaws with the way the dossier was used to obtain FISA warrants, he did not determine that its usage was politically motivated. Herridge’s tweet came as Graham began moving forward with his Senate Judiciary Committee inquiry into the FISA court.