The Empire Strikes Back at Press Freedom

Bill Conroy
16 min readOct 17, 2022


A free press isn’t guaranteed absent struggle — often in darkness and against the odds

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, recently announced that it has adopted a policy that creates some internal checks and balances to prevent improper demands being placed on journalists to produce records or the identity of sources.

The new ICE media policy is a long time coming, however.

It’s far from perfect, but I consider it a battle won in my case — which has its roots in the drug and terrorism wars as they existed in the early 2000s during the George W. Bush administration. That’s when my stories for an online news site called Narco News caught the attention of ICE leadership and led to federal agents interrogating me in an effort to get me to cough up my story sources.

The new media policy adopted by ICE, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), came only after Congress forced the agency’s hand via requirements included in the 2022 Consolidated Appropriations Act. ICE complied officially in late June of this year, more than two years after the agency during the Trump administration issued an administrative subpoena to BuzzFeed News on Dec. 1, 2020.

That subpoena demanded that BuzzFeed identify news sources related to an Oct. 7, 2020, story involving a leaked ICE memo and related e-mail correspondence. After BuzzFeed wrote about the strong-arm tactics being used by ICE, the agency on Dec. 9, 2020, backed off and said it would not enforce the subpoena.

The Department of Justice in July of last year also beefed up its policy related to questioning journalists. The new DOJ policy is even more expansive than the ICE policy and creates a near-blanket prohibition on seeking information from journalists or demanding disclosure of their sources, with very narrow exceptions.

The roots of this battle for press rights, however, are deep, and mostly hidden — because the attacks are often honed first on many smaller, independent news organizations, like the nonprofit Narco News, which did not have the platform reach or budget of much larger media players like BuzzFeed.

We have to go back in time to get a glimpse of some of that hidden history. The Reporters…



Bill Conroy

Bill Conroy is an independent investigative journalist. For more information, check out