From the Editor: Raid on Kansas community newspaper was an attack on the truth

Posted 8/16/23

I have walked around the past few days with a rage and sadness that frequently solidifies into a leaden weight in my stomach.

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From the Editor: Raid on Kansas community newspaper was an attack on the truth


I have walked around the past few days with a rage and sadness that frequently solidifies into a leaden weight in my stomach.

I’m certain many other journalists have as well.

Over the weekend, news broke that the Marion County Record, a community newspaper covering a Kansas town of about 1,900 people roughly 150 miles from Kansas City, was suddenly and brutally raided by the Marion Police Department.

“In an unprecedented raid Friday [Aug. 11], local law enforcement seized computers, cellphones and reporting materials from the Marion County Record office, the newspaper’s reporters, and the publisher’s home,” nonprofit news organization the Kansas Reflector reports.

“Eric Meyer, owner and publisher of the newspaper, said police were motivated by a confidential source who leaked sensitive documents to the newspaper, and the message was clear: ‘Mind your own business or we’re going to step on you.’”

The paper alleges that Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody reinjured a previous dislocation in a reporter’s hand when he ripped her phone away and that the staff was forced to remain outside for hours during a heat advisory while officers searched their office.

The shocking intimidation tactics were made all the more tragic the next day, as the Record reported that its co-owner Joan Meyer, mother to the publisher, died after being “stressed beyond her limits and overwhelmed by hours of shock and grief after illegal police raids on her home and the Marion County Record newspaper office.”

Though the 98-year-old had been “otherwise in good health for her age,” she collapsed the afternoon of Aug. 11 after not being able to “eat after police showed up at the door of her home Friday with a search warrant in hand. Neither was she able to sleep Friday night.”

According to the Reflector, the entirety of the department’s five-officer force along with two sheriff’s deputies took what Meyer called “everything we have,” including stories, advertisements and other materials the staff would need to put out the coming weekly paper, slated to street the following Wednesday.

“The raid followed news stories about a restaurant owner who kicked reporters out of a meeting last week with U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, and revelations about the restaurant owner’s lack of a driver’s license and conviction for drunken driving,” the Reflector notes.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Meyer said he believed the raids were also motivated by the paper’s aggressive coverage of local politics, explaining that the Record was in the midst of examining Chief Cody’s past work with police in Kansas City, Missouri.

“This is the type of stuff that, you know, that Vladimir Putin does, that Third World dictators do,” Meyer told the AP. “This is Gestapo tactics from World War II.”

He’s right, of course. This attack on local journalism is un-American, both in the spiritual and legal sense. Freedom of the press is spelled out in the very First Amendment to the Constitution, which is just one aspect of federal and state law many experts say the raid and the search warrant issued by Marion County District Court Magistrate Judge Laura Viar violated.

“It seems like one of the most aggressive police raids of a news organization or entity in quite some time,” Sharon Brett, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, told the AP, calling it “quite an alarming abuse of authority.”

My anger and grief at this attack on a newspaper quite similar to the one I work for is both accentuated and tempered by the Record’s resolve in the face of it.

The AP notes that Eric Meyer, the publisher, “worked with his staff Sunday to reconstruct stories, ads and other materials for its next edition Wednesday, even as he took time in the afternoon to provide a local funeral home with information about his mother.”

Their resilience is admirable, but it shouldn’t be necessary to do essential reporting on the town they call home.

I encourage you to take the raid on the Record as a moment to reflect on your attitudes toward journalists, particularly at community papers doing their damndest to scrape together enough resources to cover local governments and law enforcement to which few others, if any, are paying attention.

If we don’t insist that those who perpetrate such brazen attacks on local journalism be held accountable, there might not be anyone there to report about it when they use such tactics on someone else.

marion county record, newspaper raid, community news


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