EDITOR’S NOTE: A more in-depth version of this column was published previously under the headline “Free press attacked in heinous raid of Marion County Record newsroom.” This version was edited down for publication in the Santa Fe Way.
News of law enforcement officers raiding a newspaper office sounds like something that happens in Russia, North Korea, China, Egypt, or any other country under the thumb of a brutal dictator bent on maintaining power.
However, it recently happened in the United States. It occurred in Marion, Kansas, as part of a blatant attack on the free press and a likely illegal attempt to silence and censor dissenting voices.
On Aug. 11, local law enforcement stormed the Marion County Record, seizing computers, cellphones, and other reporting materials in an unprecedented assault on the First Amendment and democracy.
Acting like jackbooted thugs, officers also raided the home of Record owner and publisher Eric Meyer, which he shared with Joan Meyer, his 98-year-old mother and co-owner of the paper.
The next day, after standing up to the invaders in her home, she died. Eric Meyer believes the stress of the raids contributed to her death.
Numerous outlets throughout the state, across the country, and around the world have reported on these events. The Kansas Reflector has provided particularly thorough and in-depth coverage of all aspects of the controversy.
News concerning this event continues to come out, and it will for some time now. This won’t just go away, and there will be professional consequences for those behind this attack on journalism.
Marion County District Court Magistrate Judge Laura Viar and Marion Chief of Police Gideon Cody, both of whom have shady pasts, acted in total disregard of the law, especially the Kansas Reporters’ Shield Law that was passed in 2010.
“An attack on a newspaper office through an illegal search is not just an infringement on the rights of journalists but an assault on the very foundation of democracy and the public’s right to know,” said Emily Bradbury, executive director for the Kansas Press Association in a statement to the Kansas Reflector. “This cannot be allowed to stand.”
And it won’t be.
It’s caused so much of a stir that Kansas lawmakers proposed legislation altering who can issue warrants, and the White House addressed the situation with White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre saying that freedom of the press “is the core value when we think about our democracy. When you think about the cornerstone of our democracy, the freedom of press is right there.”
Despite the raid seeming to be an attempt to silence the newspaper, the bullies have done nothing but inspire intense attention and scrutiny of their misdeeds, which include gross abuse of power.
This didn’t silence the Record. It amplified it as people from around the country have become subscribers.
At its best, journalism shines a light on the dark corners of government and society, preventing corruption and abuse from lurking in the shadows. It holds those in power to account and binds communities together by fulfilling its watchdog role. It keeps the public aware of the mundane and consequential aspects of daily life so people can make informed decisions.
Without journalism, our democracy would not function.
Anyone who believes in and supports the U.S. Constitution should view the actions of the police and the judge as disgusting. It goes against everything the United States stands for.
Journalists in Kansas need to use what happened to the Record as inspiration. They can’t let these Gestapo tactics deter them from pursuing the truth and reporting fearlessly for the betterment of their communities.
Likewise, citizens should not be kowtowed into silence, afraid to give tips and tell their stories to journalists. If that happens, tyranny will rule the day.
The temperatures have been too hot lately to let this affront to the free press chill journalism in Kansas. Instead, the heat of this attack should cause combustion, resulting in firey reporting and reignited passions for one of democracy’s core tenets.
Todd R. Vogts, Ph.D., is a native of Canton, a resident of McPherson County, and an assistant professor of media at Sterling College. He can be contacted with questions or comments via his website at www.toddvogts.com.