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Police raiding a newspaper and confiscating reporting material seems like something one would expect to find in a banana-republic, or in a scene from a dystopian novel. Yet, that is exactly what happened recently to the Marion County Record.

The Record is a weekly newspaper in rural Kansas, serving a population of approximately 1,900 and known for its dogged reporting on various issues affecting the community. On August 11, the newspaper office was raided by the Marion Police Department as was the home of its 98-year-old co-owner, Joan Meyer, and her son and the Record's publisher, Eric Meyer. The stress of the raid, said Meyer, cost his mother her life and brought an end to a newspaper career spanning six decades.

The official reason given by the police department for executing a search warrant was the Record had improperly obtained information about a local restaurant owner's past DUI charge. The information came from a confidential source and was confirmed by the newspaper using public records, though it never ran an article, said Meyer. The newspaper did report on the owner's admission of the conviction, and her admission she continued to drive on a suspended license. This came during a city council meeting where the owner made complaints about the Record's investigation.

Meyer said he believed the real reason for the police department's actions was because the Record was investigating the new police chief, Gideon Cody. Before he was hired in June, Cody had been a captain in the Kansas City, Missouri police department. When the newspaper ran an article announcing Cody as a candidate for the position, Meyer said former colleagues reached out to the newspaper with allegations of misconduct. The Record was in the midst of their investigation when the Marion Police Department conducted their raid, which included a tower and cell phone belonging to a reporter who was looking into Cody's background.

Even without their equipment, the staff of the Marion County Record worked to print their Wednesday edition. On the front page was coverage of the very raid conducted on the newspaper. The same day the edition was published, August 16, Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey said there was insufficient evidence for the search warrant and ordered all materials returned.

The Record is like any other newspaper in the country, run by a group of individuals who take their role in the community seriously. That commitment can often put reporters, editors and publishers at odds with those in power. Newspapers should be able to do their work without fear of interference or punishment. A free press is enshrined in the United States Constitution because the Founding Fathers understood that it was critical to the survival of the republic and to a functioning democracy.

The raid of the Marion County Record should have never happened, nor should it be normalized. While many of the facts and information about this are still coming to light, we do not feel it is hyperbole to say this was a violation of the First Amendment and an attempt to silence the free press. The situation in Marion, and McCurtain County, Oklahoma earlier this year, is alarming. Yet, we continue to be an eternal optimist in thinking that most people who run for local government or go into law enforcement are doing so because they want to help their communities.

One final note to make is that, after the national spotlight on the Marion County Record, droves of support came in the form of 2,000 new subscriptions. It is encouraging to see people show their support for a free press. That same support can be shown to your local newspaper, as they are doing just as important work and reporting on your community. The only way to ensure the continuation of a free press is to support it.

 

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