First Amendment under attack in Kansas

On Aug. 11, the First Amendment of the United States  came under attack in a small town in Kansas. In turn, free speech and the freedom of the press were also attacked. It’s a very, very, serious situation, and it’s one that cannot be ignored or tolerated.
For those who don’t know what happened, let us catch you up, courtesy of our friends at the Freeman Courier, who did an eloquent job of laying out the proceedings.
On Friday, Aug. 11, law enforcement officers with the Marion (Kansas) Police Department, after obtaining a search warrant from Marion County Magistrate Judge Laura Viar, raided the newsroom of the 4,000-circulation weekly newspaper in the Marion County seat that has a population just shy of 2,000 residents (not unlike Custer), as well as the home of Eric Meyer, the newspaper’s publisher and co-owner. Among the items seized were computers, cell phones, work product and other documentary materials, crippling the operation and its ability to publish the following week’s edition. Making matters far worse was shortly thereafter Joan Meyer, the 98-year-old co-owner of the newspaper and Eric’s mother, collapsed and died at her home from what the Record said was stress “beyond her limits” and “hours of shock and grief.”
All this stems from what police say was an unlawful use of computers and identity theft pertaining to Kari Newell, a local coffee shop owner who earlier in August had asked Eric Meyer and a reporter to leave her establishment during a public meet-and-greet with U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, who represents the area.
The Record then received an anonymous tip that Newell was not in possession of an active driver’s license and had been convicted of drunk driving — a criminal offense that could jeopardize her efforts to obtain a liquor license for her catering business. Although the Record filed a public records request for information, the Record chose to not publish a story.
Then came the raid.
“Unless there is something egregious in this story that law enforcement has not yet divulged publicly, the facts as we know them today represent a clear violation by the local police of the Marion County Record’s First Amendment rights and journalistic protections under state and federal law,” David Bordewyk, executive director with the South Dakota Newspaper Association said in a statement. “Taking a broader view, this intimidation and abuse by law enforcement against the local newspaper via the search warrant is just one more example of what we see happening all too often across our country today. And that is a growing disregard by law enforcement for journalists’ First Amendment rights and protections to do their job to inform the public, investigate corruption and wrongdoings and be a watchdog on government. It is sad to see happening and I hope it can be reversed or our democracy will suffer greatly.”
Make no mistake—if this type of abuse of power is allowed to continue unchecked, it will imperil our democracy and country as we know it. If business owners who are buddies with law enforcement can have public offices raided under the guise they might have “illegally” obtained information (arrest records are public information), then the Fourth Estate will crumble. Journalists will be afraid to do their job, which includes being the watchdog for taxpayers on local governments. There is no overstating how serious this situation is. The raid also appears to violate the federal law that protects free speech and freedom of the press.
Not suprisingly, the raid has galvanized the media, with hundreds and thousands of outlets uniting to condemn what happened in Kansas. Something like this has been brewing for a while, as politicians and others in power continue to accuse the media of being biased or lying for no other reason than they don’t like what that outlet printed. No, not because it’s not true, but because it is true.
If you want a press that answers to politicians and police, perhaps you would be more confortable living in North Korea or Russia. As for the United States, a free press is essential to everything that built this country and everything it stands for.
We are so thankful this newspaper has a longstanding relationship with our sheriff’s office and that office understands we have a job to do. Apparently that is not the case everywhere, and that’s a shame. It’s likely also criminal.
We condemn this abuse of power and demand the Record be allowed to resume normal operation. This type of behavior cannot stand. All involved with this raid need to be taken to task, and it needs to be done immediately.


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