The Society of Professional Journalists offered $20,000 to legal defense of the Marion County Record, which was raided by local law enforcement Friday based on allegations the newspaper engaged in identity theft to secure information about a local merchant’s drunken driving conviction. The newspaper says the information was legally obtained and the police search was illegal. (Sam Bailey/Kansas Reflector)
Another day, another avalanche of news from the dumbfounding raid on the Marion County Record.
If you’re just getting up to speed this morning, law enforcement officials converged on a newspaper in this small community on Friday and carted off computers and cellphones. Such raids should not — and mostly do not — happen in the United States. For one thing, they’re almost always illegal. For another, they strike at our fundamental First Amendment rights.
Where’s the affidavit?
After the weekend, a vital question remains. What does the affidavit supporting the search warrant on the Record actually say?
Reflector staff submitted a request for the document on Friday. We’re still waiting to receive it, as officials had 10 days to respond. The Record itself reported that the district court claimed no affidavit was on on file. When questioned by the newspaper, county attorney Joel Ensey said the affidavit was “not a public document.”
So what’s the deal, guys? Does this fabled form exist? Will we be able to see it? At this point, the public surely deserves to know what motivated an unprecedented violation of our freedoms.
Journalists take freedom of the press seriously.
How seriously? The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press issued a statement on Sunday co-signed by more than 30 news organizations and allied groups. They include (deep breath) the Associated Press, Bloomberg, Gannett, Kansas Press Association, New York Times, NBC, The New Yorker, Reuters and the Washington Post.
Addressed to Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody, the letter includes these paragraphs:
“Newsroom searches and seizures are among the most intrusive actions law enforcement can take with respect to the free press, and the most potentially suppressive of free speech by the press and the public.
“Based on public reporting, the search warrant that has been published online, and your public statements to the press, there appears to be no justification for the breadth and intrusiveness of the search — particularly when other investigative steps may have been available — and we are concerned that it may have violated federal law strictly limiting federal, state, and local law enforcement’s ability to conduct newsroom searches. We urge you to immediately return the seized material to the Record, to purge any records that may already have been accessed, and to initiate a full independent and transparent review of your department’s actions.”
Read the whole thing at the link or below.2023-08-13_Reporters-Committee-Marion-letter
KBI misses the point
Kansas Bureau of Investigation Director Tony Mattivi showed himself woefully inadequate to the moment on Sunday.
In a statement, the director claimed to “very strongly” believe in free speech. On the other hand, he continued, “We have investigated those who work at schools, churches and at all levels of public service. No one is above the law, whether a public official or a representative of the media.”
That’s called gaslighting, folks.
The question isn’t whether reporters are above the law. It’s whether Marion law enforcement is above the law. It’s about whether Mattivi and his organization are above the protections granted every single American by the U.S. Constitution.
The raid generated plenty of national news coverage, but it also inspired commentary from our own state. The death of Record co-owner Joan Meyer inspired one of the best pieces.
“Joan Meyer, 98-year-old enemy of the people, died in the line of duty on Saturday,” wrote the Kansas City Star’s Melinda Hennenberger.
“A newswoman since 1953 and co-owner of the local paper in her hometown in central Kansas, she lived to see her Marion County Record, as well as her home, raided by police on Friday, for reasons that defied both law and logic.
“It is not hyperbole to say that this attack on the people’s right to know appears to have killed her.”
What you can do
In moments like this, readers often ask how they can assist. I’ve been contacted by a couple already.
I could write columns aplenty on ways to support our shared First Amendment rights through donations and activism. Many great organizations exist, both statewide and nationally. Passionate, continued interest makes a difference, too. But in the meantime, I know that a year’s online subscription to the Marion County Record costs only $35. It can be purchased at the paper’s website.
For a paper facing ongoing challenges of continuing publication and potentially fighting a legal battle, I’m sure that every bit helps.
Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.
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