Many readers have sent us articles about what happened in Marion, Kansas, population 1,922, last Friday morning. The office of the Marion County Record, a weekly newspaper founded in 1869, with a circulation of about 4,000, was raided by the local police, who seized the paper’s computers and servers and the editor’s and reporters’ cell phones. The paper has a staff of seven.
Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody injured the finger of Record reporter Deb Gruver “when he personally snatched her cell phone from her hand during the raid,” the Wichita Eagle reported.
At the same time, officers acting on a search warrant issued by a local magistrate raided the home that Record editor and publisher Eric Meyer shared with his 98-year-old mother, Joan Meyer, a co-owner of the paper. She was unable to eat or sleep after the raid and died of a heart attack the next day.
As of this writing, it’s not clear when the Record will next appear on newsstands. “We obviously want our equipment back,” editor Meyer told the PBS Newshour on Monday, “and we’d like it back sooner rather than later, because we’re struggling right now to publish this week’s paper.”
The reported justification for the raids was an accusation by a local restaurant owner, Kari Newell, that she was a victim of identity theft related to her having been arrested for drunk driving. Boston College historian Heather Cox Richardson, in her daily blog, reported that the search warrant alleged there was probable cause that the newspaper had committed crimes, “but Magistrate Laura Viar appears to have issued that warrant without any affidavit of wrongdoing on which to base it.”
Meyer says his newspaper did nothing wrong. He did receive a document about Newell’s driving record from a confidential source, he says, but he was suspicious about the sender’s motives and had actually alerted the police. The Record did not publish a story about it.
The newspaper was, however, looking into a different story — about possible misconduct by the police chief.
Marion is a faraway town with no obvious connection to Outer Cape Cod, but there are good reasons to care about this story. One is that police misconduct is not a faraway issue, as we now see with the resignation of Provincetown Det. Meredith Lobur.
The Eagle wrote in an editorial this week, “We could express our outrage at what is happening here. But we probably couldn’t say it any better than 98-year-old Joan Meyer, a newspaperwoman since 1953: ‘These are Hitler tactics, and something has to be done.’ ”
What feels not so far away when we read about the Marion raids is history. When Hitler took power in 1933, he quickly moved to suppress Germany’s free press. Propaganda replaced newspapers.
“Why are they allowed to do this?” asked Joan Meyer when the police invaded her home. “Where are all the good people?”
If what happened in Kansas is allowed to stand, we will have taken a giant step away from constitutional democracy toward living in a police state.