Tensions between public officials and the media are not uncommon. For the most part, it fits into their respective characters.

Police raids on the offices of news organizations or the homes of their owners are rare in a democracy. So when that happened late last week, it drew national attention that Marion, Kansas, was hardly used to.

Marion Police Department took away the computer and cell phone On Friday, he walked out of the offices of the Marion County Record and into the home of publisher and editor Eric Meyer. The weekly newspaper serves a town of 1,900 about 150 miles (241 kilometers) southwest of Kansas City, Missouri.

Within two days, the raid attracted the attention of some of the largest media outlets in the country, including the Associated Press, The New York Times, CNN, CBS News, The New Yorker and the Gannett newspaper chain.

What prompted us to take this action?

According to the search warrant signed by Marion County District Court Judge Laura Viar, police said they had good faith to believe there were violations of Kansas law, including conduct involving identity theft involving a man named A woman named Kari Newell.

Newell, a local restaurant owner who was not a big fan of the paper, kicked Meyer and one of his reporters out of a local event for a congressman.

Newell said she believes the newspaper violated the law by obtaining her personal information based on a tip to check the status of her driver’s license after her 2008 conviction for drunk driving. Meyer said the Record decided not to report the matter, but it was reported when Newell revealed at a subsequent city council meeting that she was driving while her license was suspended.

Meyer also believes the paper’s aggressive coverage of local issues, including the background of Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody, played a role in the raid.

How unusual is this?

This is very rare. In 2019, San Francisco police raided a Brian CarmodyAn independent journalist is seeking sources for reports of a police investigation into the sudden death of a local public official, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. San Francisco paid Carmody a settlement over the attack.

Clay Calvert, a First Amendment law expert at the American Enterprise Institute, said police confiscated newspaper material, but usually because they were looking for evidence to help investigate other people’s crimes, not crimes in which journalists were allegedly involved. For example, when police raided the offices of the James Madison University student newspaper in 2010, they confiscated photos as part of an investigation into a riot.

Seth Stern, director of advocacy for the Freedom of the Press Foundation, said Marion’s raid “appears to violate federal law, the First Amendment and basic human dignity.” “Everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves.”

Is this legal?

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that Congress shall make no law “abolishing the freedom of speech or the press.”

Things get murkier when you get into the details.

Journalists who collect material that may be used for reporting are covered by the 1980 federal Privacy Shield Act. For one thing, police need a subpoena, not just a search warrant, to conduct such a raid, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Cody acknowledged this in an email to The Associated Press, but said exceptions exist “when there is reason to believe a reporter was involved in potential misconduct.”

Gabe Rotman, an attorney for the Council of Journalists, said he was unsure of Cody’s reasons for believing the so-called dubious exception applies. In general, it does not apply to material used in the reporting process, such as story drafts or public documents used to check news tips.

In a letter to Cody signed by dozens of news organizations, the Committee of Journalists said the search warrant in the case was “overbroad, intrusive and likely in violation of federal law.”

Why is this so important to journalists?

Kathy Keeley, chair of the Lee Hills Department of Liberal Studies at the University of Missouri College, said it’s important to speak up in this situation “because we’re seeing a little bit of democracy being eroded in so many countries around the world.” Journalism.

Anger against the media, often fueled by politicians, has grown in the United States in recent years, leading to concerns about actions to impede news coverage.

An Oklahoma sheriff joined several county officials in April Tape discussing killing of journalist caught on camera and the lynching of black people.Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond later said no legal basis to remove McCurtain County Sheriff Kevin Clardy.

In June, two reporters for the Asheville, North Carolina Blade were found guilty of misdemeanor trespassing. The Freedom of the Press Foundation said the reporters were arrested while reporting on a police sweep of a homeless encampment and were arrested in the park after closing at 10 p.m.

What support is there for police action?

Not everyone in Kansas was quick to condemn the attack.

Jared Smith, a lifelong Marion resident, said the paper was so negative it drove away business, including a day spa run by his wife, which recently closed. He cites a number of times in The Record about his wife’s past—she posed nude for a magazine a few years ago.

“A newspaper should be a newspaper that reports the news, but it’s also a community paper,” Smith said. “It’s not ‘How can I bash this community and drive people away?'””

In a statement Sunday, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation said Director Tony Mativy “believes strongly that a free press is the vanguard of American democracy.” But the statement added that search warrants are common in places like law enforcement offices and city, county and state offices.

“No one is above the law, neither public officials nor representatives of the media,” the statement read.

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