ABC’s story on the raid, along with actual footage of the raid.
THE LEAD: The entire force of the Marion, Kansas, police department, along with backup from county sheriff’s deputies raided the newsroom of the Marion County Record on Friday, turning this town of 2,000 people into a battleground for the First Amendment:
A search warrant shows police were looking for evidence that a reporter had run an improper computer search to confirm an accurate report that a local business owner applying for a liquor license had lost her driver’s license over a DUI.
The owner and publisher of the Record, Eric Meyer, along with First Amendment advocates and journalism organizations from across the country, have said the raid went too far.
Police seized computers, cellphones and reporting materials from the newspaper, its reporters and the home of the publisher. Meyer said police injured a reporter’s finger while taking away her cellphone.
THE BASIC BACKGROUND: The newspaper staff and restaurant owner Kari Newell had a bit of a beef when Newell had its journalists removed her establishment during a public meet and greet with U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner.
Shortly after that, the paper received a tip about Newell’s criminal record:
A confidential source contacted the newspaper, Meyer said, and provided evidence that Newell had been convicted of drunken driving and continued to use her vehicle without a driver’s license. The criminal record could jeopardize her efforts to obtain a liquor license for her catering business.
A reporter with the Marion Record used a state website to verify the information provided by the source. But Meyer suspected the source was relaying information from Newell’s husband, who had filed for divorce. Meyer decided not to publish a story about the information, and he alerted police to the situation.
“We thought we were being set up,” Meyer said.
Police contacted Newell, who alleged the paper had “illegally obtained” information about her, thus leading to the charges against the paper, as well as the raid on the newsroom and multiple private homes.
FIRST-AMENDMENT FALLOUT: The amendment allows for freedom of the press and prohibits governmental interference in the gathering and dissemination of the news, with only a few extreme circumstances warranting this level of aggression. To put this in perspective, former President Richard Nixon didn’t even stoop to this level against the New York Times in relation to the Pentagon Papers situation, so if you can make Tricky Dick look restrained, your actions are pretty egregious.
More than 30 media organizations signed on to a letter from the Reporters Committee For Freedom Of The Press, condemning the raid, stating “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.”
The Marion Police Department is defending its actions via a Facebook post, explaining that, while, yes, in most cases they should use a subpoena, and yes, in most cases, they should be less aggressive and no, they really can’t tell you WHY they did what they did, these extraordinary measures were necessary. Now, stop asking so many questions and go outside and play…
READ THIS NOW: Here’s an interview with the newspaper’s owner, Eric Meyer, via The Handbasket that both explains what happened in the raid as well as some backstory on the paper’s investigation into Police Chief Gideon Cody.
The paper was looking into allegations that Cody retired from his previous post to dodge potential charges of sexual misconduct, which could have led to punishment from that department.
THIS STUPIDITY GOES TO 11: A few random thoughts that explain how truly stupid this situation is…
- Astounding Level of Stupid, Part I: The paper DIDN’T run anything on Newell, instead turning the tip over to the police. If the paper had ACTUALLY COMMITTED A CRIME, would the staffers have called the cops and made a point of alerting them to it? That has the same internal logic as telling the cop who pulled you over, “Officer, I know I was going a little fast, but it’s only because I need to get this trunkload of heroin to Fat Jimmy’s criminal hideout before 5 p.m.”
- Astounding Level of Stupid, Part II: After the paper told the police about the situation, the police told Newell about the situation and Newell then complained about the paper at a city council meeting. This prompted the paper to run a story that corrected record about the situation. In short, if Newell had said nothing, nobody would likely have known anything about this entire issue. Now, half the planet knows about Newell and her DUI.
- Astounding Level of Stupid, Part III: The easiest way to know this situation has no merit is this quote from the chief and follow up paraphrase: “I believe when the rest of the story is available to the public, the judicial system that is being questioned will be vindicated,” Mr. Cody said. He declined to discuss the investigation in detail. Wait… Where have I heard someone say that before? Oh, yeah! Here, and here, and here… Oh, hell, just Google “I will be vindicated” or “The truth will come out” and then look for a follow up story that involves the length of the prison term involved…
DOCTOR OF PAPER HOT TAKE: This is the case of trying to kill a fly with a sledgehammer, and it’s not even clear if a fly was there to be killed.
- Newell alleged that the paper had “illegally obtained” private information about her DUI arrest, offering no real proof that a) the paper did so or b) how she knew how the paper supposedly illegally did anything. If an allegation this flimsy is all it takes to get the police to raid a home or business, I have a list of folks who are in for a bad week…
- Information is not “private” just because you don’t like people knowing about it. Embarrassing private details CAN be the source of legal wrangling when publicly exposed, but that’s not this. I’m sure Newell isn’t thrilled that people know about her DUI, suspended license and more, but it’s a matter of public record as a criminal offense.
- Put another way: If I blogged about the various noises and phrases Amy utters while we have sex, that would fit the “private information” area and she could have legal options of a punitive nature. However, the police report related to how she murdered me for disclosing those noises and phrases on the blog would NOT be private, as police reports are public records. Make sense?
Information is also fair game for journalists when they receive it through open-record searches, news tips and other similar things the paper is said to have done here. Even IF (big IF) someone else had done something illegal to find information about Newell and then provided it to the newspaper, the law dictates that the paper is free of wrongdoing as long as it didn’t take part in the illegal acts.
More on this will clearly become part of the blog as more on this becomes available…