Opinion: With a nation’s eyes scrutinizing Kansas community, let’s be careful with the facts
A corner of Marion County Record publisher Eric Meyer’s office after a law enforcement raid includes a stack of newspapers and a masked bust. (Sam Bailey/Kansas Reflector)
By Clay Wirestone, Kansas Reflector opinion editor
As the furor over police raiding the Marion County Record boils and bubbles, I want to take a step back and write about parts of the story that have been miscommunicated or missed altogether.
This happens. Stories that spread nationally from a local dispute can get facts wrong or miss vital subtleties. The addition of social media to the mix means that news can become distorted in the game of telephone resulting from quickly skimmed headlines and half-read articles. But if we’re all going to be paying attention to a story about newspapers and newsgathering, it’s worth knowing what’s true, what’s false and what we just don’t know yet.
We should all have the patience and fortitude, when facing a situation like this, to refrain from easy or simplistic attacks and assumptions.
First off, U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner has nothing to do with the situation.
Yes, journalists from the Record were asked to leave a meeting featuring LaTurner at Kari’s Kitchen, a restaurant owned by one of the protagonists in this small-town drama. Yes, the person asking them to leave was the town’s police chief, the same person who led the raid on the newspaper offices Friday. Yes, according to meeting coverage, venue owner Kari Newell requested the reporters’ removal.
LaTurner’s staff, however, requested the reporters attend. The Record’s own story about the event makes clear that staffers learned about the ejection after it had happened and worked quickly to make amends. The congressman even stopped by the newspaper’s office to answer questions after finishing with the meeting.
“We weren’t aware that this was the situation,” district director Jake Conard told newspaper staff. “We obviously wanted the press to be here.”
You may dislike LaTurner. He may have made ill-advised votes in the U.S. Congress. But he had nothing to do with the raid or underlying issues between the newspaper and those in power.
U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, a Republican serving the 2nd District, attended a public forum at a Marion coffee shop where the owner asked reporters to leave. The congressman is shown here in 2021. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Affidavits and everyday people
In my column yesterday, I asked forcefully for Marion officials to release the affidavit supporting the unprecedented raid on a newspaper.
I asked, based on the Record’s reporting, whether an affidavit even existed. While we didn’t get a look at the document on Monday, we did learn from a spokeswoman for Kansas courts that it does exist. That’s all we know at this point. (For those keeping track, a probable cause affidavit and a search warrant are two different things. The first supports the enactment of the second.)
Kansas Reflector editor Sherman Smith officially requested the affidavit on Friday, and we might have to wait up to 10 days after that for its release. I hope it arrives sooner. I’m sure all of you do, too.
Finally, today, I would like to call for the tiniest dash of compassion.
You can believe — as I do — that the raid on the Record was an intolerable act of suppression while realizing that everyone involved still has family and friends and personal lives. The law enforcement and magistrate involved may face consequences of one kind of another. That’s how the world works. The rest of us don’t have to add insult to injury, however. I’ve seen too much commentary and speculation online targeting folks involved, and while I understand why, no one can prepare themselves for the harsh spotlight of national news media coverage.
Yes, yes, you reap what you sow. I get it. But I pray that the outcome of this story, as troubling as it is, won’t be another round of public shaming and personal agony.
This story has rocketed around the United States and the world. It can be tempting to demand that the characters in this drama follow the cliches of characters from TV shows. But they’re just people, like you and me. We will know more as time goes on.
Newell clearly doesn’t like the newspaper in her town. That’s OK. Freedom of speech means she has the right to say so. She also doesn’t have the power to request, order or execute a search warrant.
I’ve been careful the past few days not to push too hard on the local drama aspect of this story, because a lot of it feels invasive and irrelevant. Let’s focus on the facts of the raid, the potential abuse of power and threat to First Amendment rights, and let the various players handle the national spotlight as best they can.
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.
This article was reprinted with permission from the Kansas Reflector. The Kansas Reflector is a non-profit online news organization serving Kansas. For more information on the organization, go to its website at www.kansasreflector.com.