Pressing Issues

The Raid on the ‘Marion County Record’ Is Only the Beginning

The Right's war on the fourth estate is nothing new. But when cops raided a rural Kansas newspaper office and its editors’ homes over an investigation in progress, a new horrifying precedent was set.

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Journalists from the Marion County Record—a paper that reaches a rural Kansas area of less than 12,000 people— were doing some routine reporting three weeks ago when they asked local authorities about a restauranteur’s DUI arrest.

It’s the kind of work reporters in the community press do every day—ask questions, and city officials answer them or they don’t. The newspaper decides whether to publish stories based on those responses. It’s all very normal and usually benign. In this particular instance the Record hadn’t planned to press forward with the story.

Until the police descended upon the news offices.

All five cops in the entire county showed up and read reporters their rights. Officers tore through the newspaper’s offices, rifling desk drawers, seizing computers and phones, copying passwords and financial records. And then they moved on to ransack editors’ homes. 

In a scene straight out of a totalitarian playbook, editors watched from outside their houses as the police tossed electronics cords and bank statements onto the floor and took routers and speakers out of the houses, leaving a scene of chaos in their wake. 

The newspaper’s co-editor was 98-year-old Joan Meyer. A lifelong newspaperwoman who now shared management of the Record with her son Eric, she intended to fight the cops in court for her paper’s sake. She told the Wichita Eagle, “These are Hitler tactics, and something has to be done.”

But the trauma of the raid overcame her. Eric said she was otherwise in good health and that the raid had stressed her beyond bearing. Unable to eat or sleep, she collapsed the following day and died. 

This horrifying incident began as a local dispute, but the public should expect to see more and more of these Gestapo tactics as the 2024 election approaches. There is a nationwide war on journalists and freedom of information taking place in America today, fueled by the Republican Party’s very loud standard-bearers, who are empowering and encouraging police to attack the press and, by extension, the idea of liberal democracy itself. 

Since the days of the Civil Rights movement, right-wing politicians have used the idea of political bias to sidestep media criticism. Journalists covering the marches in Selma, for example, were “outside agitators” who were encouraging unrest, and police showed no qualms about beating and arresting reporters alongside activists. 

The same media that exposed their wrongdoing was characterized as liberal, corrupt, and set on undermining American institutions. Law enforcement was one of those institutions, tasked by Republican politicians with maintaining white supremacy in the face of protests by marginalized people against the government. 

Former President Donald Trump rose to power by both venerating police officers—especially those accused of murder—and attacking journalists for doing their jobs. He hugged the American flag and promised his supporters he would protect “law and order,” while shouting at rallies that journalists, some of them reporting on police misconduct, were “enemies of the people,” “traitors,” and “fake news.” 

Trump ramped up his attacks on the press and his pointed statements of support for police as protests over the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor grew in 2020, coinciding with his re-election campaign. He used campaign rallies, already the sites of broadsides against media, to marry love for law enforcement with voting Republican more explicitly than any public figure since Richard Nixon. 

“Over and over he talked about how much he, by contrast, loved the police. He joined other Republicans in responding to calls for reducing police funding by saying he would expand department budgets. When he received the endorsement of police groups, he touted them frequently.

Police officers are often a sought-after endorsement, but Trump went further, seeking to almost literally roll law enforcement into his campaign. At rallies he’d call out law enforcement the way he might call out a local Republican elected official, with the crowd cheering far more robustly for the police.”

When the law turned on Trump and his violent insurrectionists, MAGA Republicans had no qualms about betraying those promises of support. While the Capitol Police tried to protect Americans from the violent mob sacking the U.S. Capitol, Trump’s authoritarian fans beat and maced and, in one case, murdered the cops they pretended to adore. But that hypocrisy had little impact on the narrative.

Republicans, seeking electoral success with Trump’s messages, began to echo them, criminalizing anti-police protest and characterizing any critical coverage as liberal bias. Police on the defensive over coverage of their misconduct responded with their loyalty, their donations, and their support for the GOP at unprecedented levels.

With GOP backing, cops across the country have arrested, strip-searched, handcuffed, and beaten reporters for doing their jobs at every level from municipal to national. Reporters covering GOP malfeasance were charged with hacking in Florida, and prosecutors in Georgia flagrantly violated the First Amendment by charging anti-cop protesters with domestic terrorism. Republican lawmakers in Texas introduced a bill that would ban universities and public colleges from supporting non-profit media outlets

Well-funded Republican media outlets publishing truly fake news—AI-generated content, viral Facebook memes, right-wing scandal sheets masquerading as local newspapers—are simultaneously contributing to the threat. America is falling in the World Press Freedom index, far below other wealthy nations.

Corporate journalism both failed to respond adequately to the GOP’s attacks on the press over the years and to recognize that scrutinizing policing would bring the same kind of authoritarian backlash. 

While Republicans called for journalists’ violent deaths, editors and producers gave cover treatment to commentators who joked about bombing them. They ran soft-focus profiles of bigots, stories full of euphemisms like “provocateur” and “lightning rod.” They profiled the same people who chanted Nazi slogans at them and scolded their fellow Americans for not doing enough to understand or reach the people trying to kill them. 

“So by all means stand up to Trump, point out that he’s a charlatan and resist his initiatives. But remember that social progress means winning over voters in flyover country, and that it’s difficult to recruit voters whom you’re simultaneously castigating as despicable, bigoted imbeciles.”

Pundits followed a similar playbook when dealing with police excesses. Those calling to slash police budgets were “going too far,” risking “alienating” voters who sympathized with their own communities’ officers. Those who wanted police held accountable when they murdered someone or stole something might as well announce to the world that they loved criminals. 

Will Saletan, writing in Slate, scolded: 

Policing needs to be reformed. That’s clear from the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many others. And you can make a strong case that if we were to invest wisely in education, employment, mental health, and controlling drug abuse, we wouldn’t have to pay cops to deal with problems that are better managed by social services. But “Defund the police” doesn’t help us make that case. It sets us back.


Writing in USA Today, Njeri Mathis Rutledge said: 

When chants for defunding arose, law enforcement members naturally became defensive and distanced themselves from the protests, as did their family members, friends and many others. Inflammatory slogans that require additional explaining like “defund the police” may help one identify like-minded people but not advance the core idea of reform and reallocation of resources. 


Justin Phillips, in the San Francisco Chronicle, said, “It’s time to retire the ‘defund the police’ slogan.” 

All that copy, all those editorials, hasn’t bought an ounce of goodwill from right-wing authoritarians in the ensuing years. 

Trump still bleats against the unfair, biased, liberal media every day. Law enforcement organizations vociferously back Trump, even as he escalates threats against journalists, and his supporters take his hostility as an order to dox and mob newspaper and television reporters online. 

Police-adjacent PACs continue to endorse and support GOP candidates who echo Trump’s anti-journalist diatribes. Police spaces are awash in right-wing propaganda, fertile ground which the GOP is actively sowing with misogyny, antisemitism, and a loathing of the journalists who expose the same.

Authoritarians depend on discrediting those who question authority, and the more the American conservative movement turns outright fascistic, the louder it appeals to us to close our eyes and obey the people with guns. 

If you’re among the armed, you hear that appeal as approbation and as license. You can do whatever you want, and you’ll be protected by the GOP that backs the blue. 

If you’re among the media “enemies of the people,” you’re meant to hear that and be afraid.

So it’s really no surprise that cops stormed into a newspaper office, laughing and joking while they tossed reporters’ desks and grabbed their phones out of their hands. They meant to instill fear, to make the Marion County Record less likely to challenge their authority in the future, and they did it knowing they had the backing of those in power. 

They did it with the echo of Trump screaming FAKE NEWS! in their ears.

In the days following the raid, support for the Marion County Record and its journalists poured in from across the country. The county’s own attorney admitted authorities were in the wrong and offered to return items to the paper, and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation began an inquiry into police actions. 

Press organizations called it an outrage, and other news outlets jumped in to help the tiny paper investigate not just the original arrest they’d been asking about, but the background of everyone who signed off on the illegal search and seizure, from the police chief to the local judge. 

That’s how the corporate media should confront every instance of anti-press sentiment from those in power, no matter if the threats come from a small town police chief or the president of the United States. 


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