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    Thursday, September 28, 2023

    ‘The good people’ showed up in Marion County

    The Marion County Record sits in a display in its office, Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023, in Marion, Kan. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

    In the hours before 98-year-old Marion County Record co-owner Joan Meyer died — of a broken heart, a lifelong friend told me in a letter — she asked her son Eric over and over again, “ Where are all the good people who are supposed to stop this from happening?” Where were the good people, she wondered, who could and should have stopped a cop with something to hide from raiding her paper, seizing her possessions and attacking her purpose?

    Though she didn’t live to see it, they did show up.

    On the Jost Funeral Home memorial page for Mrs. Meyer, someone who identified himself only as “ Above the Fold ” — an old newspaper term for a story with top billing, on the top half of the front page — wrote this:

    “Where are the good people, she asked? We’re on the way, ma’am. Total strangers who have never heard of Marion before are mobilizing to defend your legacy. Professional journalism and a free press will soon illuminate every dark recess of your hometown. Rest easy. We got this one.”

    Mrs. Meyer’s friend and former colleague David Colburn said he cried when he read that, and though I never had the pleasure of meeting her, I did, too.

    In the days after the raid, free press advocates (though not the governor of Kansas, who if she’d said boo might have scared herself) roared until the prosecutor revoked the unwarranted warrant, which should never have been issued in the first place.

    More than 1,000 of those who believe in Mrs. Meyer’s constitutionally protected life’s work subscribed to what one such person who wrote to tell me about it called “the little paper that could.”

    Some, like Rusty and Paula Leffler of Mission Hills, drove all the way to the newspaper office in Marion to sign up, show solidarity and pay their respects in person.

    None of this, of course, undoes the harm inflicted. None of it lessens Eric Meyer’s loss, or changes the fact that Mrs. Meyer spent her final hours in pain over what she rightly called the “Hitler tactics” of a bully with a badge.

    But a free press did, as “Above the Fold” wrote on Joan Meyer’s tribute page, illuminate every dark recess of her hometown.

    Police overreaction led to news about DUI arrests

    And one of the many lessons here for aspiring fascists is that if the former Kansas City Police Department captain (and hopefully soon-to-be former Marion police chief ) Gideon Cody had not overreacted so badly and overreached so dramatically, the world might never have learned why Cody, who knew that the Record was looking into why he’d left the KCPD to take a job at half the pay in Marion, had really come to town.

    (As my Star colleagues Glenn Rice and Luke Nozicka reported, he left Kansas City while facing possible demotion over a “hostile work environment” complaint that Chief Stacey Graves, to her credit, took seriously.)

    If Magistrate Judge Laura Viar hadn’t signed the warrant authorizing the illegal raid, supposedly because of allegations that the newspaper had improperly obtained information about the DUI of a local restaurant owner applying for a liquor license, the world would never have learned from our sister paper, the Wichita Eagle, that Viar just might relate to that restaurant owner because Viar herself has been arrested at least twice for driving under the influence.

    And if that Marion restaurant owner, Kari Newell, hadn’t seen the Record’s perfectly standard attempt to check out a tip about her DUI as a criminal undertaking, the world wouldn’t know that, like Judge Viar, Newell at one point had her license suspended and kept driving anyway.

    All of which is something that the next thug who thinks he can shut down a newspaper to keep the truth from coming out might want to think on, and then think again.

    Someone I’ve written about who has very little reason to believe in justice but does anyway always quotes Luke 8:17 to me: “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.”

    I believe that, too, though it’s the timing that’s so uncertain. And sorry as I am that what was hidden did not come to light in time for Mrs. Meyer to see it, the secrets that last week’s police raid were supposed to keep out of view are known now, and the good people did show up.

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