The U.S. Military’s Independent Newspaper Almost Got Defunded
07 Sep 2020
Last week, USA Today reported about an unpublicized memo from the Pentagon that the Stars and Stripes, the independent newspaper about the U.S. Armed Forces, was to be shutdown and that it was asked to present a plan by the 15th of September on dissolving the publication and vacating the premises that it occupies worldwide, with the last issue to be expected to roll out of the presses on September 30.
For those who have been following developments in the U.S. military, the news is not exactly really news. Military.com already reported about this in February when Defense Secretary Mark Esper defended the action to defund the publication as part of its budget in 2021 during a NATO meeting in Brussels:
"So, we trimmed the support for Stars and Stripes because we need to invest that money, as we did with many, many other programs, into higher-priority issues," Esper said during a news conference at NATO headquarters. He listed space, nuclear programs, hypersonic missiles and "a variety of systems" as places the money -- slightly more than $15.5 million -- could be reinvested in the $705.4 billion Defense Department spending proposal.
Stars and Stripes started 1861 when Union troops during the Civil War started printing out news reports from an abandoned printing press in Bloomfield, Missouri that was owned by sympathizer of the Confederacy. As an independent publication even if it is part of the Defense Media Activity, it covers important and sensitive issues that concerns the military and can be critical of the military brass who also guarantee its independence.
The reach of the newspaper is extensive and is read by the troops fighting in Afghanistan, especially when they can’t access its website due to lack of internet connectivity.
Stars and Stripes print edition being read inside Incirlik Air Force Base in Turkey (Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Eric Summers Jr., U.S. Air Force)
The U.S. Congress, which holds the purse strings of the government under the Constitution and decides the budget of the government for the next fiscal year has not decided yet on approving the decision of the Pentagon. The House of Representatives overruled the decision to defund Stars and Stripes and restored the funding for the newspaper. The Senate has not acted on it yet but a bipartisan group of 15 Senators called on Esper to preserve the funding prerogatives of the Congress and not disrupt the operations of the publication.
In what looks like an attempt by President Donald Trump to endear himself to the troops after the story came out of The Atlantic that claimed he called who died in war are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers’ and has disparaged members of the armed members including wounded veterans that was confirmed by other news outlets through their own sources, he decreed via Twitter that Stars and Stripes will not lose federal funding:
The Stars and Stripes Ombudsman, Ernie Gates, said he was pleased with the tweet by the President and is looking forward to hear from Pentagon officials. He also called on both house of Congress to continue with funding the publication for the next fiscal year as reported by the newspaper:
“I’ve been saying that Secretary Esper should rescind the shutdown order and commit to funding Stars and Stripes, so I’m glad to see the president making that commitment first,” Gates said. “I hope to see details beyond the [Trump] tweet from the Pentagon, to remove any uncertainty about what will happen when the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.”
“Shutting it down would be fatal interference and permanent censorship of a unique First Amendment organization that has served U.S. troops reliably for generations,” Gates said. “I’m glad to have the president’s commitment that it won’t happen.”
Based in Washington D.C., Stars and Stripes publishes newspapers from Monday to Thursday with weekend editions and are also available as digital downloads as well as it is accessible via its online edition, Stripes.com.