Trump fights Pentagon’s orders to end Stars and Stripes publication, vows it won’t go dark on his watch

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President Donald Trump is fighting against a Pentagon decision to end the publication of the military’s independent newspaper after generations in print.

The president and members of Congress objected to a Defense Department decision to cease publication of the Stars and Stripes newspaper this month, citing a budget review on funding. Trump declared the publication, which made its debut during the Civil War, would not go dark “under my watch.”

(Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

“The United States of America will NOT be cutting funding to @starsandstripes magazine under my watch,” Trump tweeted on Friday. “It will continue to be a wonderful source of information to our Great Military!”

Trump’s critics jumped on the chance to claim he had made an about-face on the decision to cut the funding after an explosive story in The Atlantic this week that accused him of calling fallen soldiers from World War I “losers” during a 2018 trip to France.

The office for Defense Secretary Mark Esper released a statement saying the cut is “a result of the Defense-wide Review as outlined in the President’s Budget Request (PBR) for Fiscal Year 2021.”

“The last newspaper publication (in all forms) will be September 30, 2020,” Col. Paul Haverstick Jr. wrote in a memo announcing the plan that “dissolves the Stars and Stripes,” according to USA Today.

With roughly $15.5 million in annual funding, the newspaper, which was first printed in November 1861, is delivered to U.S troops daily, even to those on the front lines around the world. While the memo about the end of the publication cited the president’s fiscal year 2021 defense department budget request as the necessary authorization, members of Congress have pushed back, and said the Defense Department is not legally authorized to make the changes without a final budget being approved.

A letter sent by a bipartisan group of 15 senators this week called on Esper to “take steps to preserve the funding prerogatives of Congress before allowing any such disruption to take place.”

“Stars and Stripes is an essential part of our nation’s freedom of the press that serves the very population charged with defending that freedom,” the senators, led by California Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein, said in the letter. “Therefore, we respectfully request that you rescind your decision to discontinue support for Stars and Stripes and that you reinstate the funding necessary for it to continue operations.”

“It was Stars and Stripes that revealed the Defense Department’s use of public relations firms that profiled reporters and steered them toward favorable coverage of the war in Afghanistan,” the lawmakers said. “Most recently, the paper brought to light the failure of schools on U.S. military installations to shut down during the pandemic, despite Japanese public schools doing so. These stories illustrate why Stars and Stripes is essential: they report on stories that no one else covers.”

In a separate letter to Esper, Sen. Lindsey Graham also called for funding to continue for the “hometown paper” for members of the armed forces.

“As you may know, there is strong support for the Stars and Stripes in Congress,” the South Carolina Republican wrote.

“In fact, the House Department of Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2021, which passed the House of Representatives on July 31, 2020, included additional funding for the publication, and both houses of Congress have resolutions supporting the mission of the Stars and Stripes,” Graham added.

“I urge you not to take actions that would deprive individuals of this publication until Congress has appropriately completed the appropriations process,” the letter said.

Discontinuing the newspaper, which is available in print and online, “would be fatal interference and permanent censorship of a unique First Amendment organization that has served U.S. troops reliably for generations,”  Stripes ombudsman, Ernie Gates, told the Associated Press on Friday.

Marine veteran Rep. Ruben Gallego introduced an amendment during the House Armed Services Committee markup in July to provide the $15.5 million in funding to keep the paper afloat.

“Thousands of troops around the globe rely on them for the kind of news that just isn’t covered elsewhere — stories from American bases, the latest Department of Defense news, and transparency coverage that cuts through political and military brass BS talking points,” the Arizona Democrat said. “It’s exactly the type of honest coverage that our armed forces need, and we weren’t going to let the Administration stifle these voices without a fight.”

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Frieda Powers

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