The Pentagon has ordered the closure of the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, which has served U.S. troops, their families, and civilian employees since the Civil War, according to an internal memo obtained by USA Today.
The memo, written by Col. Paul Haverstick, Jr., orders the publisher of the Stars and Stripes paper and website to present a plan to shut it down by the end of the month.
President Donald Trump responded to growing widespread anger over the news by posting a tweet Friday afternoon promising that the U.S. "will not be cutting funding to Stars and Stripes magazine" under his watch. The veracity of the president's tweet could not be independently confirmed as of Friday afternoon.
The United States of America will NOT be cutting funding to @starsandstripes magazine under my watch. It will continue to be a wonderful source of information to our Great Military!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 4, 2020
Informed observers, like the Washington Post's Paul Sonne, pointed out that the president included defunding Stars and Stripes in the proposed budget he presented to Congress earlier this year.
Note: The slashing of Stars and Stripes funding was proposed earlier this year in *Trump's own budget request to Congress* https://t.co/UDT50dcJ11
— Paul Sonne (@PaulSonne) September 4, 2020
Stars and Stripes was first published in November 1861 after troops under Gen. Ulysses S. Grant captured a Confederate printing press in Bloomfield, Missouri during the Civil War. It subsequently grew to become U.S. troops' local newspaper no matter where in the world they served. For nearly 159 years, the paper has informed and entertained American troops deployed to far-flung corners of the globe, as well as their families back home or on the hundreds of U.S. military bases abroad.
Today Stars and Stripes is printed around the world and delivered daily to troops. Many service members now prefer the online version of the paper, but the print edition still reigns supreme in remote areas where internet service is poor or nonexistent.
While often a mouthpiece for U.S. imperialism, the paper is also known for its independence. It's reporting has been at times critical of military and civilian leadership and does not necessarily shy away from reporting atrocities committed by U.S. troops—even sometimes when they are ignored by the corporate mainstream media. It has won numerous journalism awards, including the prestigious George Polk Award for Military Reporting in 2010 for "a riveting group of stories on how the [military] used a public relations company to profile journalists and steer them toward positive coverage of the war in Afghanistan."
That same year, it won the National Headliner Award for articles about a U.S. general who tried to prohibit troops under his command in Iraq from getting pregnant, as well as a murder case in the Phillipines involving a U.S. sailor.
Many active duty U.S. troops and veterans voiced their strong disapproval of the impending shutdown.
"I read Stars and Stripes on a mountain in Afghanistan when I was a 19-year-old aspiring journalist," tweeted a reporter with the newspaper, Steve Beynon. "Now I work there. This doesn't stop the journalism."
I read Stars and Stripes on a mountain in Afghanistan when I was a 19 year old aspiring journalist. Now I work there. This doesn’t stop the journalism. I’m juggling 3 future news stories today. https://t.co/z9ZEHWa7mW
— Steve Beynon (@StevenBeynon) September 4, 2020
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Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have objected to defunding Stars and Stripes for months, ever since Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced in February that the administration had canceled $15.5 million in funding for the paper for 2021. Esper said at the time that the military needed to invest in "higher-priority issues," including weapons projects and the new U.S. Space Force.
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) September 4, 2020
On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of senators led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Esper urging him to preserve the "historically significant publication," which they noted only requires "a tiny fraction" of the military's $740 billion annual budget.
"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 15 senators 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."
Veterans including Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who lost her legs when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq, signed the letter. Stars and Stripes on Friday published an op-ed by Duckworth titled "GOP attempts to limit vote-by-mail puts vets at risk."
In a separate letter sent to Esper late last month, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) wrote that "as a veteran who has served overseas, I know the value that Stars and Stripes brings its readers."
The news of the Haverstick memo comes amid a rough week for the president's relationship with a military for which he has repeatedly said he has "done more than any president in many, many years."
On Monday, a survey published in Military Times revealed that fully half of respondents had an unfavorable view of Trump, with just 38% approving of the president. When asked who they planned to vote for in November, 41.3% of respondents said Democratic nominee Joe Biden, while only 37.4% said Trump.
On Thursday, Trump was the target of ire among veterans when it was reported he privately disparaged U.S. troops killed or wounded in war as "suckers" and "losers." Some critics noted the glaring disparity between the sacrifices made by millions of U.S. troops and Trump's alleged draft-dodging during the Vietnam War.
It was far from Trump's first attack on military members and their loved ones. He has repeatedly disrespected Gold Star families—relatives of U.S. troops killed in war—as well as prisoners of war incluing the late Sen. John McCain.
Other critics noted Trump's highly contentious relationship with—and disdain for—the press, which he has habitually called the "enemy of the people."
"Even for those of us who are all too wearily familiar with President Donald Trump's disdain for journalists, his administration's latest attack on the free press is a bit of a jaw-dropper," wrote Kathy Kiely in her USA Today op-ed reporting the Haverstick memo.