Stars and Stripes

Outcry as Pentagon orders newspaper to shut down

Publication has served US armed forces since 1861
Defense department keen to reallocate funding to Space Force

Stars and Stripes has served US armed forces since 1861

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US PRESS GROUP

The Trump administration has ordered the closure of Stars and Stripes, a newspaper that has served US armed forces since 1861, according to a Pentagon memo obtained by USA Today.

The Department of Defense ordered the publisher of the paper to provide a plan that “dissolves the Stars and Stripes” by 15 September, USA Today said, including a “specific timeline for vacating government owned/leased space worldwide”.

“The last newspaper publication (in all forms) will be 30 September 2020,” the author of the memo, Col Paul Haverstick Jr, was quoted as writing.

Haverstick Jr is director of Defense Media Activity (DMA), based at Fort Meade, Maryland. According to the Pentagon website, DMA is “a mass media and education organisation that creates and distributes Department of Defense content across a variety of platforms to audiences around the world”.

Stars and Stripes traces its origins to Bloomfield, Missouri in November 1861, when troops under the future president Ulysses S Grant took over the printing press of a Confederate sympathiser.

It has traditionally provided news free of government censorship, often critical of military and civilian commanders, and is delivered daily to troops around the world, even on front lines.

Moves to close the paper began in February, when the Pentagon announced plans to reallocate funding to projects including the Space Force, a much-maligned and satirised pet project of Donald Trump.

On Wednesday, Military.com reported that a bipartisan group of senators led by the California Democrat Dianne Feinstein had written to defense secretary Mark Esper.

“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 wrote.

“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.”

Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat who lost both legs when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq, signed the Feinstein letter. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close Trump ally who was a lawyer in the US air force, wrote a letter of his own.

Stars and Stripes did not immediately comment on Wednesday, but it did share a tweet from one of its writers, Steve Beynon.

“I read Stars and Stripes on a mountain in Afghanistan when I was a 19-year-old aspiring journalist,” he wrote. “Now I work there. This doesn’t stop the journalism. I’m juggling three future news stories today.”

Beynon shared recent stories including a report on women commanding combat units and employees alleging “ingrained racism” at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Kathy Kiely of the Missouri School of Journalism, who published news of the memo in USA Today, wrote: “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.”

As news of the Pentagon memo echoed through the US media, the White House was reeling from a report in the Atlantic which said the president disparaged US Marines killed in France in the first world war and made disrespectful remarks about both John McCain, a late political rival and Vietnam veteran, and wounded soldiers in general.

Trump rubbished the report, insisting: “I never called our great fallen soldiers anything other than HEROES. This is more made up Fake News given by disgusting and jealous failures in a disgraceful attempt to influence the 2020 election!”

In the case of McCain, observers pointed to a tweet from 2015 in which Trump called the senator and presidential nominee, who died in 2018, a “loser”.

Speaking to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, one former cavalry officer who twice deployed to Iraq said: “For Stars and Stripes, unfortunately it’s probably more a sign of the times than anything else.

“But having an independent media outlet focused totally on the military and its communities should be a priority for the Department of Defense, to keep these communities informed and together – even while physically separated.”

The same veteran expressed sadness about Trump’s reported remarks about soldiers killed in action, wounded or taken prisoner.

“Anyone who is shocked or surprised at any of this simply hasn’t been paying attention,” he said. “Look at his comments about prisoners of war when talking about McCain.”


Trump says he will not cut funding to Stars and Stripes newspaper

Donald Trump tweeted on Friday that he “will not be cutting funding to Stars and Stripes”, a newspaper that has served US armed forces since 1861, despite a Pentagon memo obtained by USA Today saying the title would close by the end of the month.

“The United States of America will NOT be cutting funding to Stars and Stripes magazine under my watch,” Trump wrote. “It will continue to be a wonderful source of information to our Great Military!”

News that the venerable paper was in peril had landed as the White House reeled from a report in the Atlantic which said the president disparaged US marines killed in France in the first world war and made disrespectful remarks about both John McCain, a late political rival and Vietnam veteran, and wounded soldiers in general.

According to USA Today, the Department of Defense ordered the publisher of Stars and Stripes to provide a plan to “dissolve” it by 15 September, including a “specific timeline for vacating government owned/leased space worldwide”.

“The last newspaper publication (in all forms) will be 30 September 2020,” the author of the memo, Col Paul Haverstick Jr, was quoted as writing.

Stars and Stripes later retweeted Trump’s promise not to close it.

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