WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon has ordered the military’s independent newspaper, Stars and Stripes, to cease publication at the end of the month, despite Congressional efforts to continue funding the century-old publication.
The order to halt publication by Sept. 30, and dissolve the organization by the end of January, is the latest salvo in the Pentagon’s move earlier this year to cut the $15.5 million in funding for the paper from the department’s budget. And it is a reflection of the Trump administration’s broader animosity for the media and members of the press.
Members of Congress have objected to the defunding move for months. And senators sent a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper this week urging him to reinstate funding. The letter, signed by 15 senators — including Republicans and Democrats — also warns Esper that the department is legally prohibited from canceling a budget program while a temporary continuing resolution funding the federal government is in effect.
“Stars and Stripes is an essential part of our nations freedom of the press that serves the very population charged with defending that freedom,” the senators said in the letter.
And Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in a separate letter to Esper in late August, also voiced opposition to the move, calling Stripes “a valued “hometown newspaper” for the members of the Armed Forces, their families, and civilian employees across the globe.” He added that “as a veteran who has served overseas, I know the value that the Stars and Stripes brings to its readers.”
In the memo, the department says that Esper has decided to discontinue publication of the paper as a result of his department-wide budget review. Signed by Army Col. Paul Haverstick, acting director of the Pentagon’s Defense Media Activity, the memo said plans to shut down the paper are due on September 14, and the final newspaper publication will be on September 30.
Stripes ombudsman, Ernie Gates, told The Associated Press on Friday that shutting the paper down “would be fatal interference and permanent censorship of a unique First Amendment organization that has served U.S. troops reliably for generations.”
The first newspaper called Stars and Stripes was very briefly produced in 1861 during the civil war, but the paper began consistent publication during World War I. When the war was over, publication ended, only to restart in 1942 during World War II, providing wartime news written by troops specifically for troops in battle.
The paper, which gets funding from the Defense Department, is editorially independent from the Pentagon, and is delivered in print and digitally to troops all over the world.
In its budget request earlier this year, the Pentagon proposed cutting the paper’s funding, triggering angry reactions from members of Congress.
The House-passed version of the Pentagon budget contains funding for the paper’s publication, but the Senate has not yet finalized a defense funding bill.