Without an outright denial of allegations that he has sought to withdraw funding for the newspaper, or disputing charges that the Pentagon has ordered the closure of the publication by September 30, Trump tweeted this 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!”
The Pentagon, according to reports in USA Today and other news organizations today, has ordered the shutdown of the military newspaper (not a magazine), with the Trump Administration said to be seeking total defunding of the 159-year-old independent publication.
USA Today contributor Kathy Kiely cited a recent Pentagon memo that ordered the Stars and Stripes publisher to present a plan by September 15 for the dissolution of the newspaper, both print and online, and a “specific timeline for vacating government owned/leased space worldwide.” The memo, written by Col. Paul Haverstick Jr., says the “last newspaper publication (in all forms) will be September 30, 2020.”
The Society of Professional Journalists on Friday condemned the requested closing of Stars and Stripes and called for funding to be restored.
“We are disgusted at this latest attempt by this administration to destroy the free press in this country,” said SPJ national president Patricia Gallagher Newberry. “Stars and Stripes has been a lifeline and the source of much needed information, inspiration and support for troops all over the world, including places where communication with the outside world is at a minimum or nonexistent. To destroy such an important American institution is a travesty.”
The news of a planned shutdown — and Trump’s seeming about-face — comes as the president is battling a barrage of bad press over a report in The Atlantic that the president called U.S. troops killed in battle “losers” and “suckers,” sought to prevent disabled veterans from taking part in parades because “nobody wants to see that” and denigrated John McCain after the senator and Vietnam War hero’s death. The Atlantic report, as well as Trump’s denials, have been picked up by the military newspaper.
Haverstick’s memo asserts that the administration has the authority to defund the publication under the president’s fiscal-2021 Defense Department budget request, specifically the $15.5 million annual subsidy for Stars and Stripes — a tiny fraction of the Pentagon’s $700 billion budget.
Congress has not yet approved the request, and a House-approved version of the budget would restore Stars and Stripes‘ funding. A bipartisan group of 11 Democratic and four Republican senators wrote to Defense Secretary Mark Esper this week objecting to the “proposed termination of funding” for Stars and Stripes, noting the “significantly negative impact on military families” such the closure would have.
Trump ally Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also has opposed the shutdown, writing a letter to Esper in late August describing Stars and Stripes as “a valued ‘hometown newspaper’ for the Armed Forces, their families, and civilian employees across the globe.” Graham wrote that, “as a veteran who has served overseas, I know the value that the Stars and Stripes brings to its readers.”
Stars and Stripes, a military publication independent of Pentagon editorial control, was first published in 1861 and has published regularly since World War II with a current readership of 1.3 million.
In a tweet following a USA Today report, Stars and Stripes reporter Steve Beynon assured readers his work would continue. “I read Stars and Stripes on a mountain in Afghanistan when I was a 19 year old aspiring journalist,” Beynon wrote in a tweet that was later retweeted by the official Stars and Stripes Twitter account. “Now I work there. This doesn’t stop the journalism. I’m juggling 3 future news stories today.”