The Pentagon ordered the military’s newspaper, Stars and Stripes, to shut down, according to internal documents obtained Friday by USA Today. The independent paper has been providing news to the U.S. military community since 1861.
The memo from the Pentagon orders the print and digital outlet to present a plan which “dissolves the Stars and Stripes” by Sept. 15. It requests a “specific timeline for vacating government owned/leased space worldwide,” according to USA Today, and says the final version of the paper in print and online will come out Sept. 30.
Publisher Max Lederer told TheWrap, “Stripes leadership is developing the process for discontinuing publication and dissolving the organization. Even though the time is rapidly approaching it is premature to implement those steps. The U.S. Congress has not completed its deliberations on the Secretary of Defense’s request to not fund Stripes for FY 21.”
Ombudsman Ernie Gates, too, gave a statement to TheWrap, saying, “My charge is to hold the newsroom accountable to journalism standards and to defend its independence from command interference. Shutting it down would be fatal interference and permanent censorship of a unique First Amendment organization that has served U.S. troops reliably for generations.”
He added, “To shut down Stars and Stripes on Oct. 1 would defy the expressed will of the House and pre-empt full consideration by the Senate. There’s every reason to expect that the federal government will operate under a Continuing Resolution when the current fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. Secretary Esper and the Defense Department should commit to continuing to fund Stars and Stripes under such a scenario – and when Congress completes the budget process, it should then make Stars and Stripes’ funding ironclad.”
The Department of Defense did not immediately return a request for comment from TheWrap, but President Donald Trump did issue a tweet: “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!”
Stars and Stripes journalist Steve Beynon addressed the news of the potential shutdown on Twitter.
“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,” he wrote in a tweet shared by the official Stars & Stripes account.
When a reader asked how they could help, he wrote, “The House is good on this. Call both your senators.”
Stars and Stripes reporter Nikki Wentling also gave advice on Twitter: “We’re all still filing stories today. This isn’t our death knell, yet. If you’ve ever read a story of mine or of one of my colleagues, consider reaching out to your representatives – and soon.”
Reporter Caitlin Doornbos tweeted, “I filed two stories today, one of which revealed coronavirus was found aboard the USS Ronald Reagan while at sea. We still owe our service members so much, and we’re going to continue telling their stories as long as we possibly can.” She added the hashtag #savestarsandstripes and, like Beynon, was retweeted by the official account.