The Pentagon plans to shut down Stars and Stripes, a longtime publication that covers the U.S. military community and is published for service members around the world, ordering it to cease operations and shutter its newsroom by the end of September under proposed budget cuts.
A Pentagon memo gives the paper’s publisher until Sept. 15 to outline a procedure that “dissolves the Stars and Stripes” and begin plans “for vacating government owned/leased space worldwide,” according to USA Today, which first reported the memo Friday.
Later Friday, President Donald Trump claimed in a tweet that he would “NOT be cutting funding” to the newspaper, “a wonderful source of information to our Great Military.”
According to the paper’s editorial director Terry Leonard, the paper received the Pentagon memo and had been preparing contingency plans. But he said he was “encouraged” by Trump’s tweet and cautiously optimistic it would mean that a deal to restore the funding could be reached soon.
“If the president’s tweeted, there probably won’t be much resistance from his side,” he told HuffPost Friday evening. “We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing. Now we have some hope that we can keep going before this becomes a crisis.”
Stars and Stripes is housed under and receives funding from the Department of Defense, but is editorially independent of it. Dating back to the Civil War, it has operated continuously since World War II, publishing print editions around the world for U.S. military members serving overseas.
Earlier this week, a bipartisan group of senators urged Defense Secretary Mark Esper to reverse plans to shutter the publication.
“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 in a letter Wednesday. “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.”
According to the letter, the Defense Department “plans to cease publication of Stars and Stripes on September 30, 2020 and completely dissolve the organization by January 31, 2021 as a result of the proposed termination of funding in the fiscal year 2021 President’s budget.”
In February, the DoD first signaled it would be stripping funding from the publication in the department’s 2021 budget. Esper claimed it was a cost-saving measure, despite the fact that the $15.5 million for the publication makes up a tiny fraction of the Pentagon’s proposed $705.4 billion budget for 2021.
“We trimmed the support for Stars and Stripes because we need to invest that money, as we did with many, many other programs, into higher-priority issues,” Esper said at the time, citing space, nuclear programs and hypersonic missiles.
In July, the House passed a defense spending bill that included funding for the publication. However, the Senate has yet to vote on the bill or pass a continuing resolution to temporarily preserve funding while it negotiates next year’s defense budget. Without any legislative action, the publication’s funding would expire on Sept. 30, the end of the 2020 fiscal year.
The senators wrote that a continuing resolution “places a legal obligation on the Department to not act on a termination of a program until a full-year appropriations bill is enacted,” asking Esper for “written assurance that the Department will comply with this obligation and avoid steps that would preempt the funding prerogative of Congress.”
Leonard, in his Friday comments, said, “We know of a lot of support we have in Congress, so we felt everything was on track to keep (the publication) going for another year. It’s a great relief that this may be working toward a solution.”
A spokesperson for the Pentagon did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
Trump regularly touts his support of the U.S. military and uses it for his political image, while also reportedly denigrating services members. On Thursday, the Atlantic reported several examples of disparaging comments he has made, including that while visiting France in 2018, he referred to military members who died in World War I as “suckers” and “losers.”
The White House denied the comments, though several DoD officials confirmed them to The Associated Press and The Washington Post.
This story has been updated with comments from Terry Leonard, the Stars and Stripes editorial director.
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