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Pentagon to Rescind Order Dissolving Stars and Stripes Newspaper

By Carla Babb September 11, 2020

The Pentagon says it will rescind its order for a government-funded, independent military newspaper to cease publication by September 30, nearly a week after President Donald Trump tweeted that he would stop budget cuts from his own administration that would have closed Stars and Stripes.

"You do not have to submit the Plan of Action and Milestones for a Stripes closure in FY 2021," Army Colonel Paul Haverstick, the acting director of Defense Media Activity, wrote in an email Thursday to the publisher of Stars and Stripes.

The Department of Defense spending plans, released in February, eliminated all government funding for the paper for fiscal 2021, which begins October 1.

But last Friday, Trump tweeted that he planned to reverse the Pentagon budget plans to cut government funding for the military news outlet.

"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!" Trump tweeted.

Trump's tweet came hours after media outlets reported on the Pentagon's plans to dissolve the publication. But the president's tweets alone do not indicate policy or dictate law.

Earlier this week, Stars and Stripes employees remained worried even after the Trump tweet because the Pentagon order to defund the news outlet had not yet changed.

"There's a great deal of anxiety in the staff," Max Lederer, publisher of Stars and Stripes since 2007, told VOA on Tuesday. "A little less anxiety since Friday, but since [the funding decision] is still not final, there's a lot of concern."

The House of Representatives passed the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for fiscal 2021 on July 31, 2020, which included additional funding for the publication. The Senate did not include funding for the publication in its defense spending bill, but both houses of Congress have resolutions supporting its mission.

A Defense Department memo by Haverstick last month instructed the Stars and Stripes publisher to provide a plan of action "no later than September 15" to discontinue Stars and Stripes publications and dissolve the news organization "no later than January 31, 2021."

In the case of a continuing resolution (CR) from Congress, which would prevent a government shutdown and extend funding temporarily, the memo (obtained by VOA) instructed the publisher to plan the "last date for publication of the newspaper" "based on the end of the CR or other circumstances."

A bipartisan group of 11 Democratic and four Republican senators sent a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper last week, calling on the Department of Defense to maintain funding for the publication, which has more than 1 million readers.

"The $15.5 million currently allocated for the publication of Stars and Stripes is only a tiny fraction of your department's annual budget, and cutting it would have a significantly negative impacht on military families and a negligible impact on the department's bottom line," said the letter, signed by the senators.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina and an Air Force veteran, also sent a letter opposing the budget cut, citing strong support for Stars and Stripes in Congress.

Stars and Stripes started during the Civil War as a publication for Union troops. Today, it distributes to U.S. service members stationed around the globe, including in war zones.

Most recently, the publication shed light on the Defense Department's failure to shut down schools on U.S. military installations in Japan during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite a Japanese public schools ruling that called shutdowns necessary to stopping the spread of coronavirus.

"Stars and Stripes tells the military's story like no other publication can. It was held by GIs in the trenches of World War II and held by special forces members at remote outposts in Syria after being flown in by Osprey in the battle against ISIS," Tara Copp, a reporter for McClatchy who was the Pentagon correspondent for Stars and Stripes from 2015 to 2017, told VOA.

"It is a rounding error [an inconsequential amount] to DOD, but it is much, much more than that to the men and women and their families who read it," she added.

Copp said that the publication provides the time and resources to look into stories that many other outlets do not.

For example, her in-depth investigation into the 2000 Osprey crash at Marana Regional Airport near Tucson, Arizona, for the publication in 2015 led to former Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work exonerating the two Marine Corps pilots who had been blamed for the crash.

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