Stars and Stripes For The Time Being

Trump opens a new front in his war on truth — defunding a trusted news source for servicemembers.

UPDATE: On September 4, 2020, USAToday reported that “The Pentagon has ordered Stars and Stripes to shut down for no good reason.”

Invaluable. Informative. Unbiased.

Every day, in print and online, one million people read Stars and Stripes newspaper. Continuously published since World War Two, the paper is delivered free of charge to active duty servicemembers around the world, including the most dangerous places where troops are deployed, such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. It’s available for home delivery in countries such as Belgium, Germany, Italy, Japan, and South Korea. Part of its budget comes from sales in coin boxes on military bases and at military exchanges. The rest of its budget—approximately $15.5 million—comes from the Pentagon.

The important role Stars and Stripes plays in delivering news to “the U.S. military community, including active-duty servicemembers, DoD civilians, veterans, contractors, and their families” is not in question.

As retired Navy Adm. James Stavridis, who served as EUCOM chief and NATO Supreme Allied Command from 2009 to 2013 wrote in a recent email:

Every day in my office as commander [of] U.S. European Command, I would read Stars and Stripes… It was an invaluable, unbiased, and highly professional source of information which was critical to me in my role overseeing U.S. military throughout Europe.

According to Ernie Gates, Stars and Stripes’ ombudsman:

The newspaper not only provides service members “a little piece of home” or a “welcome diversion” from tough missions, but it also provides independent, free-flowing information that they need to exercise their rights as Americans.

Even Marine Lt. Col. Chris Logan, a spokesman for Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist, said this week:

Their hard work and dedication in reporting on issues that matter the most to the military community continues to be of value.

Only problem is, Logan went on to say:

However, as we look forward to the current budget proposal and beyond, the DOD must prioritize spending to support our warfighters in the most critical areas of need. Therefore, the department has made the difficult decision that, beginning in fiscal year 2021, it will no longer provide appropriated funds to Stars and Stripes.

To sum up: It’s invaluable. It’s informative. It’s unbiased. And it’s highly prized by our servicemembers, especially those risking their lives in the world’s most dangerous combat zones.

Trump wants to kill it.

What conceivable reason could a President who claims to love our troops have for killing something our troops love so much?

The $15.5 million it costs the Defense Department to fund Stars and Stripes represents just 0.002% of its proposed $740.5 billion 2021 budget.

$15.5 million is peanuts to the DoD.

Compare it to the $3.8 billion Secretary Esper was simply able to “find” in his budget to give Trump extra cash to build his vanity wall.

Compare it to the $22 billion the military has wasted on trying to develop a replacement for Bradley Fighting Vehicles over the past 17 years.

Compare it to the $125 billion in military waste the Pentagon uncovered—and then concealed—in 2015.

$15.5 million is all it would cost to continue producing daily newspapers for U.S. military troops around the world and operating a website that is updated with news 24 hours per day.

The problem, of course, is in the news it produces:

Though it is part of the Pentagon’s Defense Media Activity, Stripes retains its editorial independence and is congressionally mandated to be governed by First Amendment principles.

In other words, Stars and Stripes is everything Trump hates in a news organization:

Stars and Stripes is editorially independent of interference from outside its own editorial chain-of-command. It provides commercially available U.S. and world news and objective staff-produced stories relevant to the military community in a balanced, fair, and accurate manner. By keeping its audience informed, Stars and Stripes enhances military readiness and better enables U.S. military personnel and their families stationed overseas to exercise their responsibilities of citizenship

Trump, clearly, has no interest in keeping military community informed in any kind of fair and accurate way. Depriving active duty military of a physical newspaper may sound like a reasonable 21st century idea, but as CNN’s Barbara Starr points out, many of those troops are not allowed to get news via their phones for security reasons.

Trump would likely welcome the day when professional soldiers are less informed about the nuances of foreign affairs and military policy than they are today. In his mind, soldiers (or police or bikers) who are willing to do his bidding, no questions asked, are more valuable than those with a capacity to think for themselves. To Trump, a war criminal who supports him is more valuable than a Purple Heart recipient who believes “right matters.” Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman found that out.

But Stars and Stripes isn’t dead yet. Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., was one of those who tweeted their support for the newspaper this week:

As reported, the planned defunding of Stars and Stripes:

Has received pushback from varying directions, including a former commander, lawmakers and a key journalism advocacy and education organization, the Society of Professional Journalists.

SPJ called on Defense Secretary Mark Esper to rethink the funding cut to Stars and Stripes, which it said would be “a huge disservice to the men and women who serve our country” who rely on the physical newspaper in areas where they cannot access the internet.

Stars and Stripes, of course is just one of the invaluable American institutions Trump would like to destroy. His 2021 budget, for the fourth year in a row, proposes defunding PBS and NPR, a move which, Poynter says, “could cripple local public TV and radio.”

Congress has made sure that PBS and NPR have survived Trump’s attempted cuts in years past. Now Stars and Stripes has been added to the list of things that must be saved from Trump’s attacks.

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