In an intriguing move earlier last week, the Pentagon decided to cut the government funding for the Stars and Stripes newspaper as part of the 2021 FY budget. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said that the newspaper “is not a priority.”
Esper, speaking to the press at NATO headquarters, defended the move: “So, 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 cited nuclear modernization, space, missile defense, hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence and next-generation communications and force “readiness” as places the money could be reinvested into as part of the $705.4 billion Defense Department spending proposal.
Marine LTC Chris Logan, a spokesman for Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist said that Stars and Stripes receives a government subsidy of $8.7 million annually in operations and maintenance funds and about $6.9 million in contingency operations funds, which seems like a drop in the bucket for a $705 billion budget.
That $15.6 million dollar subsidy is about 35 percent of Stars and Stripes’ annual operating budget. The remaining half comes from subscriptions and advertising. Stars and Stripes has been around since the Civil War; since WWII it has become a daily newspaper for deployed American soldiers. Although staffed by the Defense Media Agency, Stars and Stripes has retained its editorial independence. It reaches about one million deployed readers daily as well as a number of online users.
The Pentagon’s acting comptroller, Elaine McCusker, said that the Pentagon had arrived at the decision following a lengthy review that sought to move funding from nonmilitary applications. She said that the department “essentially decided, coming into the modern age, that newspaper[s] [are] probably not the best way we communicate any longer,” during a press conference earlier last week.
In 2016, the newspaper was critical of then-candidate Donald Trump with his ties to Russia being called into question; it also ran a story that the Air Force found it was acceptable for some of the AF personnel to wear MAGA hats for the President’s visit to Ramstein Air Force Base a couple of years ago.
Stars and Stripes is one of several government programs that the Pentagon is looking to slash funding for in order to meet its new budget. Those program cuts add up to nearly $5 billion dollars. Among them are nearly 50 medical facilities and some logistics operations.
Esper stated that while not a priority, the newspaper continues to be of value to military members: “Their hard work and dedication in reporting on issues that matter the most to the military community continues to be of value,” Esper said.
“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 the fiscal year 2021, it will no longer provide appropriated funds to Stars and Stripes.”
Stars and Stripes publisher Max Lederer said that “I have just begun to evaluate the impact [on] operations. The loss of funding to support the Stripes mission around the world will definitely reduce the ability of the Stripes staff to gather, produce, and deliver the content needed and desired by the military community.”
He added: “The men and women who sacrifice every day for the safety of our nation deserve the objective and balanced unique content produced by Stars and Stripes.” This isn’t the first time the Pentagon considered cutting the funds allocated to Stars and Stripes. Back in 2016, it toyed with the idea of cutting the then $12 million dollar budget for the newspaper before deciding otherwise.
Lederer sent out an email to the staff and according to the Stars and Stripes, he said, “I and the Stripes leadership have not had an opportunity to study and plan for this change. We are now beginning that discussion and evaluating options, including ways to continue operations in some form.”