Trump Saves ‘Stars and Stripes’

The venerable military newspaper lives to print another day.

President Trump has issued an Executive Tweet staying a Pentagon decision to close the venerable Stars and Stripes newspaper.

While the kerfuffle surprised most people when it has the mainstream yesterday, those in military circles should not have been. The story has been circulating at least as far back as February.

Stars and Stripes, Feb. 12 (“DOD budget proposal cuts all funding to Stars and Stripes; lawmakers, others back news organization“):

The Pentagon’s fiscal year 2021 budget request would strip Stars and Stripes of all its federal funding, more than $15 million annually, a Defense Department official said Wednesday, as lawmakers and others defended the editorially independent news organization.

The budget request unveiled Monday seeks to cut all of Stars and Stripes’ DOD funding — about $15.5 million per year, which the Pentagon wants to reinvest in functions that it considers more critical for warfighting, said Marine Lt. Col. Chris Logan, a spokesman for Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist. Stars and Stripes receives about $8.7 million annually in operations and maintenance funds and about $6.9 million in contingency operations funds to support news reporting in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

The cut to Stars and Stripes’ annual Pentagon subsidy equals about half of the news organization’s annual funds to pay expenses. Stars and Stripes’ remaining money comes from sales, subscriptions and advertising.

Pentagon officials on Monday confirmed the budget request would cut at least some funding to Stars and Stripes, but they declined to provide monetary figures attached to the proposal. Stars and Stripes’ leadership was informed of the proposed cuts by Pentagon leadership also Monday, after the Wall Street Journal reported the news organization was eyed for a funding reduction.

Stars and Stripes first appeared during the Civil War, and it has been continuously published since World War II. It produces daily newspapers for U.S. military troops across the world and a website, which is updated with news 24 hours a day. Though it is part of the Pentagon’s Defense Media Agency, Stripes retains its editorial independence and is congressionally mandated to be governed by First Amendment principles.

The proposal get rapid pushback at the time.

Stars and Stripes, Feb. 13 (“Esper defends stripping Stars and Stripes of all funding, says news organization is not a priority“):

Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Thursday defended the Pentagon’s effort to strip Stars and Stripes of all of its federal funding as part of its fiscal year 2021 budget request, telling reporters in Brussels that the independent news organization is not a priority.

“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 said during a news conference at NATO headquarters. He listed space, nuclear programs, hypersonic missiles and “a variety of systems” as places the money — slightly more than $15.5 million — could be reinvested in the $705.4 billion Defense Department spending proposal.

Rather obviously, $15.5 million, while a lot of money by the standards of the average taxpayer, is barely a rounding error in a $705.4 billion budget. Literally: It wouldn’t make the decimal point.

And the pushback continued:

The proposal 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 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.

“Since it was first published during the Civil War, Stars and Stripes has been a balanced and objective source of information for members of the military,” SPJ National President Patricia Gallagher Newberry said Wednesday in the statement. “Its ability to inform troops about issues important to them must not be hindered.”

Military veteran lawmakers Rep. Gil Cisneros, D-Calif., and Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., tweeted their support for Stars and Stripes this week.

Again, that was all seven months ago. Still, it surprises people when the cut made the budget proposal. And, facing backlash for his anti-veteran rant, Trump stepped in to save the day.

CNN (“Trump reverses Defense Dept. order to shut down Stars and Stripes newspaper“):

President Trump overrode his defense secretary and vowed to continue funding Stars and Stripes, the military’s editorially independent newspaper that covers issues relevant to members of the armed forces, after news the administration ordered the organization to shutter leaked to the public.

Trump tweeted Friday afternoon that the US “will NOT be cutting funding” to the outlet. The President’s tweet came as he faces significant uproar over a report in The Atlantic that said he disparaged military members.

The Defense Department, which notified Stars and Stripes in February that it intended to cut funding, said in an August 4 memo to the outlet’s publisher that it had “decided to discontinue the publication” of the newspaper.

The memo, first reported Friday by USA Today and independently obtained by CNN, instructed Stars and Stripes publisher Max Lederer to provide the Defense Department a plan that “dissolves” the organization by January 31, 2021. The memo said Stars and Stripes should cease publishing by September 30, 2020, when the fiscal year ends.

A Defense Department spokesperson deferred to the President’s tweet when CNN asked for comment.

The tweet itself is rather amusing:

You’d think he’d have figured out from Fox and Friends or whatever his source was that Stars and Stripes is a newspaper and not a magazine.

As one who got the paper for free while deployed during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and who paid for it most days while stationed in Germany, I have a fondness for the paper. I have framed copies of the editions proclaiming the fall of the Berlin Wall, the reuniting of Germany, and the Gulf War victory.

Still, I’m amenable to arguments that taxpayer subsidy for the paper is an anachronism. In my day, newspapers were the only means of asynchronous news. The Internet has long since made a printed newspaper a luxury.

But, again, the notion that reinvesting the $15 million elsewhere is going to have a meaningful impact on readiness is a hard sell given the vastness of the overall budget.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jim Brown 32 says:


  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    In deep doo-doo regarding comments about those who served and died, he yells squirrel and reverses a previous, unpopular decision. Not a surprise.

  3. Moosebreath says:

    “And, facing backlash for his anti-veteran rant, Trump stepped in to save the day.”

    If only the Tsar knew what the commissars were doing…

  4. CSK says:

    Magazines, newspapers; what’s the diff?

    Obviously Trump got the word “magazine” implanted in his alleged brain by the uproar over the article in the Atlantic. Now really, how could you reasonably expect him to differentiate?

    This reminds me of the kind of moronic college freshmen who used to call the sonnets of Thomas Wyatt “stories.” Anything written was a “story.”

  5. Kathy says:

    So Trump the King of the Covidiots saved Stars and Stripes form himself.

    How Christian of him.

  6. gVOR08 says:

    You can always depend on Republicans doing the right thing. Once they’ve caught enough spit for not doing it.

  7. Blue Galangal says:

    Funny how they announced it was shutting down even before the end of the fiscal, and after publishing the article about how the troops were more likely to support Biden than Trump… funny how that timing all worked. But your type of headline gives Trump exactly the type of victory lap he wants and needs.

  8. James Joyner says:

    @Blue Galangal: The fact that Trump didn’t even know what Stars and Stripes was (“magazine”) is pretty good evidence the original action wasn’t his.

    I have it on good authority that the military brass has been trying to kill the paper since at least the Obama administration. They’re aimed at the junior troops and often print stories that make the military leadership look bad but that would fly under the radar of non-dedicated outlets.

    I recall, too, that the Pentagon killed the Early Bird clipping service, for much the same reasons, during the 2013 shutdown.