The Pentagon was killing off the independent military newspaper Stars and Stripes at the end of this month. President Trump knew that since February and said nothing. Suddenly last Friday he said “not on my watch,” just as that story about him allegedly disparaging dead soldiers, sailors and Marines hit the news.
Here’s what the Defense Department’s deputy secretary had said: “We have essentially decided that, you know, kind of coming into the modern age that newspaper is probably not the best way that we communicate any longer.”
Why would that not be good? Military people don’t get a hometown newspaper and are not very interested in events somewhere they are temporarily stationed. Overseas, they get Armed Forces Radio & TV, heavily censored.
Also, Stars and Stripes has always been independent and not censored. I worked alongside its reporters in Germany, France, Vietnam and Iraq. They were good and reported truthfully — frequently infuriating the generals.
It employs civilian reporters, and senior non-commissioned officers as reporters. It has a daily circulation just shy of one million.
It gets its main funding from non-appropriated (non-taxpayer) funds filled by advertising and subscriptions and is only partially subsidized by the Defense Department.
It’s death would mean the loss of an independent voice telling GIs what’s really going on, not just what the Pentagon feeds them through its own news vehicles such as the Army Times.
I saw that over and over in Vietnam. The military news would carry a story of a great victory against North Vietnamese forces somewhere. The on-scene Stars and Stripes reporter’s story might say, instead, that 10 Americans were killed and the enemy forces disappeared back into the jungle.
In Germany in the late 50s, Stripes would carry stories about battles between Black and white soldiers at bars and illegal orders by commanders to their troops. Its civilian reporters often were inches from being fired because of Pentagon pressure. But they never caved in.
Fifteen senators sent a letter to the Pentagon, saying that “Stars and Stripes is an essential part of our nations freedom of the press that serves the very population charged with defending that freedom.”
The first Stars and Stripes was briefly produced in 1861 during the Civil War, but the paper only began consistent publication during World War I. When the war was over, publication ended, but restarted in 1942 during World War II, providing wartime news written by troops for troops in battle. It’s been going ever since.