WASHINGTON (CBS SF/AP) — The Trump administration is reversing course on its plans to shut down Stars and Stripes, the independent newspaper funded by the Department of Defense that has been a beacon of news and information for members of the military and their families for generations.

The reversal comes two days after Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) led a bipartisan group of senators calling on the Pentagon to reinstate funding following a previous announcement from the Defense Department it would stop publishing the paper at the end of the month and dissolve the organization by the end of January 2021.

“Glad to hear the administration decided to reverse course on its plan to defund the Stars and Stripes military newspaper,” tweeted Sen. Feinstein. “DOD never should have called for the newspaper’s closure.”

 

“Stars and Stripes is an essential part of our nation’s freedom of the press that serves the very population charged with defending that freedom,” the senators wrote. “Therefore, we respectfully request that you rescind your decision to discontinue support for Stars and Stripes and that you reinstate the funding necessary for it to continue operations.”

Earlier Friday, President Donald Trump said he won’t allow the Pentagon to cut funding for Stars and Stripes, effectively halting Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s plan to shut the paper down.

“The United States of America will NOT be cutting funding to @starsandstripes magazine under my watch,” Trump tweeted. “It will continue to be a wonderful source of information to our Great Military!”

Trump’s tweet came as he fought off new accusations that he called service members killed in World War I “losers” and “suckers” during an event in France in 2018. The comments, first reported by The Atlantic and confirmed by The Associated Press, are shining a fresh light on Trump’s previous public disparaging of American troops and military families and they delivered a new campaign issue to his Democratic rival Joe Biden, less than two months from Election Day.

A military recruitment center stands in Times Square in Manhattan on September 04, 2020 in New York City. Citing budgetary concerns, the Pentagon ordered the closure of the military newspaper Stars and Stripes on Friday, a newspaper that has been a voice for American soldiers since the Civil War. President Trump reversed the decision only hours later during a day where he fought off accusations that he denigrated the memory of fallen soldiers while on a trip to France in 2018. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The Defense Department’s order to halt publication and dissolve the organization follows the Pentagon’s move earlier this year to cut the $15.5 million in funding for the paper from the Defense Department budget. And it is a reflection of the Trump administration’s broader animosity for the media and members of the press.

The Trump White House hadn’t spoken out against the Pentagon plan to close the paper before Friday, even though it’s been in the works and publicly written about for months and was in the president’s budget request. Friday afternoon, however, Trump worked to shore up his reputation as a staunch supporter of the nation’s armed services.

“I’ve done more for the military than almost anyone else,” he said Friday in the Oval Office.

Trump was alleged to have made the comments about the war dead as he was set to visit the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery during a trip to France in November 2018.

The Pentagon had no immediate comment on Trump’s tweet or how it may affect Esper’s plan to ultimately shut down the paper.

Members of Congress have objected to the defunding move for months. And senators sent a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper this week urging him to reinstate the money. The letter, signed by 15 senators — including Republicans and Democrats — also warns Esper that the department is legally prohibited from canceling a budget program while a temporary continuing resolution to fund the federal government is in effect.

“Stars and Stripes is an essential part of our nation’s freedom of the press that serves the very population charged with defending that freedom,” the senators said in the letter.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in a separate letter to Esper in late August, also voiced opposition to the move, calling Stripes “a valued ‘hometown newspaper’ for the members of the Armed Forces, their families, and civilian employees across the globe.” He added that “as a veteran who has served overseas, I know the value that the Stars and Stripes brings to its readers.”

In the memo, the department says Esper made the decision as a result of his department-wide budget review. Signed by Army Col. Paul Haverstick, acting director of the Pentagon’s Defense Media Activity, the memo says plans to close the paper are due on Sept. 15 and the last newspaper is to be published on Sept. 30.

The memo adds that if the paper continues to be funded by either a continuing resolution “or other unforeseen circumstances” then Stripes must submit a plan by Sept. 15 to shut down at the end of the next budget year, Sept. 30, 2021. Haverstick’s memo says that in that case, the last date for publication of the newspaper will be determined based on budget or other circumstances.

The Stripes ombudsman, Ernie Gates, told The Associated Press on Friday that shutting the paper down “would be fatal interference and permanent censorship of a unique First Amendment organization that has served U.S. troops reliably for generations.”

The first newspaper called Stars and Stripes was very briefly produced in 1861 during the Civil War, but the paper began consistent publication during World War I. When the war was over, publication ended, only to restart in 1942 during World War II, providing wartime news written by troops specifically for troops in battle.

Although the paper gets funding from the Defense Department, it is editorially independent and is delivered in print and digitally to troops all over the world.

The Pentagon proposed cutting the paper’s funding when making its budget request earlier this year, triggering angry reactions from members of Congress.

The House-passed version of the Pentagon budget contains funding for the paper’s publication, but the Senate has not yet finalized a defense funding bill.

 

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