Pentagon orders shutdown of military's independent newspaper

On the same day in which Trump is under fire for reportedly denigrating military service, we see his admin is also shutting down the military's newspaper.
This picture taken 26 December 2011 show
An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington on Dec. 26, 2011.AFP - Getty Images file
By Steve Benen

The timing could be better. On the same day in which Donald Trump is under fire for reportedly denigrating military service and the sacrifices of those who've worn the uniform, the Associated Press reports that Trump's administration is shutting down the military's independent newspaper after generations of publication.

The Pentagon has ordered the military’s independent newspaper, Stars and Stripes, to cease publication at the end of the month, despite Congressional efforts to continue funding the century-old publication. The order to halt publication by Sept. 30, and dissolve the organization by the end of January, is the latest salvo in the Pentagon’s move earlier this year to cut the $15.5 million in funding for the paper from the department’s budget.

The AP report added that the move has faced bipartisan pushback from members of Congress, who've called for the administration to restore the newspaper's funding. What's more, 15 senators reportedly sent a letter this week to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, warning the Pentagon chief "that the department is legally prohibited from canceling a budget program while a temporary continuing resolution funding the federal government is in effect."

The larger question, of course, is why in the world the Trump administration would do this -- not just in the midst of a controversy surrounding the president's disrespect for military service, but at any time.

We are, after all, talking about a $15 million military expenditure, and while that may sound like an enormous amount of money, it's barely a rounding error given the Pentagon's overall budget, which is roughly $700 billion.

So why bother? The Associated Press reported that the move "is a reflection of the Trump administration’s broader animosity for the media and members of the press."

In a USA Today op-ed, the Missouri School of Journalism's Kathy Kiely made a related case, writing, "Even for those of us who are all too wearily familiar with President Donald Trump’s disdain for journalists, his administration’s latest attack on the free press is a bit of a jaw-dropper."

By all appearances, this is more than just a trial balloon about something on the horizon. On the contrary, Kiely's op-ed highlighted a memo from Army Col. Paul Haverstick, acting director of the Pentagon’s Defense Media Activity, ordering Stars and Stripes' publishers to present a plan that “dissolves" the newspaper by Sept. 15 -- which is a week from Tuesday. The plan is supposed to include a "specific timeline for vacating government owned/leased space worldwide.”

The same memo added that the last edition is slated for the end of this month. Watch this space.

Update: Donald Trump issued a tweet this afternoon that read, "The United States of America will NOT be cutting funding to @starsandstripes magazine under my watch. It will continue to be a wonderful source of information to our Great Military!"

It's not a magazine, the proposed cut very likely came from the White House in the first place, and it's impossible to know whether the presidential tweet will reflect reality in any way, but that's the latest.