The Pentagon ordered the shut down of Stars and Stripes, the independent military newspaper first published during the Civil War. After plans of the shutdown leaked to the public, President Donald Trump announced he would reverse his administration's decision in a tweet Friday afternoon. The Pentagon planned to shut down the publication by the end of the month.
The Defense Department's memo on Stars and Stripes' future was first obtained by USA Today. Max Lederer, the paper's publisher, was ordered to deliver a plan on how the paper will be dissolved by Sept. 15, including a "specific timeline for vacating government-owned/leased space worldwide." The last newspaper publication in print and online would be the Sept. 30 edition, according to the memo's author, Col. Paul Haverstick Jr. Hours after the memo leaked, Trump said the U.S. will "NOT be cutting funding" to the paper "under my watch." He said the outlet "will continue to be a wonderful source of information to our Great Military!"
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 4, 2020
Stars and Stripes is funded in part by Congress and the House included funding in its 2021 budget, reports CNN. However, the Senate still has not released an appropriations bill for the next fiscal year. While the Department of Defense waits for the budget, they ordered Stars and Stripes to be closed. After learning of these plans, Sen. Lindsey Graham wrote to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, calling the plans "premature," since the Senate had not released its budget yet.
"I urge you not to take actions that would deprive individuals of this publication until Congress has appropriately completed the appropriations process," Graham wrote in his Aug. 26 letter. "Given the history and the importance of the Stars and Stripes to the members of the Armed Forces, their families, and civilian employees, I believe this request is more than reasonable." A Graham spokesperson told CNN Esper has not responded yet.
A bipartisan group of 15 senators also warned Esper it is illegal to stop a budget program while a temporary resolution on funding the federal government is ongoing, reports Politico. "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," they wrote.
Lederer told CNN Stars and Stripes' future is "uncertain," but his "instinct" now is that the paper will still be published in October. "From an organizational perspective, I am ensuring that we maintain the capacity that we continue operations if that is the decision by Congress and the President," he explained. "Which is difficult when you're getting so close to having to maybe close." He said "anxiety" is high among staffers, with some leaving for other publications.
The first editions of Stars and Stripes were published by the Union during the Civil War. The paper returned during World War I and has been publishing consistently since World War II. About 35% of its budget comes from Congress, with the rest coming from advertising, sales and subscriptions, reports CNN. Stars and Stripes' ombudsman Ernie Gates told CNN shutting it down would be "fatal interference and permanent censorship of a unique First Amendment organization that has served U.S. troops reliably for generations."