Stars and Stripes, an independent military newspaper for service members subsidized by the Pentagon, is at risk of losing all of its federal funding in fiscal year 2021.
The Pentagon confirmed Thursday that its budget request would slash the more than $15 million Stars and Stripes receives each year. This includes approximately $8.7 million in operations and maintenance funds, and roughly $6.9 million in overseas contingency operations. Altogether, this accounts for approximately half of the publication’s annual budget.
Stars and Stripes publishes a newspaper Mondays through Thursdays and weekend editions for overseas consumers who may not have access to mobile devices. The publication says it distributed more than 7 million copies of its U.S. Weekly edition last year, and printed more than 4 million special publications in the U.S. and overseas.
“Stars and Stripes has provided a valuable service to millions of military members and the Department of Defense (DoD) for more than 70 years," Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Logan said in a statement to Military Times. "Their hard work and dedication in reporting on issues that matter the most to the military community continues to be of value.”
“However, as we look forward to the current budget proposal and beyond, the DoD must prioritize spending to support our warfighters in the most critical areas of need," Logan said. "Therefore, the Department has made the difficult decision that, beginning in fiscal year 2021, it will no longer provide appropriated funds to Stars and Stripes.”
The $15 million currently on the line is significantly higher than preliminary estimates suggested.
The Pentagon initially acknowledged Monday it’s proposing to pull the plug on federal funds for the newspaper, but did not disclose how much federal funding could be slashed and argued that a newspaper is an outdated form of consumer information.
“We have essentially decided that, you know, kind of coming into the modern age that newspapers is probably not the best way that we communicate any longer,” the Pentagon’s acting comptroller Elaine McCusker told reporters Feb. 10 after the Trump administration rolled out its fiscal year 2021 budget request.
Ernie Gates, paper’s ombudsman, challenged McCusker’s statement and stressed that the publication is editorially independent.
“Stars and Stripes’ mission is not to communicate the DoD or command message, but to be an independent, First Amendment publication that serves the troops — especially deployed troops. So her ‘we communicate’ misses the mission,” Gates tweeted.
Although the Pentagon didn’t spell out specific numbers at the time, Stars and Stripes publisher Max Lederer said the proposal would wipe out approximately $7 million the newspaper receives in operating and maintenance funds.
“The men and women who sacrifice every day for the safety of our nation deserve the objective and balanced unique content produced by Stars and Stripes,” Lederer told Stripes’ employees in an email on Monday, the newspaper reported.
Lederer said an absence of Pentagon funds would “definitely reduce” the publication’s reporting capacity. The newspaper has bureaus in Germany, Japan, and Washington and is distributed worldwide to troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, Qatar, Japan and Korea, among other locations.
“We are now beginning that discussion and evaluating options, including ways to continue operations in some form,” Lederer said.
Lederer said Stars and Stripes was not given a heads up about the proposed cuts, and learned of the funding proposal on Monday. The Pentagon said that the outlet was notified on Monday.
This isn’t the first time federal funding for Stars and Stripes has been on the chopping block. For example, Stars and Stripes was in jeopardy of losing $12 million it received in federal funding in 2016, but ultimately continued receiving federal support.
The newspaper was first created in 1861 by Union soldiers who issued four one-page newspapers. Since then, Stars and Stripes was revitalized during World War I and started publishing regular newspapers during World War II.
The Wall Street Journal first reported potential cuts to Stars and Stripes resulting from a Pentagon-wide review to reallocate more than $5 billion to other priorities as part of its $704.5 billion budget request.