Pentagon proposes slashing funding to independent Stars and Stripes newspaper

Pentagon proposes slashing funding to independent Stars and Stripes newspaper
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The Defense Department on Monday unveiled a $705.4 billion budget request that includes a proposal to slash funding for Stars and Stripes, the editorially independent newspaper that covers military matters around the world. 

Elaine McCusker, the Pentagon’s acting comptroller, said at a press conference that the Pentagon had arrived at the decision following an expansive review that sought to move funding from nonmilitary applications. She said that the department "essentially decided coming into the modern age that newspaper is probably not the best way we communicate any longer,” according to reports

It remains unclear how much the Pentagon intends to cut from the news outlet's annual budget. 

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Stars and Stripes publisher Max Lederer said that the Pentagon informed him early Monday morning about their intention to eliminate funding for “operating and maintenance funds." The newspaper said that the cuts would amount to 35 percent of its annual expenses. 

Sales, subscriptions and advertising account for a majority of Stars and Stripes' annual budget. However, the newspaper, which was first published by Union soldiers during the Civil War, said that it relies on a subsidy from the Pentagon for reporting overseas. 

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill. 

"I and the Stripes leadership have not had an opportunity to study and plan for this change. We are now beginning that discussion and evaluating options, including ways to continue operations in some form," Lederer said in an email to staff, according to Stars and Stripes. 

He added that the budget hit would “definitely" impact the news outlet's coverage capabilities. 

The company's ombudsman, Ernie Gates, defended that reporting in a tweet criticizing the Pentagon's rationale for the proposal. 

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"Stars and Stripes' mission is not to communicate the [Department of Defense] or command message, but to be an independent, First Amendment publication that serves the troops -- especially deployed troops," Gates tweeted, taking special exception to McCusker's view that the Pentagon has other ways to "communicate." 

In 2019, the newspaper distributed 7 million copies of its U.S. weekly edition and accumulated an audience of 18.8 million unique visitors, according to CNN.

Barbar Starr, CNN's Pentagon correspondent, noted on Twitter that the Stars and Stripes print edition can be a valuable resource for service members based in areas where they "cannot use their phones because of concerns their locations will be tracked."