Pentagon May End Subsidy for Stars and Stripes Newspaper

Monday, 25 Nov 2013 09:47 PM

By Cathy Burke

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The Pentagon is considering the elimination of the iconic military newspaper Stars and Stripes as part of a top-to-bottom spending review ordered by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the newspaper reported Monday.

"In this budget environment, we're looking at everything," said Navy Cmdr. Bill Urban, a spokesman for the Defense Department's cost assessment and program evaluation office.

The belt-tightening may also include programming cuts to American Forces Network and the Pentagon Channel.

"We’ve been asked to look at everything," Ray Shepherd, head of Defense Media Activity, which oversees all three outlets, told the newspaper. He refused to elaborate.

The Department of Defense's subsidy for Stars and Stripes in 2014 was $7.4 million; the majority of the paper's budget comes from advertising, newspaper sales, and other staff-generated revenue.

In October, after learning of the reduced subsidy, the newspaper's publisher, Max Lederer, announced deep cuts, including about 40 positions, Politico reported.

Stars and Stripes, which distributes its daily print paper in the Middle East, Asia, and Europe and maintains a growing online presence, is staffed almost exclusively by civilians and has a civilian ombudsman who answers to Congress.

Two of the newspaper's biggest defenders in the Senate were alarmed by its possible demise.

"I had just heard rumors," said Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain. "But I think it would be a terrible mistake, I really do. The men and women who are serving get a lot of their information this way. It's a great conduit to spread information to the men and women who are serving all over the world.

"Armed Forces Network, among many other things, does sports, which all of our men and women love," he said. "So, I think it would be crazy."

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., agreed.

"I don’t like the idea," she said. "I certainly acknowledge [the Pentagon has] some really difficult choices ahead, and I'd want to look at it, but I think an independent editorial voice like Stars and Stripes provides is pretty darn important for transparency and accountability and oversight in the military."

Lederer said budget officials have been making unprecedented requests for information, and that he'd been told to provide budget numbers and scenarios for cuts — though he wasn't given a reason.

"When you get asked questions in a vacuum, you get concerned," the newspaper reported Lederer as saying.

The newspaper has had some tense relations with the Pentagon, Politico noted.

In 2009, the paper won a Polk award for its investigation into the Rendon Group, a public relations firm hired by the military to profile and evaluate journalists in an attempt to steer coverage in ways favorable to the Pentagon, it noted.

Price Floyd, who directed media affairs at the Pentagon in 2009 and 2010, told Stars and Stripes that it's past time for a strategic review of Pentagon media products, Politico reported.

"Do the men and women of the armed services deserve an editorial voice that is free of influence from the Pentagon? Absolutely," he said. "Does it have to be Pentagon-funded? No."

According to Shepherd, the 2013 budget for the American Forces Radio and Television Service was $51.6 million, and costs for the Pentagon Channel were about $6.1 million.

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