Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper that dates back to the Civil War, could be printing its last issue soon thanks to the steep budget cuts facing the Defense Department. With sequestration forcing the Pentagon to slash next year’s budget, Stars and Stripes, the Pentagon Channel, and a large portion of the Armed Forces Network are being eyed as potential savings, according to the newspaper itself.
Stars and Stripes is run by Defense Media Activity, a Pentagon agency, but the paper’s four printed editions and website are editorially independent, an arrangement that sometimes leads to friction with Pentagon brass, such as in 2009 when it reported on Army officials’ use of a media strategy firm to rate journalists covering the war in Afghanistan.
The paper’s budget is also barely a drop of the $52 billion the Pentagon needs to cut in order to satisfy the congressionally mandated budget cuts. Its operating costs for 2014 are projected to be $7.4 million, the paper’s chief financial officer said. That figure came after the paper cut 30 percent of its mostly civilian staff in October.
Axing the paper altogether is a unpopular idea with the members of Congress, especially those who oversee the Pentagon’s budget. “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,” Senator Claire McCaskill told Stars and Stripes.
Besides its largely civilian staff, Stars and Stripes also has a civilian ombudsman, Ernie Gates, who reports to Congress. Gates told Stars and Stripes that while a budget review isn’t shocking it is potentially unsettling:
"In the current fiscal climate, especially facing the continuing additional cuts from sequestration, a top-to-bottom review of DOD spending is to be expected," said Gates. "... But it’s also an environment in which a few well-placed people might opportunistically work out their personal preferences. In Stripes’ case, that could mean someone who doesn’t like its independent reporting using the rationale of fiscal pressure to mask an entirely different intention — to eliminate an irritant."