The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Why is the Stars and Stripes military newspaper on Trump’s chopping block?

President Trump in Washington on Friday. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

“STARS AND STRIPES is the soldiers’ paper, and we won’t interfere.” So said Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower during World War II when one of his generals threatened to ban the newspaper from his command because he didn’t like how a cartoonist had ridiculed his decree that all soldiers — even those in combat — be clean-shaven at all times. “The hometown newspaper of the U.S. military” was the more recent description by retired Army general and former CIA director David Petraeus. Just several months ago, a Pentagon spokesman acknowledged the valuable service provided by Stars and Stripes: “Their hard work and dedication in reporting on issues that matter the most to the military community continues to be of value.”

So why is this news organization, with its important mission and a storied history that dates to the Civil War, on the Trump administration’s chopping block? The president’s fiscal 2021 budget would eliminate funding for Stars and Stripes, essentially forcing it to cease operation. The news organization, which produces daily newspapers for U.S. troops across the world and a constantly updated website, is part of the Pentagon’s Defense Media Activity but retains editorial independence and is mandated by Congress to be governed by First Amendment principles.

Defense Department officials have tried to portray the cuts as a money-saving initiative. Please. The Pentagon’s budget is $705 billion, of which $15.5 million goes to Stars and Stripes. President Trump has made no secret of his disdain for the media — at one point, according to former national security adviser John Bolton, calling reporters “scumbags” who should be “executed” — and the proposed shutdown dovetails with his broader attempt to control or curtail the media. As the administration seeks to shutter a publication that holds the Defense Department to account, it also is undermining the independence of long-respected U.S. government-funded foreign broadcasting operations, including the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

“Another obnoxious assault by the Trump administration on freedom of the press,” said Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), a Marine veteran and member of the House Armed Services Committee, of the proposed cut to Stars and Stripes. An effort to restore funding in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act didn’t even get a vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee, but the House committee that Mr. Moulton is a member of is set to take up the issue. We hope Congress maintains its tradition of strong bipartisan support for Stars and Stripes, follows Eisenhower’s sage advice and ensures the continued operation of a news organization that provides critical information to U.S. troops and their families.

Read more:

The Post’s View: Voice of America and other U.S. government media have always been trustworthy. But here comes Trump.

Paul Waldman: An agency purge shows that cleaning up this mess will be a huge task

Letters to the Editor: Defending America’s ‘Voice’

Letters to the Editor: I worked at Voice of America. I mourn what’s happening to it now.

Graham Vyse: The Stars and Stripes newspaper has long supported the troops. Now it needs Congress’s support.