Stars and Stripes — the venerable military publication that has chronicled the heroism of America's fighting men and women since the Civil War — could be on the budget-strapped Pentagon's chopping block.
The Department of Defense, which subsidizes the newspaper to the tune of $7.4 million per year, is considering a range of spending cuts that could also affect the Pentagon Channel and some programming at the American Forces Network. But word that it could shutter a proud paper read by generations of soldiers left at least one former military man disappointed.
"I think it would be a terrible mistake, I really do," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told the newspaper. "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.”
Stars and Stripes, which has been published continuously since World War II, currently produces its print edition Monday through Thursday, with a special weekend edition on Friday for Europe and the Pacific. It also publishes a separate Mideast edition Friday through Sunday. Roughly 200,000 people read the print edition daily, according to its website.
Officials from the Pentagon's Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation Office told the newspaper that the entire Department of Defense is now being scrutinized as part of an exhaustive spending review ordered by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Ironically, it was the paper itself which broke the news when officials said its presses could be stopped.
“In this budget environment, we’re looking at everything,” Navy Cmdr. Bill Urban, a spokesman for the cost assessment office, told Stars and Stripes.
Max Lederer, publisher of Stars and Stripes, said budget officials have made unprecedented requests for information, including hypothetical cuts, without being told why the review was under way.
“When you get asked questions in a vacuum, you get concerned,” Lederer told the newspaper, which mains editorial independence under federal law and has a civilian ombudsman who answers to Congress.
While the newspaper is subsidized, most of its budget comes from advertising, newspaper sales and other staff-generated revenue.
The first version of the newspaper was produced during the Civil War in 1861 by Union soldiers who used the facilities of a captured newspaper plant in Bloomfield, Mo., where they ran off a one-page paper. That publication would only appear four times, but the Stars and Stripes moniker would later be revived in World War I, appearing in Paris on Feb. 8, 1918. The weekly was produced at the time by an all-military staff to serve the American Expeditionary Force under General of the Armies John J. “Black Jack” Pershing and stopped printing after the war ended.
During World War II, Stars and Stripes published as many as 32 distinct editions, with up to 24 pages per issue. At one point, it had 25 publishing locations in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific. The newspaper has since been published continuously since the last world war, from 1942 in Europe and 1945 in the Pacific.
Most recently, in fiscal year 2013, the newspaper has expanded its online presence, serving 9.13 million unique visitors and garnering 35.8 million page views on stripes.com.