I was the managing editor of Stars and Stripes newspaper from 2001 until 2009.
I worked at five newspapers during my journalism career and have always told people the most important paper in the world, is S&S. It is also one of the very best things about America.
Imagine a newspaper being partly funding by the Pentagon having the editorial independence to report ON the Pentagon?
I remember explaining this to a group of Macedonian public affairs officers in a meeting in our then European Headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany. At one point the leader of the group stopped me cold and said, “This could never work.”
But it did.
Now that I think of it, I also spent a fair amount of time explaining this to military brass when we were reporting on a story that had the potential to reflect poorly on their leadership.
The smart generals and admirals got Stripes’ importance, and saw the paper as an additional watchdog for the troops and their families under their command.
One three-star in South Korea told me once: “You know, I got tired of seeing stories in our paper about a few of my troops acting like stupid jackasses when they were out on the town. Then I thought about it … Now I tell ’em if, ‘you want to keep your butts out of the newspaper, then you better square your asses away.'”
Of course, Donald Trump went after Stars and Stripes about a month ago, because he never misses a chance to exhibit his insecurity. He came under fire and then seemed to back off saying he in fact supported “the magazine,” because he never misses a chance to display his ignorance, either.
S&S has served the military and its dependents overseas for decades through war and peace.
We prided ourselves on telling the stories about the military FOR the military because we understood these readers better than anybody else. Our staff was made up of civilian, military and host-nation journalists all with one mission: Getting it right for our troops and their families.
And our reporters and editors were with these troops downrange and at sea while our soldiers, sailors and Marines fought to protect the United States of America alongside our allies. It was dangerous and necessary work.
S&S is known as a non-appropriated fund activity. In other words, it takes money from the Pentagon to supplement its budget and the monies it makes through advertising.
There was never a way to make it self-sufficient because of its circulation route. I can tell you there is no other paper in the world that is delivered to Fallujah, Iraq, all the way to the DMZ in South Korea!
But it was and is.
I remember it costing taxpayers about $17 million annually to produce. Seems a pretty small price to pay for keeping the best among us informed.
I don’t know what possible good could come from shutting this vital newspaper down, so I’ll close with this: In the early days of the War in Iraq it was clear our troops needed better equipment and support. IEDs were ripping through our poorly armored military vehicles and our troops didn’t feel as if they were being heard. Needless to say, morale was low. So our reporters canvassed Iraq and did a series called “Ground Truth: Voices on the Ground.”
This got a lot of attention back home, but nobody picked up on it faster than a Senator by the name of John McCain. During hearings on the war efforts, the Senator held up our report and said, “The Stars and Stripes is an important newspaper and we must listen to them.”
Why in the world would we stop listening to them now?
(D. Earl Stephens is a retired journalist and author of the book, “Toxic Tales: A Caustic Collection of Donald J. Trump’s Very Important Letters”)