Can a government own a newspaper and not exert political influence?

We’re very familiar with civilian publishers and the political slant they force on their staffs. There are many foreign governments, especially in the East who totally control their papers, not ones they own, but all papers. When I was stationed in Korea 1970-71, President Park Chung Hee would not let any Korean papers print a story he didn’t like even if the news was about one of our Air Force jets that crashed in his country.

The Department of Defense has been tarnished during the Bush Administration for developing a propaganda machine made up of retired generals and just this week stories have emerged about how the Pentagon tracks and rates reporters and favors those who publish favorable stories. An April 28 AP story reported that, “The media-military relationship is often contentious enough that the Army’s war college devoted three days this week to consider and discuss ways to improve it even though no official military doctrine exists to foster good working relationships.”

With all the corruption going on in US government, would you be surprised to learn that our government has owned a paper off and on since 1861 that is flourishing today and never has political influence controlled the editorial content? And would it surprise you even more to learn that paper is owned by our Department of Defense?

In fact it was DoD’s Stars and Stripes newspaper that first reported the ratings story, not any civilian media. S & S was developed as an independent source of news for our military stationed overseas where news is not available due to combat or isolated conditions or the host countries papers are not printed in English. During the Civil War Union soldiers using a captured newspaper plant in Bloomfield, MO, created a paper called the Stars and Stripes and printed only four editions. During WWI, the S & S was revived in 1918 and was published weekly for the doughboys of Gen. “Black Jack” Pershing.

After the war ended it stopped publishing until 24 years later in 1942 it was revived in England during WWII. During that war, S & S ended up being published in 32 separate editions and at the peak there were 25 publishing locations. A Pacific edition was launched a week after VE day in Europe. S & S has remained vibrant until today.

The About Us section of the paper’s website tells the story of how Ike kept it free of government influence so the troops could learn the unvarnished truth.

Stars and Stripes also found a special champion and protector in Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander. Eisenhower enforced a hands-off policy in regard to Stars and Stripes, routinely defending us against whatever complaints and protest ensued from material we published. World War II ended, but the command wasn’t ready to dismantle Stars and Stripes. In the end, the military instructed us to continue publishing as long as U.S. troops remained abroad. Since 1942, Stars and Stripes remains in publication without interruption. As wartime military staff began returning to the States, the newspaper began replacing them with a full-time civilian staff. Gradually they built a top-of-the-line team of professional journalists and newspaper business people, augmented by a small contingent of military journalists and managers.

Stripes reporters and photographers continued to join American troops in the field. Throughout the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, Stars and Stripes published the news. It took not only courage but also perseverance to get the news to the readers, and our staff proved equal to the task over and over again.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, Stripes reporters have embedded with military units in Kuwait and Iraq, as well as on Navy ships in the region. Staffers are still reporting from those countries, and today a separate Middle East operation prints more than 70,000 copies of the paper and distributes them daily throughout the war zones.

Stars and Stripes is a daily newspaper published for the U.S. military, DoD civilians, contractors, and their families. Unique among the many military publications, Stars and Stripes operates as a First Amendment newspaper, free of control and censorship. We have published continuously in Europe since 1942, and since 1945 in the Pacific. Today, our readers number well over 350,000. (providing newspapers in over 48 countries)

Stars and Stripes is a Department of Defense-authorized daily newspaper distributed overseas for the U.S. military community. Editorially independent of interference from outside its own editorial chain-of-command, it provides commercially available U.S. and world news and objective staff-produced stories relevant to the military community in a balanced, fair, and accurate manner. By keeping its audience informed, Stars and Stripes enhances military readiness and better enables U.S. military personnel and their families stationed overseas to exercise their responsibilities of citizenship.

-Revised DoD Directive 5122.11

As a public affairs officer serving eight years in Japan, one in Korea and three in Germany, I can attest to the fact that none of my commanders no matter how mad they got, could ever influence what S & S printed even when they yelled over the phone at the Colonel in charge of the paper. From the stories I have seen printed during the reign of Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld, I don’t think they were able to violate regulations and exert political influence either.

So, with quality leaders like George Marshall and Gen. Eisenhower and clear regulations prohibiting influence it is possible for the government to publish a paper free of political influence. Amazing, but true.

9 Comments

  1. cocktailhag says:

    Fascinating, RMP…. Particularly the history, of which I was completely unaware. Do they have a web edition? I’ve been noticing them of late, since the Rendon Group scandal began to surface, and I had to wonder how Bushco didn’t shape them up with some selective firings. I’d be interested to learn more about their business model: does advertising help support the paper? How is their independence protected? Do the troops, softened up as they are by Rush Limbaugh on Armed Forces Radio, treat S & S as a credible source?

    • rmp says:

      Yes they do and I meant to include the link.
      http://epaper.stripes.com/

    • rmp says:

      They are advertising free because that could be another way to exert influence. Your tax dollars pay for it and it is money very well spent. Unfortunately, S & S has to publish a lot of M$M stuff and so the troops get the same stenography journalism that we get except for the military news that the paper researches and publishes. The troops consider it a credible source because of the real journalism stories that Stripes produces especially when they see officers screaming about the stories and yelling, “Damn tabloid bastards.”

      • rmp says:

        I’m wrong about the advertising. I looked at some issues and they now accept advertising. So your tax dollars are now supplemented. If Cheney can’t influence Stripes, I don’t see how the advertisers would either. It’s been a long time since I looked at a Stripes paper.

        • cocktailhag says:

          I look forward to having a look-see, RMP… I’ve been unusually voluble over at UT today, thanks to having the Hag covered, for a change, and not having to work this weekend, as I have for the last several. It’s still mind-boggling to me that Cheney and the gang weren’t able to take over; they didn’t mind creating a scandal in firing anybody honest elsewhere in government.

          • cocktailhag says:

            Speaking of having the Hag covered, I have found so much great old stuff that it’ll take a year to post it all, even twice a week. There’s a New York Magazine letters takedown of Tucker Carlson, the defeat of Molly Bordonaro, who later was the Bush/Cheney Oregon 2004 chairman, that I surely helped with my Willamette Week piece about her…. Tons of great things… politics, sex, architecture, etc, and all can be augmented with epilogues and background to make good lazy day posts.

  2. sysprog says:

    Hey, if this is working, why not take the next step, and extend the benefits to civilians inside the beltway?

    It’s hard to imagine that the WaPo would be worse under the ownership and management of the Pentagon,

    And the newspaper even has its own military march.

    And for now it’s just a loss leader dragging down the Graham-Weymouth family’s other enterprises, so maybe they can just donate it to the nation, and take a tax write-off.

    Win-win!

    • cocktailhag says:

      The only problem with that idea is that Hiatt, Broder, Ignatius et al would be a little too happy over at DOD… There’d certainly have to be some baggage unloaded amongst their “journalists” for that to work.

  3. dirigo says:

    Thanks for the link to S & S, RMP; I’ve bookmarked it.

    It’s probably a very good resources to have right now, with the shakeout continuing in American commercial media, and with the heat apparently going up sharply now in Afghanistan.

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/efcbfef2-9582-11de-90e0-00144feabdc0.html