A Half-Masted `Stars and Stripes’?

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Stars and Stripes covers the U.S. military like a blanket and is funded, in part, by the U.S. military. Yep, that’s a built-in conflict of interest. Over the years, the paper has done numerous stories that have ticked off its funder, such as this, that, and the other thing. But that’s what makes it neat: it’s kind of like the grain of sand inside the oyster that sometimes produces pearls.

Every once in awhile, its Pentagon masters come up with some scheme to tame it, or make it more efficient, or sometimes both. That may be what’s behind the latest proposal: a plan to move its Washington-based staff from the National Press Building in Washington, D.C., to Fort Meade, Md., 25 miles away – the same place the Pentagon schools its public affairs officers.

Stripes’ uber-boss, Defense Media Activity Director Melvin W. Russell, told Stripes’ publisher Max Lederer that the move could “save about $1M annually and the cost to move should be a one-time expense of around $150,000,” according to a memo from Lederer to his staff on Friday. How much of that is expected to come from cheaper rent – and/or reduced personnel costs as some of the 85-D.C.-based Stripes’ staffers opt not to make the move – isn’t known.

“Our editorial folks were livid that editors and reporters might be working beside public affairs officers,” a Stripes staffer tells Battleland. “The DMA folks don’t care if it hurts how we get news to the troops, or if this damages the perception of our independence.”

Stars and Stripes is part of what makes the U.S. military, and the democracy that succors it, unique. Lots of folks – OK, Battleland, some fellow scribes, and military folks they know – think the Defense Department would be far better off to leave SAS alone.

It’s already a journalistic duck-billed platypus. Turning it into a mutant duck-billed platypus would be a mistake. If you can’t stand the occasional pearl, better to kill the oyster once and for all.