The U.S. Marine Corps has moved an independent weekly newspaper to the back of exchange stores on bases around the world, a controversial move that follows the publication's critical coverage of the service's top officer.
The Corps confirmed it recently ordered the newspaper, Marine Corps Times, along with other "for-sale news print," including various local and national papers, from racks and bins near the checkout aisles to the books and magazines section in the rear of the stores, according to Maj. Shawn Haney, a spokeswoman for the service.
While the Corps says it was part of an effort to "professionalize" store entrances, observers are questioning whether there is another motive involved.
"We're surprised and disappointed, to say the least, as are many of our readers," Andrew deGrandpre, managing editor of Marine Corps Times, said in an e-mail.
"The truth is we don't know why the Marine Corps took this step -- because no one will give us a straight answer," he added. "We've been told it's for everything from the need to ‘professionalize' the front of the exchange stores to the need to make room for the commandant's reading list. For weeks we've been rebuffed in our requests to speak with someone who can give us a definitive answer."
The weekly newspaper is published by Gannett Government Media Corp., a subsidiary of McLean, Va.-based Gannett Co., and exclusively covers the Marine Corps. Over the past year, it ran multiple stories investigating whether Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos abused his authority by ensuring harsh punishments for Marines who were recorded on video urinating on dead insurgents in Afghanistan.
A spokesman for the commandant wouldn't say whether the decision was related to the newspaper's recent coverage and referred all questions about the matter to the Corps' Manpower & Reserve Affairs department, which oversees the exchanges.
Haney, a spokeswoman for that department, said Lt. Gen. Robert Milstead, deputy commandant for Manpower & Reserve Affairs, directed the Semper Fit and Exchange Services Division to relocate the publications beginning in December as part of an effort "to professionalize the front areas of our stores by providing a more polished look."
That means the wire racks or bins near the entrances are now only authorized to display official Marine Corps Exchange promotional materials, Haney said. The directive doesn't apply to free circulars, she said. For-sale publications, including Marine Corps Times, will continue to be on display in accordance with contractual agreements, she said.
"It's still being sold," she said. "It's just in a different location."
The issue has drawn attention from other news organizations such as The Hill and Poynter, as well as journalists and military veterans on social media outlets such as Twitter.
Leo Cruz, who identifies himself on his Twitter profile as a Navy veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, tweeted: "Freedom of the press should not be left outside of @USMC bases."