Marine Corps leaders have ordered base exchange stores worldwide to remove Marine Corps Times from the front of all stores – near checkout lines – and place the newspaper in the back. The order, issued in December 2013, follows Fiscal Guidance 2014 – a recent directive from Marine Corps leaders that bans commanders from using budget funds to purchase a number of blacklisted publications, the Marine Corps Times among them.
Typically, the independent newspaper covers anything and everything Marine-Corps-related; issues like pay, benefits, family life, and post-military employment. During the past year, however, the newspaper launched a controversial series investigating Marine Corps commandant, General Jim Amos, and his legal team, in the wake of a 2012 YouTube video scandal. The viral video, showing four Marine Scout Snipers urinating of Afghani corpses, resulted in an international outcry, which ultimately led to allegations that Amos abused authority to punish the service members involved. The series, publicizing as much, was so explosive that it garnered attention of mainstream news outlets like NPR, CNN and Time magazine.
The Marine Corps have declined to issue a statement on the matter, prompting anonymous sources to surface. Such sources have disclosed that "[i]t is no secret [in the Pentagon] that the commandant does not like Marine Corps Times." The Marine Corps, have, however, delegated the Manpower & Reserve Affairs office with press responsibilities. Major Shawn Haney, spokeswoman for Manpower & Reserve Affairs, released the statement that moving the newspaper to the backs of base exchanges was done in an effort to "professionalize" the checkout lines.
In terms of what such 'professionalization' entails, Maj. Haney explained that the "store entry merchandising strategy was reviewed and new directives were issued on how and where publications are to be displayed." Specifically, the new policy dictates that wire racks and bins near the checkout line "are only authorized to display Marine Corps Exchange promotional material", like the reading lists published by Amos and his wife, Bonnie (known as 'The First Lady of the Marines'). Currently, however, the racks remain empty.
Many are confused by the policy changes, particularly in light of statistics showing that Marine Corps Times is a known 'bestseller' among military-sold publications.
"For any retailer to hide one of its best-selling products is just bad business. It obviously will hurt our newsstand sales, but it also hurts revenues to the Exchange," said Peter Lundquist, Vice President and General Manager of Military Times, of which Marine Corps Times is a subset. "But I'm told this isn't about business. Marine Corps Times helps Marines and their families stay informed about their service and their livelihood. We believe our independence is an asset to Marines. By what standard is Marine Corps Times not professionally oriented reading material, and who is setting that standard for Marines?"
Cindy Whitman Lacy, Chief Operating Officer and Deputy Director of Business Operations for the Marine Corps' Semper Fit and Exchange Services Division, also weighed in on the issue, suggesting that the independent newspaper is simply a threat to the Marine Corps "brand."
Marine Corps Times reportedly attempted to resolve the issue with the Marine Corps privately. Following the military's refusal, however, Marine Corps Times went public with the story.
There is no word yet as to whether or not other newspapers will also be affected by the policy change.