A House Republican is seeking a hearing into the Marine Corps' decision to move the Marine Corps Times off prominent newstands at the front of base commissaries and exchanges, calling it "a blatant attempt to punish" the publication for articles critical of Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos.
Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina sent a letter Monday blasting the Corps' action as a "reprehensible" effort to make the independent publication more difficult to find. Jones sent the letter to House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee Chairman Joe Wilson and ranking member Susan Davis.
On Wednesday, two days after Jones's letter was sent, the Marine Corps announced it is placing the Gannett publication back on its usual newstands — at least temporarily.
But Jones, himself a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said later on Wednesday he still wants a hearing to look into the matter.
"In America, a free and open press is critical to democracy," Jones wrote in Monday's letter. "If you start to control what our service members read, then we, as a nation, have a critical problem."
A statement on the service's official Facebook page explained the reversal Wednesday: "Reaction to the Marine Corps Times' relocation demonstrated a clear misunderstanding of intent; therefore, the product will return to its original location pending the outcome and communication of a more comprehensive, purposeful plan based on our Commandant's intent as it relates to an emphasis on professionalism within our Corps."
But a statement from Jones's office says that "While Congressman Jones welcomes this decision, he remains troubled that Marine Corps leadership has implied an intent to again remove the publication from its prominent store location in the future to create room for 'healthier food and beverage choices' and 'military literature from the Commandant's Reading List.' "
"This attempt by the Marine Corps leadership to stand in the way of a free and open press is unacceptable," Jones said in a statement Wednesday. "The Marine Corps Times is a widely read publication among members of our armed forces, as it provides them with critical information related to various aspects of their employment and service to our country."
Jones has written a letter to the Corps' deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs, Lt. Gen. Robert E. Milstead, requesting further details regarding the initial decision to relocate publication within the service's stores.
In its own story about the decision to relocate its place with base stores and commissaries, the Marine Corps Times on Sunday included a comment from Peter Lundquist, the Military Times' vice president and general manager.
"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," Lundquist said. "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?" Lundquist asked.
The paper also noted that throughout much of the past year, it has published dozens of articles as part of an ongoing investigation into allegations that the service's commandant, Amos, abused his authority to ensure Marines were punished for an embarrassing war-zone scandal.
"Numerous reports have captured the attention of mainstream media outlets, including NPR, CNN, and Time magazine, among several others," the paper noted.