The Army and Air Force Exchange Service, one of the largest retailers in the United States which serves millions of active-duty military members and their families, is clarifying a memo sent this week which recommended that stores stop displaying the news on their televisions.
The message, obtained by NPR, told managers, "News channels should not be shown on common area TVs due to their divisive political nature."
Instead, the Defense Department agency suggested that stores feature something less controversial: sports. "The Exchange has elected to play sports channels/sports programming on all common area TVs," the message stated.
AAFES operates more than 3,000 facilities at military installations across the world — including fast-food restaurants, clothing stores and convenience shops.
Televisions mounted in common areas have often displayed Fox and CNN, allowing customers to watch news reports as they eat in food courts and shop in stores.
Chris Ward, AAFES' senior public affairs manager, tells NPR that the memo was not a policy change but "general guidance" for the stores.
Ward says the recommendation to feature sports channels over the news reflected a desire to appeal to as many customers as possible.
"We've gotten comments from customers, 'Why is this TV on Fox?' 'Why is this TV on CNN?' You're never going to appeal to everyone," Ward says.
AAFES issued similar guidance in the past, he adds, and "it's not just the political climate we're in now."
Ward said the agency planned to send out an updated memo to clarify the recommendation.
That message includes leeway for facilities to make adjustments "based on the news of the day and local needs," he says.
Ric Chavez, an Army veteran who retired in 2018, tells NPR that he frequently saw both CNN and Fox on televisions at barber shops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and throughout the United States.
Chavez, 40, describes being conflicted on AAFES' guidance. He says that news programming in AAFES facilities "should be blocked because regardless of your political affiliation, you still have to have an allegiance to your president." But he is also concerned about denying people information. "It shouldn't be blocked because it could be viewed as a form of censorship," Chavez says.
AAFES also has prohibited his friend from making craft items with political affiliations that would be sold at a military base in California, he added.
Over a meal at U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan in South Korea, Pfc. Tyler White told Stars and Stripes, "I just think politics should stay out of the work environment."
Another soldier, Staff Sgt. Manuel Cardona, told the military newspaper that he disagreed with AAFES decision. The broadcasts were "informative," and often his only way of catching up on the day's news.