It’s not every day that a reporter lands an interview with the nation’s top defense official. But two high school journalists did just that.
Mercer Island High School journalist Teddy Fischer scored the widely reported interview with Defense Secretary James Mattis last month for his school paper, “The Islander,” after discovering the four-star general’s number was accidentally leaked in The Washington Post. Although the article was quickly removed after a reader alerted the publication, Fischer saved the number, which had been written on a yellow sticky note on a sheaf of papers carried by Trump’s bodyguard, Keith Schiller.
“There was a picture, and I just flipped it upside down, zoomed in,” Fischer explained Friday on CNN’s “New Day.”
In terms of actually securing the interview with Mattis, Fischer credits his “casual approach,” as well as his and the defense secretary’s shared home state of Washington.
“I told him who I was, my grade level, my school, my paper. And then I told him I was from Washington because Mattis is also from Washington state,” Fischer explained, later adding: “I just asked for an interview.”
The sophomore staff writer first called the phone number to ensure that it was indeed the defense secretary’s number. But instead of leaving a voice mail, Fischer decided to text Mattis in a now-published message that read: “Hi Jim, I’m an editor for the Mercer Island High School (in Washington state) Islander, our school newspaper and am writing an upcoming article on US foreign policy. Is it possible for you to conduct an interview?”
“By the way your personal number was leaked to the American public, have a wonderful day!” Fischer added.
When asked why he responded to Fischer’s request, Mattis explained in the interview that he thinks “we owe it to you young folks to pass on what we learned going down the road so that you can make your own mistakes, not the same ones we made.”
“The Islander” editor Jane Gormley also discussed her approach to the story with CNN.
“From the beginning, I knew that I wanted to take more of a human interest approach and try and do a reflection, and ask questions that the reporters that normally reach him wouldn’t be able to because of our high school angle,” Gormley explained.
The extensive interview covered topics ranging from military strategy in the Middle East to a perceived lack of unity in American politics. The full interview transcript, as well as two pieces reflecting on the experience of landing the interview and an explainer on Mattis’s thoughts about radicalization and education, is available on the high school newspaper’s website.
When asked by CNN’s Alisyn Camerota what surprised her the most about Mattis’ interview, Gormley responded: “I love how the focus just throughout the entire interview was on education. Not just in my questions that were directly asking about education and history, but in a lot of Teddy’s questions that were about military policy.”
In the interview, Mattis also encouraged students who are concerned about the future of the United States to be engaged and read history.
“Probably the most important thing is to get involved. You’ll gain courage when you get involved,” Mattis told Fischer, later adding that “if you study history, you realize that our country has been through worse, and here’s how they’ve found their way through that.”