High School Journalists Land Scoop With Defense Secretary James Mattis High school journalist Teddy Fischer saw Defense Secretary James Mattis' phone number in a photograph and on a whim, texted him an interview request. It worked.
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High School Journalists Land Scoop With Defense Secretary James Mattis

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High School Journalists Land Scoop With Defense Secretary James Mattis

High School Journalists Land Scoop With Defense Secretary James Mattis

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And, you know, sometimes the key to landing a good story is to just make the call. Well, that is exactly what Teddy Fischer did. And it landed him an interview with the normally media-shy Jim Mattis.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

You know, Mattis, the retired four-star general who is now President Trump's defense secretary? Well, this fall, Fischer will be a junior at Mercer Island High School near Seattle. When The Washington Post accidentally published a photo of a Trump aide carrying a sticky note that contained Mattis' phone number, the student journalist knew just what to do.

TEDDY FISCHER: I just took that picture. I just zoomed in and just turned it upside down and found the number on the sticky note.

JANE GORMLEY: Yeah, I did not believe him at first.

GREENE: OK, that other voice there is Jane Gormley, Fischer's classmate and editor of the Mercer Island High School Islander. They agreed that they would text Secretary Mattis with an interview request. And, as they explained to our co-host Rachel Martin, the secretary called back.

FISCHER: When he called, it was in journalism class, which I think was pretty funny.

GORMLEY: Yeah, I think it was a couple of weeks after that initial call that we really got serious and were writing questions. We knew from the beginning that Teddy would want to do his piece that was more policy-related and then mine that would be more of a reflection. So we split the questions up that way.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Which were very good, by the way.

FISCHER: Thank you.

GORMLEY: Yeah, thank you.

MARTIN: I guess - I'm curious to know, what exchanges stood out to each of you?

GORMLEY: I think when I was asking him about - or when Teddy was asking him about history. And he said that - not a direct quote - but it'll - it won't give you all the answers, but it'll show you the questions to ask. You hear that kind of thing from history teachers all the time, but to hear it from him - to hear it from someone who's making history - really just kind of solidified it and made me really realize how real that is.

MARTIN: Yeah. Teddy?

FISCHER: The key parts in the policy questions were - I think there was one moment where we were comparing how the Obama and Trump administrations differ on their approach to combating ISIS. And there was - at one point in the interview, he criticized Obama, saying that he would have been better served if he had listened more to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which I think was something that most professional journalists would like to get out of an interview.

MARTIN: Yeah, that was news. That's like - that qualifies as news.

FISCHER: That's new news. And I agree with Jane in what will stick with me is probably the conversations about history and political divide.

MARTIN: On the issue of political divisiveness, he said, generally speaking, just because someone disagrees with you doesn't make them crazy or evil. And he goes on to say, I don't care for ideological people. It's like those people just want to stop thinking.

FISCHER: Yeah, I think he followed up with that by saying people reaffirm their own bias all the time by watching and listening to things that cater to their tastes and just reinforce what they already know, which I guess has helped me because I like to explore different sides of the news. I think there's a lot of gray area. And so I listen to many different news sources on each end of the political spectrum.

MARTIN: How did this interview go over with your audience - with your readers?

GORMLEY: (Laughter) That's also kind of a funny story. So our paper put out a lip dub that our school made - like everyone dancing around the high school and lip-syncing to songs - on our Facebook page. And that, yeah, to this day, I think has more likes than the Mattis interview post does.

MARTIN: Wow. Such is life, right?

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: You did take the opportunity to just say, hey, Jim Mattis, what guidance do you have for young people? And it was an earnest and lovely response. He just said...

GORMLEY: Yeah, it really was.

MARTIN: ...You have to put others first - and then I'm going to quote here - "if you can help the larger community in the world, you won't be lying on a psychiatrist couch when you're 45 years old wondering what you did with your life." You guys going to take that to heart?

GORMLEY: Yeah, I love that one. Yeah.

MARTIN: So do you still have the secretary of defense's cellphone number saved in your phone?

FISCHER: I do. I texted him a link to my article and...

MARTIN: You did?

FISCHER: Yeah, I'm not - he hasn't - we haven't been in contact with him since the interview, but I think it went through.

MARTIN: Teddy Fischer. He interviewed the Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis for his high school newspaper, The Islander, at Mercer Island High School. He worked with his editor, Jane Gormley, on this. And we've been speaking with both of them. Teddy and Jane, thanks so much and congrats on the big get.

GORMLEY: Yeah, thank you.

FISCHER: Thank you.

GREENE: Don't let go of that number, Teddy. Those two young journalists - wow, I'm feeling inspired - they were talking to our co-host Rachel Martin.

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