Mercer Island High School student Teddy Fischer knew what to do after stumbling upon a leaked copy of Defense Secretary James Mattis' number: just call it. His decision resulted in an extensive interview with the secretary, which would be published in his school newspaper, spark online buzz and shed light on one of Washington's more reclusive figures.
In May, the Washington Post accidentally published a photo of Presidentwalking outside the White House with a clipboard in his hand that included Mattis' personal cellphone number.
The sophomore from Washington state managed to copy the number before the photo was rescinded by the Post. And afterward, he called the secretary, but Mattis did not pick up the phone. Instead of leaving a voicemail, Fischer requested an interview with the secretary for high school newspaper, the Islander, via text message, after his friend jokingly encouraged him.
Mattis later called Fischer back and agreed to an interview lasting approximately 45 minutes and covering newsworthy matters ranging from accepting Arab culture and the thwarting of the threat of ISIS to strengthening NATO and criticism of former President Obama.
"This whole thing is just a miracle after miracle," Fischer said to KING 5, a local Seattle television station. "I called it to see if it was him because I was curious, and it was his voice."
Fischer, a staff writer at the Islander, prepared the questions and conducted the interview with the help of another student, Jane Gormley, who penned a reflection essay about the experience. The interview, which took place in late June, has been praised online for its thoughtful questions.
Among the questions Fischer asked was what made him decide to return his phone call and grant the interview.
"I've always tried to help students because I think 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," Mattis explained.
He added: "You're from Washington state. I grew up in Washington state on the other side of the mountains there on the Columbia River. I just thought I'd give you a call."
Questioned about key differences in policy between the Obama administration and, Mattis offered a critique of Obama, while giving Hillary Clinton some credit for her performance as secretary of state.
"[President Obama] unfortunately didn't always have the best advisers or he didn't listen to his secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, so we missed some opportunities there," he said.
Throughout the wide-ranging Q&A, Mattis, a visiting fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, touted the benefits of studying history. In one part of the discussion, the secretary was pleased to hear that Fischer had just learned about the Marshall Plan in class, and in another segment of the interview, Mattis cited Thucydides when explaining the evolution of military strategy and combat around the world.
The full transcript of the interview has been uploaded on the high school newspaper's website.