Your humble Pentagon correspondent has never been one of the “cool kids” in the world of Washington media, and never has that been more evident than in my failed attempts to interview Navy veteran Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and one of the roughly 50,000 Democrats running for president.
To the media, Buttigieg is so hot right now that he could melt the stealth coating off an F-35 – which is actually not as hard as it sounds. He is fluent in more forms of communication than C-3PO – in April, he offered his condolences to the French people for the Notre Dame fire in perfect French. He's had no problem getting media coverage from all sorts of media outlets, including National Public Radio, the New York Times, or even Fox News.
Your intrepid Pentagon correspondent was briefly on Mayor Pete's schedule, when his director of campaign operations Max Harris set up an interview for Feb. 26. But less than an hour later, Harris emailed back to say he might have to reschedule the interview due to scheduling conflicts.
Four months of silence followed. (To be fair, his campaign manager Lis Smith did confirm in March that Buttigieg had formed an exploratory committee to run for president.)
But for the most part, the Buttigieg campaign has blown off my repeated calls, emails, and Linkedin messages. In fact, it seems as though this reporter is the one journalist whom Buttigieg has NOT spoken with. (Of course, how many other reporters bear such a striking resemblance to Muqtada al Sadr.)
The way karma works, the amount of indifference a political candidate shows me is inversely proportional to their chances of winning, so Buttigieg is almost certain to clinch the Democratic nomination and has an excellent chance of winning in November 2020.
Since Buttigieg is arguing that his military service would make him a better commander in chief than President Donald Trump, your friend and humble narrator is obliged to cover Mayor Pete nonetheless.
Buttigieg received a direct commission in the Navy Reserve and went through a two-week program covering the basics of being an officer, Yahoo News reporter Sean Naylor first reported.
Buttigieg served as an intelligence officer from September 2009 until November 2017, leaving the service as a lieutenant, according to his official Navy biography. He deployed to Afghanistan as part of the Afghan Threat Finance Cell in Kabul from March to September 2014. (The Navy initially misspelled his name as “Butigieg” on his uniform.)
The finance cell is an interagency organization that includes personnel from the Defense, Justice, and Treasury Departments.
“Working long hours, seven days a week, we went after the most dangerous terrorist groups by targeting the connection between narcotics and insurgent financing,” Buttigieg wrote for the South Bend Tribune in October 2014. “I spent some days entirely on research and meetings, other days as a driver and armed escort for my commander and colleagues.”
A picture on social media shows Lt. Buttigieg “on patrol” in Afghanistan. Some Reddit users have noted that he is not wearing his helmet or body armor, so it might not be accurate to say he was on patrol at the time. (Although no one enjoys ripping veterans to pieces more than other veterans.)
Buttigieg's military awards include the Joint Service Commendation Medal, Joint Meritorious Unit Award, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Overseas Ribbon, Armed Forces Reserve Medal with “M” Device, NATO Medal, Rifle Marksmanship Medal, and Pistol Marksmanship Medal.
Should he eventually talk to this reporter, it would be an opportunity to address issues the rest of the media ignore, including: Why are U.S. troops still fighting in Afghanistan if the Obama administration abandoned trying to defeat the Taliban a decade ago; how will he bring spending on over-budget weapons systems under control while avoiding the disastrous budget cuts wrought by sequestration; and how will he fix the Department of Veterans Affairs when every president before him who tried has failed?
However, Buttigieg may not have to discuss any of these issues at all between now and the presidential election. The American public stopped caring about service members, veterans, and their families years ago. Television news, which drives the cocaine-powered news cycle, is so absorbed by political gossip that if a meteor were headed toward earth, CNN'S Wolf Blitzer would ask panelists how the destruction of all life on the planet could affect former Vice President Joe Biden's chances in 2020.
Be that as it may, this Pentagon reporter and the rest of Task & Purpose will continue to push for answers from Buttigieg and the other Democrats who want to be president. They can try to ignore us, but we won't let them ignore you.
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Jeff Schogol covers the Pentagon for Task & Purpose. He has covered the military for 14 years and embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq and Haiti. Prior to joining T&P, he covered the Marine Corps and Air Force at Military Times. Comments or thoughts to share? Send them to Jeff Schogol via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or direct message @JeffSchogol on Twitter.