Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), a veteran and a first-term member of the House, bailed on a hearing about the veterans health care crisis to hang on the beach with Yahoo! News and finish a photo-intensive puff piece that focused on her surfing prowess.

"Washington is—and certainly feels—4,000 miles away," Yahoo politics reporter Chris Moody wrote in his profile of the 33-year-old, published late last month and flagged yesterday by TPM. He wrote of watching her do yoga. He wrote of her donning a "wetsuit and rash guard," paddling her surfboard out off Waikiki to wait "for the blue waters of the South Pacific to rise in a swell."

At the same time they were splashing it up, according to the Honolulu Civil Beat, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D) was at the Oahu Veterans Center in Salt Lake, opening a "field hearing" of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, to which Gabbard had accepted the senator's invitation:

The hearing was aired live on Olelo Community Access. A name plate was set for Gabbard, and Hirono told attendees that Gabbard, who represents the 2nd Congressional District, was expected.

But Gabbard did not show, and some veterans, who aired gripes about the VA's recent failings, were also disappointed by Gabbard's absence.

Also present at the vets' hearing—beside a number of military retirees in wheelchairs—was the VA's top man in Hawaii, whom Gabbard had previously demanded to be fired. Yet she missed her opportunity to ask him pointed questions.

Gabbard's staff reportedly ignored media queries about her absence for several days, eventually putting out a statement that said "an earlier commitment ran very late." A Gabbard spokeswoman eventually acknowledged the Yahoo surf shoot, and said the congresswoman had hoped to do both meetings, but the interview ran long: "Once Congresswoman Gabbard realized how late she would be, she decided not to go because she felt it would have been disruptive and disrespectful to just show up at the end."

There was just one problem with that, according to the Civil Beat:

A shot of Gabbard's watch in the video indicates that she was paddling away from shore at about 9:15 a.m. The hearing in Salt Lake started at 10 a.m. and ran until 1 p.m.

In other words, Gabbard blew the VA meeting off. That's Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who ran on her record as a war veteran and told Moody in his piece:

"I think that Congress over the last decade, if not longer, has given up more and more of its authority and its great responsibility of making that decision of when and where our troops should serve our country and what battles they should be fighting in."

Indeed, it is all about choosing your battles. But what of Moody? Did it occur to him, before an expensive trip to Hawaii, to seek a more policy-oriented context in which to interview Gabbard? Well, no:

Moody, who declined to speak with Civil Beat, explains in his story that he visited Gabbard during summer recess as part of a new Yahoo News series called Extreme Recess that aims "to document how some of Congress' more colorful characters spend their time at home."

Political reporters: They're just like us, if we got free trips to Hawaii to write puffy stories about how members of Congress are just like us in their 241 days per year of off time.

[Photo credits: Yahoo]