Joe Biden‘s White House has put deputy press secretary TJ Ducklo on a one-week suspension without pay after he threatened a reporter who asked questions about his relationship with a journalist at Axios, telling her ‘I will destroy you.’
Ducklo made the threat to Politico reporter Tara Palmeri, who was assigned to write about his romance with Alexi McCammond, who had been covering Biden’s presidential campaign. He accused her of being jealous of McCammond because a past male wanted to ‘f***’ the Axios reporter instead of her.
The incident is raising questions about ethical standards at the White House, after Biden threatened to fire any staffer who treated people with disrespect. There were also questions on why Ducklo wasn’t punished until his conversation was publicly reported on – more than two weeks after it originally happened.
Vanity Fair on Friday revealed that Palmeri reached out McCammond to ask her about the romance while one of Palmeri’s male colleagues contacted Ducklo about it.
But Ducklo called Palmer, instead of her male colleague, and threatened her in an effort to kill the story. He told her he would ‘destroy’ her and accused her of being jealous of McCammond.
‘I will destroy you,’ Ducklo told Palmeri, sources told Vanity Fair, adding that he would ruin her reputation if the story about his relationship was published.
President Joe Biden has put his deputy press secretary TJ Ducklo on a one-week suspension without pay after he threatened a reporter who asked questions about his relationship with a journalist at Axios
Axios reporter Alexi McCammond covered Biden during the Democratic presidential primary and asked to be taken off the beat when she started dating Ducklo, who who also worked for Biden’s presidential campaign
Ducklo made the threat to Politico reporter Tara Palmeri, who was writing about the romance, telling her he would ‘destroy’ her and accusing her of being jealous
In the off-the-record call, Ducklo made derogatory and misogynistic comments, accusing Palmeri of reporting on his relationship because she was ‘jealous’ that an unidentified man in the past had ‘wanted to f***’ McCammond ‘and not you.’
After Vanity Fair published its story, the White House announced Ducklo had apologized to Palmeri and was on suspension.
‘TJ Ducklo has apologized to the reporter, with whom he had a heated conversation about his personal life. He is the first to acknowledge this is not the standard of behaviour set out by the president. In addition to his initial apology, he has sent the reporter a personal note expressing his profound regret,’ White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
She said with the approval of White House Chief of Staff Ron Klein, Ducklo was suspended and would not work with Politico reporters going forward.
‘With the approval of the White House Chief of Staff, he has been placed on a one week-suspension without pay. In addition, when he returns, he will no longer be assigned to work with any reporters at Politico,’ Psaki noted.
But her announcement did not quell outrage at how a White House official treated a reporter, particularly after President Biden told staff they would be fired if they didn’t treat people with respect.
Psaki said Biden was not involved in the decision about Ducklo’s punishment, which she said she felt was adequate.
‘No one wants anyone to feel uncomfortable to be put in an uncomfortable position and that’s not behavior that we will tolerate. So those were the steps that were taken and we felt it was a serious punishment,’ she noted.
CNN White House reporter Kaitlan Collins pressed Psaki on the content of what he said and the sexist tone of his remarks: ‘It wasn’t just a hostile conversation. I think we’ve all probably have plenty of those and vice versa, those happen. But you know the language that he is alleged to have used according to this report – it is arguably or even not arguably sexist. So, what are you doing to deal with that part of it.’
‘It’s completely unacceptable. He knows that I’ve had conversations with him about that,’ said Psaki, who is Ducklo’s direct supervisor, at her White House press briefing.
She emphasized apologies had been made to Politico. ‘We’ve reached out at every level there to convey our apology and been clear this will never happen again. And it is not going to be tolerated here at the White House.’
And when asked why he wasn’t suspended until the story became public, she said it had been handled privately by staff and Ducklo was spoken to about what he said to Palmeri.
‘There were conversations that occurred with the reporter, as well as editors at Politico immediately after the conversation occurred. That was how we engaged in a private manner. And, you know, that was, that was what we felt was appropriate at the time,’ she said.
Psaki also argued Ducklo was speaking about his personal life and not a White House issue.
‘He had a heated conversation about a story related to his personal life. I’m not saying that’s acceptable but I just want to be clear that it was not about an issue related to the White House or a White House policy or anything along those lines,’ she said.
But the White House standards are under question.
CNN’s Jake Tapper wrote on Twitter: ‘Standards that are not upheld are not standards. They’re lies.’
CNN reporter Abby Philip’s tweeted: ‘Keep in mind the WH has known about this since January.’
And CNN’s Chris Cillizza wrote: ‘One week? Didn’t Biden say he had a “zero tolerance” policy for this sort of behavior.’
And New York magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi wrote: ‘If Ducklo’s conduct as a White House official is so unprofessional that, 3 weeks into the administration, he has been banned from working with reporters from a major news organization, how can he do his job?’
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Ducklo had been spoken to privately about his comments to a female reporter and the White House felt his punishment was adequate
After TJ Ducklo’s suspension was announced, questions were raised about the ethics policy at the White House after President Biden vowed to fight any staffer who treated people with disrespect
Both Alexi McCammond and TJ Ducklo posted about their relationship in their Instagram stories
Politico first contacted the White House about the relationship on January 20th.
After Ducklo’s comments to Palmeri, a Politico editor reached out to the White House, which led to several conversations between Politico staff and senior-level White House communications staff, including Psaki, White House Communications director Kate Bedingfield, and Anita Dunn, director of West Wing operations and a longtime Democratic operative.
In one conversation, the White House officials acknowledged that Ducklo’s handling of the call with Palmeri was inappropriate. He later emailed Palmeri a note he was sorry he lost his cool but did not address the allegations and threats.
Threats to reporters are not uncommon. But the Biden White House pledged to be different and vowed to be one of the most transparent and ethical in American history.
When President Biden swore in White House staff on January 20th, he told them: ‘I’m not joking when I say this: If you ever work with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect, talk down to someone, I will fire you on the spot. No ifs, ands or buts.’
McCammond and Ducklo posted about their relationship in their Instagram stories, making the romance public themselves.
And when Politico informed the White House they were publishing their story about it on February 9th, a story appeared about the romance appeared on People Magazine’s website the night before on February 8th.
The glowing piece said Ducklo and McCammond were friends first and started dating in November, upon which they disclosed their relationship to their superiors.
Politico noted in its piece on the relationship: ‘POLITICO first contacted the White House in late January with questions about Ducklo and McCammond. On Monday evening, Playbook informed Biden’s comms staff that this item would be published today. Hours later, a glowing profile of McCammond and Ducklo’s relationship was published by People.’