The White House has been accused of hypocrisy after Jen Psaki said a one-week suspension was ‘serious punishment’ for TJ Ducklo for threatening to ‘destroy’ a reporter – despite Joe Biden vowing to fire ‘on the spot’ any aides that ‘disrespect’ other people.
White House Press Secretary Psaki defended her decision to suspend the deputy press secretary for one week without pay during Friday’s press briefing insisting it was an ‘important step’ to show his behavior was ‘completely unacceptable’.
Ducklo had called Politico reporter Tara Palmeri to say he would ‘destroy’ her over an article she was planning to write about his romance with Axios journalist Alexi McCammond.
As well as the threat, the nature of his comments have also been slammed as sexist as he accused Palmeri of being jealous of McCammond because a past male wanted to ‘f***’ the Axios reporter instead of her.
The incident took place on Inauguration Day but did not come to light until this week.
The White House is coming under fire of its handling of the matter, which took place on the very day that the president issued his ‘no tolerance’ warning to staff.
There are also questions over why Ducklo has only been suspended now his behavior has been made public and was not reprimanded at the time.
The White House has been accused of hypocrisy after Jen Psaki (in Friday’s press briefing) said a one-week suspension was ‘serious punishment’ for TJ Ducklo for threatening to ‘destroy’ a reporter – despite Joe Biden vowing to fire ‘on the spot’ any aides that ‘disrespect’ other people
Psaki avoided directly answering the question when asked why Ducklo had not been immediately fired over the incident saying ‘we felt it was a serious punishment’ to give him a one-week suspension.
‘It doesn’t meet our standard, it doesn’t meet the president’s standard,’ Psaki said.
‘It was important that we took a step to make that clear and that included not just an apology directly from him and apologies directly from us at the highest levels there, but also a step to suspend him for one week without pay.
She added: ‘That, in our view, was an important step to send the message that we don’t find it acceptable.’
Psaki said she felt the punishment 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.’
White House Press Secretary Psaki defended her decision to suspend the deputy press secretary (pictured) for one week without pay during Friday’s press briefing insisting it was an ‘important step’ to show his behavior was ‘completely unacceptable’
‘It’s completely unacceptable. He knows that. I’ve had conversations with him about that,’ said Psaki, who is Ducklo’s direct supervisor.
She emphasized apologies had been made to Politico by Ducklo and by senior White House press staff.
‘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,’ she said.
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.
Ducklo had called Politico reporter Tara Palmeri to say he would ‘destroy’ her over an article she was planning to write about his romance with Axios journalist Alexi McCammond (pictured)
Politico reporter Tara Palmeri (pictured). Ducklo also accused Palmeri of being jealous of McCammond because a past male wanted to ‘f***’ the Axios reporter instead of her
Psaki said the decision around an appropriate punishment had been made by her and not Biden.
‘No I have not discussed it with the president. It was a decision I made with the approval of the chief of staff,’ she told reporters.
While swearing in his staff on Inauguration Day, Biden issued a warning that he would ‘fire you on the spot’ if he heard them treating others ‘with disrespect’- ‘no ifs, and no buts.’
‘I am not joking when I say this, if you are ever working with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect … talk down to someone, I promise you I will fire you on the spot,’ he said at the time.
‘On the spot. No ifs, ands or buts. Everybody is entitled to be treated with decency and dignity. That’s been missing in a big way the last four years.’
Some time the same day Ducklo made the threat to Palmeri: ‘I will destroy you.’
Several journalists and members of the public have slammed the administration’s response for its ‘hypocrisy.’
‘#Biden said “If you ever work with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect, talk down to someone, will fire you on the spot,” he said that day. “No ifs, ands or buts.” That didn’t last too long!! #Ducklo #Hypocrisy,’ one person tweeted.
Another person chimed in: ‘Total BS. It’s rank hypocrisy and Psaki knows better. How does she keep a straight face? And how is she and WH not reclused by, and done with, this reprobate Ducklo?’
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.’
The White House is coming under fire of its handling of the matter, which took place on the very day that the president issued his ‘no tolerance’ warning to staff vowing to fire ‘on the spot’ any staff who treated others with ‘disrespect’
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?’
CNN’s Jim Acosta warned the situation was similar to that experienced in Trump’s White House that Biden vowed would not happen under his watch.
‘What Ducklo did was wrong. No WH official should ever threaten reporters no matter which party is in power. When Trump WH officials tried to destroy the careers of reporters they were cheered internally. Trump’s use of terms like “the enemy of the people” put reporters in danger,’ he tweeted.
Vanity Fair on Friday revealed that Palmeri reached out to 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 that an unidentified man in the past had ‘wanted to f***’ McCammond ‘and not you.’.
‘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.
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, 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.
Several journalists and members of the public have slammed the administration’s response for its ‘hypocrisy’
He later emailed Palmeri a note he was sorry he lost his cool but did not address the allegations and threats.
CNN obtained a copy of it: ‘Last night on the phone with you I lost my temper in a way that was unprofessional, and I apologize for that. I should have done a better job at keeping my emotions in check during our conversation. It won’t happen again.’
Psaki also faced questions on how Ducklo would work with female reporters going forward – given his assignment as a White House spokesperson – and why his suspension took so long to be given. The original call between Ducklo and Palmeri happened on January 20th – inauguration day.
After Vanity Fair published its story, the White House announced Ducklo had apologized again to Palmeri – presumably a stronger one than his original – 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 behavior set out by the president. In addition to his initial apology, he has sent the reporter a personal note expressing his profound regret,’ 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/
Both Alexi McCammond and TJ Ducklo posted about their relationship in their Instagram stories
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.
They told People they got to know each other through work but, at the start, Ducklo was single while McCammond was in a serious relationship.
They cite the change in their relationship came as Ducklo was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer in December 2019. He’s been receiving treatments while working on the campaign and in the White House.
McCammond said Ducklo’s diagnosis helped her realize her view of him had changed.
‘After the election, when we both had some downtime, it was clear that our years-long friendship had the potential for something else. When TJ was diagnosed … I had a sense then how much he meant to me and I’m just grateful that I get to be there for him now every step of the way as his partner,’ she told People.
They also both posted about their relationship on Instagram.
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.’