A White House communications staffer resigned in the wake of a report that he berated a female reporter for inquiring about his personal relationship with a fellow journalist.
TJ Ducklo, deputy White House press secretary, resigned on Saturday evening, saying: “No words can express my regret, my embarrassment, and my disgust for my behavior. I used language that no woman should ever have to hear from anyone, especially in a situation where she was just trying to do her job. It was language that was abhorrent, disrespectful, and unacceptable.”
Vanity Fair published a story Friday alleging that Ducklo berated Politico reporter Tara Palmeri for inquiring about his relationship status with Axios reporter Alexi McCammond, who had switched beats earlier in the year to avoid a potential conflict of interest.
“I am devastated to have embarrassed and disappointed my White House colleagues and President Biden, and after a discussion with White House communications leadership tonight, I resigned my position and will not be returning from administrative leave,” he added. “I know this was terrible. I know I can’t take it back. But I also know I can learn from it and do better. This incident is not representative of who I am as a person, and I will be determined to earn back the trust of everyone I have let down because of my intolerable actions.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed that the White House had accepted his resignation in a statement, saying that it occurred “with the support of the White House Chief of Staff.”
In Ducklo’s conversation with Palmeri, which occurred in January, Ducklo reportedly threatened, “I will destroy you,” and accused her of being “jealous” because an unidentified man “wanted to f—” McCammond “and not you.” The White House staffer allegedly accused the reporter of being “jealous” of his relationship.
The White House senior-level staffers and Politico editors had discussions about the incident, and Ducklo issued a written apology, but the White House did not suspend Ducklo until Friday, after the story broke.
“TJ Ducklo has apologized to the reporter, with whom he had a heated conversation about his personal life,” Psaki said in a statement announcing the weeklong suspension. “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. 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.”
It’s unclear why the suspension was not levied at the time the White House found out about the incident, but Psaki said during Friday’s press briefing that they initially thought the unreported conversations between them and Politico were sufficient.
“There were conversations that occurred with the reporter, as well as editors at Politico, immediately after the conversation occurred,” she said. “That was how we engaged in a private manner, and that was what we felt was appropriate at the time.”
Politico editor in chief Matt Kaminski and editor Carrie Budoff Brown issued a statement, obtained by the Washington Examiner on Friday, noting that they raised concerns “directly” with the White House at the time the incident took place.
“No journalist at POLITICO — or any other publication or network — should ever be subjected to such unfounded personal attacks while doing their job. POLITICO reporters and editors are committed to forging a professional and transparent relationship with public office holders and their staff and expect the same in return,” they said.
Palmeri first reached out to Ducklo on Inauguration Day about the relationship, but the news of his relationship with McCammond was not reported until a People profile was published on Monday night. In Tuesday’s edition of “Politico Playbook,” the writers said they had informed the White House that Politico planned on running with a story of the relationship and McCammond’s shift in beats for objectivity purposes the next day, shortly before the People profile came out.
After the Washington Examiner contacted McCammond about Ducklo’s alleged behavior, Axios gave the Washington Examiner a days-old statement that was put out following questions from reporters about the People article.
“Alexi disclosed her relationship with T.J. to her editors in November and asked to be taken off of the Biden beat. We reassigned her to cover progressives in Congress, the progressive movement, and Vice President Kamala Harris. Alexi is a valued member of the Axios team, and we stand behind her and her coverage,” a spokesperson told the Washington Examiner, declining to comment further.
Biden took a hard stance against abusive workplace behavior on the first day of his administration.
“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. No ifs, ands, or buts,” Biden said during a virtual swearing-in of appointees.
When asked about Biden’s comment in light of the incident during the briefing, Psaki reiterated the terms of Ducklo’s suspension.
“As I’ve said … it doesn’t meet our standard. It doesn’t meet the president’s standard, and 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 said. “And that, in our view, was an important step to send the message that we don’t find it acceptable.”