White House deputy press secretary TJ Ducklo was given a slap on the wrist with a one-week suspension without pay Friday following a report from Vanity Fair exposing his derogatory and threatening remarks to a female reporter.
Ducklo, according to the magazine, threatened Politico’s Tara Palmeri after the Playbook coauthor reached out to Axios political reporter Alexi McCammond regarding McCammond’s relationship with Ducklo.
“I will destroy you,” Ducklo reportedly warned Palmeri if Politico ran the story on potential conflicts of interest stemming from the romance. Ducklo then continued in a demeaning tirade to intimidate Palmeri from pursuing the story, Vanity Fair reported.
“During the off-the-record call, Ducklo made derogatory and misogynistic comments, accusing Palmeri of only reporting on his relationship — which, due to the ethics questions that factor into the relationship between a journalist and White House official, falls under the purview of her reporting beat — because she was ‘jealous’ that an unidentified man in the past had ‘wanted to f-ck’ McCammond ‘and not you,’” Vanity Fair wrote. “Ducklo also accused Palmeri of being ‘jealous’ of his relationship with McCammond. (Palmeri had no prior relationship or communication with McCammond before calling her to report on the Playbook item, which was a story she was assigned and had not independently pursued.)”
On the day President Joe Biden was sworn in last month, the new commander in chief warned in an address to 1,000 presidential appointees that he would fire them “on the spot,” if he heard of disrespectful conduct in a professional capacity.
“I’m not joking when I say this: If you’re ever working with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect or talk down to someone, I promise you, I will fire you on the spot — on the spot. No ifs, ands, or buts,” Biden said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday, however, after Vanity Fair published its report, that Ducklo was given a suspension instead of a firing because “it was not about an issue related to the White House or a White House policy or anything along those lines.” Though Psaki claimed Ducklo’s harassment of a national political reporter had nothing to do with the professional workplace, Psaki also said Ducklo was barred from working with reporters at Politico but still remains available to those at Axios, where he is dating the publication’s reporter who covers the vice president.
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.
— Jen Psaki (@PressSec) February 12, 2021
When reached for comment on whether Axios agreed with a member of the White House press team making such misogynistic comments toward a female reporter, the paper referred The Federalist to its earlier statement this week when news first broke revealing the relationship.
“Alexi disclosed her relationship with TJ to her editors in November and asked to be taken off of the Biden beat,” the company said. “We reassigned her to cover progressives in Congress, the progressive movement, and Vice President Kamala Harris. … We stand behind her and her coverage.”
McCammond did not respond to The Federalist’s similar inquiry.
While the publication says it took action to avert a conflict of interest, a close examination of McCammond’s work since November shows her relationship likely still affecting narratives in her reporting. It’s not hard to find where covering the vice president’s office still intercepts with the White House, which gives the vice president’s press team its orders. McCammond broke news on the Biden administration in December, one month after she was taken off the Biden beat, that Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms declined Biden’s offer to lead the Small Business Administration. McCammond cited “people familiar with the discussion.”
What McCammond hasn’t written is potentially even more revealing.
In late January, Harris, McCammond’s primary beat, made headlines when she suggested that West Virginia coal miners consider “reclaiming abandoned land mines.”
Axios offered virtually no coverage of the ignorant statements from the woman a mere heartbeat from assuming the highest office in the country. Here is the extent of coverage found on the website, authored not by McCammond, but by political reporter Hans Nichols. Furthermore, he didn’t outline the comments but instead West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s reaction to them in the context of passing the latest coronavirus spending bill.
The strategy: Vice President Kamala Harris inaugurated one approach last week by giving interviews with newspapers and TV stations in West Virginia and Arizona. Those are two states where Biden will need the votes of Democratic senators to pass his $1.9 trillion COVID-relief bill.
- But that end-around is fraught with risks and may have backfired in West Virginia. Sen Joe Manchin told a local station: “That’s not a way of working together.”
A search of the Axios archive for Harris’s comments, newsworthy for their extreme ignorance coming from arguably the most powerful vice president in recent memory since she presides over a 50-50 Senate, comes up short in the website’s reporting, let alone McCammond’s. Setting Harris’s remarks aside, the beat reporter for Congress and the vice president’s office ignoring a feud between a prominent moderate West Virginia senator, who serves as the swing vote in the upper chamber, and the vice president raises questions of its own.