White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday publicly reprimanded her deputy for making inappropriate comments to a reporter on the day of her inauguration.
Vanity Fair reported Friday that White House deputy press secretary TJ Ducklo had threatened to “destroy” Politico reporter Tara Palmeri, who had inquired about his relationship with Axios reporter Alexi McCammond. McCammond reported on Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, and romantic relationships between reporters and their sources can raise ethical concerns.
In the confidential phone call, Ducklo allegedly made misogynistic comments about Palmeri, accusing her of being “jealous” that another man, according to Vanity Fair, “wanted to fuck McCammond and not Palmeri”. The magazine also reported that Ducklo Palmeri said “I will destroy you” if it went on with the story. Also noted was the fact that a male Politico reporter had been hired to ask Ducklo about the relationship while Palmeri reached out to McCammond. Instead of contacting the male reporter, Ducklo contacted Palmeri, according to Vanity Fair.
Psaki admitted Friday that the interview was not “up to the standard of conduct set by the president.” This standard was formulated by President Biden on his first day in office, apparently precisely at the time Ducklo was threatening Palmeri.
“I’m not kidding when I say this. If you ever work with me and I hear that you are treating another colleague with disrespect, speak to someone, I promise I will fire you immediately,” Mr. Biden said . “On site. No ifs and buts. Everyone has the right to be treated with decency and dignity.”
It’s unclear why it took the White House more than three weeks to discipline Ducklo.
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CBS News was unable to independently verify the call, but the conversation three weeks ago resulted in a series of moves by the White House communications bureau, two people familiar with the situation told CBS News.
The next day, January 21, when Mr Biden issued a series of executive orders, top White House adviser Anita Dunn, communications director Kate Bedingfield and Psaki spent part of the day with Palmeri’s bosses at Politico confirming what Ducklo was said was unacceptable. They promised he would apologize, said the two people familiar with the discussion.
Afterward, “Ducklo sent Palmeri an email regretting he was out of cool, but didn’t go into details or apologize for threatening and sexually harassing the reporter,” Vanity Fair reported.
White House officials complained to the Politico leadership that Palmeri failed to honor her confidential agreement with Ducklo because she discussed the conversation with her editors, according to a source familiar with the situation. However, “Off the Record” is an agreement between a reporter and the source that information from the conversation cannot be made public. Politico stuck to this agreement.
The day after the strained phone call, Palmeri and her colleagues were scheduled to host a livestream of an interview with Senior White House advisor Cedric Richmond. The event was announced on January 19th.
According to emails from CBS News sent the morning of the event, Politico asked if Palmeri Richmond could interview one of her colleagues, Ryan Lizza, with one of her colleagues.
“Let’s just do Ryan,” replied Kate Berner, assistant director of communications for the White House, adding that the White House had previously only approved one moderator – Lizza.
The video of the event shows that Politico continued the livestream without Palmeri as an interviewer or in the panel, even though Palmeri was listed as a panelist in the announcement of the event.
Palmeri declined to comment, referring the request to Politico, who put up a statement from its top editors, saying in part: “No journalist at POLITICO – or any other publication or network – should ever be exposed to such unsubstantiated personal attack if he does done its job. ” . “
Another person familiar with the circumstances said Palmeri was banned from the virtual event because of unexpected traffic and that her absence had nothing to do with the aftermath of exchanging with Ducklo the day before.
The first story published about Ducklo’s relationship wasn’t published by Politico but by People Magazine earlier this week on Monday night. Many White House employees shared the article on social media.
Less than 12 hours later, Politico Playbook reported that the People Magazine story had been published after Politico notified the White House of his intention to publish a story about Ducklo’s relationship.
An Axios spokesman told CBS News that McCammond told her editors about her relationship with Ducklo in November and asked to be banned from reporting on the Biden campaign. She was then reassigned to cover the then-elected Vice President Kamala Harris, the progressive movement, and the progressives in Congress.
“Alexi is a valued member of the Axios team,” said the Axios spokesman, “and we stand behind her and her reporting.”
Ducklo will be serving an unpaid week-long ban and will no longer work with Politico reporters, according to Psaki.
The press secretary described the threatening call as “a heated conversation about.” [Ducklo’s] personal life “and said that Ducklo has since apologized to Palmeri. Weijia Jiang of CBS News pressed Psaki at the White House briefing on why the disciplinary action was carried out weeks after the incident – and after the story of the threats was published. Psaki responded simply: “You are right.”
“There were talks with the reporter and with editors at Politico immediately after the interview,” said Psaki. “That’s how we got involved privately. And that was what we thought was appropriate at the time.”
Psaki said Friday that Mr Biden was not involved in the discussion and that the week-long suspension was approved by White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain.