Politico reporter Tara Palmeri was working on a story about Ducklo’s relationship with Axios political reporter Alexi McCammond, considering Ducklo and McCammond’s romance began to bud when she was covering Biden’s presidential campaign, Vanity Fair reported. It was a potential journalistic conflict of interest. Both Ducklo and McCammond, however, told their bosses about their relationship, and McCammond “asked to be taken off of the Biden beat,” an Axios spokeswoman told People. “We stand behind her and her coverage,” the spokeswoman said.
When Palmeri reached out to McCammond for comment and a male collegue followed suit with Ducklo, he called a Politico editor to complain about the story and was told to reach out to the reporters, Vanity Fair reported. It’s unclear why Ducklo reached out to McCammond instead of the reporter who contacted him, but he reportedly told her on Inauguration Day, January 20: “I will destroy you.” He also accused Palmeri of pursuing a vendetta against McCammond out of jealousy regarding a man she was reportedly interested in. Ducklo told Palmeri she was only pursuing the story because the man “wanted to f—” McCammond “and not you,” Vanity Fair reported.
After the conversation Ducklo thought would be an off-the-record conversation, several conversations between Politico and senior White House officials followed, according to the magazine. Ducklo ultimately sent a note of apology to the reporter, but it wasn’t exactly moving. “Last night on the phone with you I lost my temper in a way that was unprofessional, and I apologize for that,” Ducklo reportedly said in the note CNN obtained. “I should have done a better job at keeping my emotions in check during our conversation. It won’t happen again.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted this statement on Friday: “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. 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.”
Politico’s Playbook series, which Palmeri is a coauthor of, questioned the Biden administration’s initial response, referencing an earlier promise from the president’s virtual ceremony to swear in his appointees on January 20. “But 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,” Biden said. “On the spot. No ifs, ands or buts.”
Politico staffers asked in a Playbook post on January 21: “(Serious question on our minds this morning: Does this standard apply to how mid-level press aides treat reporters?)” Biden didn’t find out about the Ducklo conversation until Saturday afternoon, a White House official told CNN. Psaki issued this statement on Saturday: “We accepted the resignation of TJ Ducklo after a discussion with him this evening. This conversation occurred with the support of the White House Chief of Staff. We are committed to striving every day to meet the standard set by the President in treating others with dignity and respect, with civility and with a value for others through our words and our actions.”