U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

White House deputy press secretary resigns after threatening Politico reporter

Incident Details

January 20, 2021

According to Vanity Fair, deputy White House press secretary TJ Ducklo threatened and verbally harassed Politico reporter Tara Palmeri on Jan. 20, 2021, in an attempt to quash a story about his relationship with political reporter Alexi McCammond, then of Axios.

Palmeri, Politico and the White House did not respond to the Tracker’s requests for comment.

On Jan. 21, Playbook, Politico’s daily newsletter, of which Palmeri is a co-author, included an item headlined “BIDEN SETS STANDARD FOR PROFESSIONAL BEHAVIOR” and a quote from the just-inaugurated president: “I’m not joking when I say this: If you ever work with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect, talk down to someone, I will fire you on the spot. No ifs, ands or buts.” The item closed by posing the following: “Serious question on our minds this morning: Does this standard apply to how mid-level press aides treat reporters?”

A little over three weeks later, on Feb. 12, a piece by Vanity Fair seemingly explained why that question may have been percolating for Politico, reporting that on Inauguration Day, Palmeri had contacted McCammond for comment on a story about her relationship with the incoming deputy press secretary. Vanity Fair reported that Ducklo reached out to a Politico editor to object to the story, and then contacted Palmeri directly, allegedly saying, “I will destroy you”; threatening to ruin her reputation; and making other “derogatory and misogynistic comments.”

Following the publication of the article, press secretary Jen Psaki issued a statement saying, “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.” She also announced that Ducklo had been suspended for one week without pay.

In a press conference the same day, Psaki addressed a question from a female reporter about retaining Ducklo in his role after the revelations about the phone call and his comments. Psaki responded that Ducklo’s behavior was “completely unacceptable” and that while she did not excuse it, the story was about his personal life and not about an issue concerning the White House.

Ducklo resigned a day after his suspension was announced, on Feb. 13. Psaki confirmed Ducklo’s resignation in a statement, stating: “We accepted the resignation of TJ Ducklo after a discussion with him this evening.” She added that the decision had been approved by White House chief of staff Ron Klain.

Ducklo expressed regret over his actions in a statement posted on Twitter account about his resignation, writing, in part, “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.”

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].