White House defends not firing deputy press secretary over sexist comments to reporter

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<p>TJ Ducklo was suspended for one week without pay for comments he made to a Politico reporter</p> (AP)

TJ Ducklo was suspended for one week without pay for comments he made to a Politico reporter

(AP)

The White House has defended not firing its deputy press secretary after he made sexist comments to a reporter who was working on a story.

TJ Ducklo was suspended for one week without pay after a Vanity Fair report revealed he threatened and made sexist comments to Politico reporter Tara Palmeri – who was working on a story about his romantic relationship with another reporter.

"We felt it was a serious punishment," said Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, during a press briefing on Friday.

In the interaction, Mr Ducklo said he would “destroy her” if she published a story. He went on to make misogynistic comments about Ms Palmeri and claim she was “jealous” about his relationship with Alexi McCammond – who was pulled by Axios from the Biden beat in November after disclosing her relationship.

Mr Ducklo has since apologised to the reporter for his behaviour and sent her a note. The White House has also contacted “every level” of Politico to apologise for the interaction. When Mr Ducklo returns from his leave, he will be unable to communicate with any Politico reporters to avoid making anyone “uncomfortable”, Ms Psaki said.

The White House was asked why Mr Ducklo was allowed to remain on the staff, especially given that President Joe Biden told his administration on Inauguration Day that he would “fire [them] on the spot” if they “treat another colleague with disrespect”.

Although the press was not colleagues of the White House communications team, the two groups do interact every day with each other to provide information to the public.

“It doesn’t meet our standard, it doesn’t meet the president’s standard,” Ms Psaki responded. “It was important that we took a step to make that clear, but also a step to suspend him for one week without pay. That, in our view, was an important step in our message that we don’t find it acceptable.”

Mr Biden was not involved in the decision making process for suspending the press secretary, Ms Psaki added. The decision was made by herself, as she’s Mr Ducklo’s direct superior. She also consulted with Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff.

When the news first broke about the situation, Ms Psaki released a statement informing the publication about the suspension.

“He is the first to acknowledge this is not the standard of behaviour set out by the president,” Ms Psaki said, describing the interaction as a “heated conversation about his personal life”.

Ms Psaki later reiterated during the press briefing that the outburst was not in regards to a story about the Biden administration or any policy.

But the White House reportedly knew about this interaction between Mr Ducklo and Ms Palmeri for weeks. Yet the deputy press secretary was not suspended until the Vanity Fair article was published on Friday.

When asked why the White House waited to punish Mr Ducklo, Ms Psakis said they “engaged in a private manner” about the interaction, but she could otherwise not answer the question.

Two Politico staffers told CNN they felt the punishment was more towards their publication than Mr Ducklo, as he would no longer be able to communicate with them on White House matters once he returns.

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