Number 10 has defended a minister as “great” after she launched an online tirade against a journalist for asking questions about her role.
Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch accused a reporter of “creepy and bizarre” behaviour for asking why she had not appeared in a video promoting the Covid-19 vaccination campaign.
Boris Johnson’s aides defended Badenoch and said the Twitter attack on journalist Nadine White was the result of a “misunderstanding between the two parties”.
But the prime minister’s press secretary, Allegra Stratton, said the minister felt she had “grounds” for her public attack on the HuffPost reporter.
Badenoch went on Twitter to complain that the HuffPost news website had sought to “sow distrust by making up claims I refused to take part in a video campaign” after being asked an apparently straightforward question about her non-appearance in the footage.
The minister suggested White’s actions undermined efforts to build confidence in the coronavirus vaccine programme, saying “chasing clicks like this is irresponsible” and it was “creepy and bizarre to fixate on who didn’t participate in a video and demand they explain themselves”.
She shared screenshots of two emails sent by White to a government press office asking why she did not participate in the cross-party video.
Badenoch said on Twitter that she had not taken part because she was participating in a vaccine trial.
Stratton said the minister had been “civil” to White.
“Kemi felt that she was working very hard to improve confidence in the black community in taking the jab and she felt that questions about why she wasn’t in the video were not right when she was not in the video because she was taking part in a trial,” she said.
White is “a great young journalist asking questions of government, she must continue to do that”, while Badenoch is “a great minister who is also doing her utmost to improve confidence in the vaccine amongst a community that is – right now – concerned and worried about taking it”.
Asked whether the minister would face disciplinary action over her comments and publication of private correspondence, Stratton said: “I believe that Kemi feels that she has grounds for those words.”
HuffPost editor-in-chief Jess Brammar said White had to make her Twitter profile private following Badenoch’s tweets.
She wrote on Twitter: “You will note that, contrary to your claim we were spreading disinformation, we have not published this story without your response.
“I totally refute the claim it is ‘creepy and bizarre’ to ask questions of a government minister, and Nadine was doing her job in asking them.”
She later added: “One of my reporters has had to make her Twitter profile private today because a *government minister* tweeted out screenshots of a completely standard request for comment on a story, and accused her of spreading disinformation. Absolutely extraordinary.
“Young, female, black journalists receive some of the worst abuse on Twitter, and to behave in this way is extremely disappointing – even before you consider that the person involved is the minister for equalities.
“We stand by Nadine for doing her job correctly, as she always does.”