What many thought would be a four-year honeymoon for the Biden administration and the White House press corps seems to be done and over with after only three weeks.
According to Breitbart, White House Deputy Press Secretary T.J. Ducklo found himself the center of controversy this week when news broke that he told a Politico reporter over the phone that he would “destroy” her over a story she was pursuing — but instead of firing Ducklo, as many expected, Biden Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced that he would face merely a one-week suspension without pay.
“I will destroy you”
It was first reported by Vanity Fair that Ducklo had gotten into a heated exchange on Inauguration Day last month with Politico’s Tara Palmeri, who was looking to learn more about Ducklo’s romantic relationship with an Axios reporter named Alexi McCammond. “Palmeri, a coauthor of Politico’s Playbook, contacted McCammond for comment while one of her male colleagues left a message for Ducklo,” Vanity Fair reported.
Ducklo apparently did not appreciate Palmeri’s probing, however, and he is subsequently alleged to have threatened her in a phone call. “I will destroy you,” he reportedly said, vowing to ruin her reputation.
Ducklo was also alleged to have made “derogatory and misogynistic comments” toward Palmeri, including accusing her in very explicit terms of being “jealous” of McCammond and her relationships with Ducklo and others.
“A heated conversation”
The issue was apparently kept under wraps by both the White House and the media until this week, and now, the Biden administration is trying to save face — though the consequences they’ve handed down certainly don’t make it seem like they’re trying too hard, as many in the media were quick to point out.
In addition to “a one-week suspension without pay,” Psaki said Ducklo “will no longer be assigned to work with any reporters at Politico.”
“T.J. 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,” the press secretary wrote in a tweet. “In addition to his initial apology, he has sent the reporter a personal note expressing his profound regret.”
The lax punishment for the communications official sparked particular outrage in light of remarks made by Biden to his staffers on his first day in office — namely, that offensive behavior toward anyone would not be tolerated.
“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 president said, according to a Playbook report authored by Palmeri and others the day after Biden took office.
The recent developments only make the next line in Politico’s Jan. 21 Playbook all the more prudent: “Serious question on our minds this morning: Does this standard apply to how mid-level press aides treat reporters?”
Pressed by reporters during Friday’s briefing at the White House on why Ducklo wasn’t immediately shown the door, Psaki seemed content with the administration’s reaction. “That’s not behavior that we will tolerate,” she said, as Breitbart reported separately. “So those were the steps that were taken, and we felt it was a serious punishment.”