On Inauguration Day, Joe Biden warned his appointees that a hostile workplace would not be tolerated in his administration, but that didn’t seem to make an impression on White House deputy press secretary TJ Ducklo, who reportedly threatened a journalist that very same day using “derogatory and misogynistic” language.
According to Vanity Fair, Ducklo threatened to “destroy” Tara Palmeri while she was working on story about his relationship with another reporter.
After the story broke on Friday, Ducklo was suspended for one week—a mild punishment given Biden’s vow to “fire on the spot” anyone who violates his code of conduct expectations.
Vanity Fair reported that Ducklo harassed and threatened Palmieri during an off-the-record call about his romantic involvement with Alexi McCammond, an Axios reporter who met Ducklo while covering the Biden campaign.
The confrontation began on Inauguration Day, January 20, after Palmeri, a coauthor of Politico’s Playbook, contacted McCammond for comment while one of her male colleagues left a message for Ducklo, according to sources. Ducklo subsequently called a Playbook editor to object to the story, but was told to call the Playbook reporters with his concerns. But instead of calling the male reporter who initially contacted him, Ducklo tried to intimidate Palmeri by phone in an effort to kill the story. “I will destroy you,” Ducklo told her, according to sources, adding that he would ruin her reputation if she published it.
During the off-the-record call, Ducklo made derogatory and misogynistic comments, accusing Palmeri of only reporting on his relationship—which, due to the ethics questions that factor into the relationship between a journalist and White House official, falls under the purview of her reporting beat—because she was “jealous” that an unidentified man in the past had “wanted to fuck” McCammond “and not you.” Ducklo also accused Palmeri of being “jealous” of his relationship with McCammond. (Palmeri had no prior relationship or communication with McCammond before calling her to report on the Playbook item, which was a story that she was assigned and had not independently pursued.)
The next day, a Politico editor reportedly contacted the White House about Ducklo’s threats, and was referred to several senior-level officials, “including White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield, and Biden senior adviser Anita Dunn.”
During one of those Jan. 21 calls, a senior White House official “acknowledged that Ducklo’s handling of the call with Palmeri was inappropriate and said he would send a note to her apologizing for the comments,” according to Vanity Fair.
During his virtual Inauguration, however, Biden clearly stated that disrespectful behavior such as Ducklo’s would be a firing offense.
“I’m not joking when I say this,” Biden told his appointees on Inauguration Day. “If you’re 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. On the spot. No ifs, ands, or buts.”
Biden framed his strict code of conduct policy as an attempt to restore civility to the White House after it was sullied by the brutish Trump people. “Everybody, everybody is entitled to be treated with decency and dignity,” he said. “That’s been missing in a big way in the last four years.”
But rather than hold Ducklo accountable for his boorish behavior, senior Biden officials during another conversation “took aim at Palmeri by accusing her of breaking an off-the-record agreement with Ducklo,” according to Vanity Fair. And they reportedly demanded to know why the contents of the threatening phone call were revealed.
Palmeri, according to Vanity Fair, had informed her editors of the contents of the call only after being asked about it.
“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 behaviors set out by the President,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement after the Vanity Fair report was published.
“In addition to his initial apology, he has sent the reporter a personal note expressing profound regret. With the approval of the White House Chief of Staff, he has been placed on a one-week suspension without pay,” she added. “In addition, when he returns, he will no longer be assigned to work with any reporters at Politico.”
It appears as though Biden was joking when he said he would fire appointees “on the spot” if they treated another colleague with disrespect, or talked down to someone.