Is compassion and kindness really back at the White House?
President Biden vowed to fire any of his staffers “on the spot” if he heard that they had talked down to someone or treated a fellow colleague with disrespect. “No ifs, ands, or buts,” he said while swearing in about 1,000 of his appointees last month. “Everybody is entitled to be treated with decency and dignity. That’s been missing in a big way the last four years.”
Well, now this presidential promise has been put to the test after White House deputy press secretary TJ Ducklo allegedly made threatening and misogynistic comments to a Politico reporter in an attempt to kill a story about his romantic involvement with another journalist, according to a Vanity Fair report that went viral on Friday. White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted that Ducklo has apologized and been suspended for one week without pay.
So what happened?
Ducklo is dating Axios reporter Alexi McCammond, who has covered the Biden campaign. In fact, People profiled the couple in a sympathetic story posted Monday, detailing how their “romance bloomed” in the fall, and the pair told their superiors about their relationship in November. What’s more, Ducklo said he was “absolutely not” a source for McCammond while they have been dating. And a White House source told the publication that their relationship was “the worst-kept secret in Washington.”
But before the People piece hit, Politico’s Playbook had been investigating the relationship. Tara Palmeri reached out to McCammond for comment on Inauguration Day, in fact, while another Politico reporter reached out to Ducklo.
Ducklo called Palmeri back, however, and told her to drop the story or else “I will destroy you.” He also allegedly accused Palmeri of only taking on the assignment because she was “jealous” that some unidentified man in the past had “wanted to f—” McCammond, and not her.
Palmeri countered claims by telling Vanity Fair that this story had been assigned to her; she hadn’t pitched it. What’s more, Palmeri said that she had no prior relationship or communication with McCammond before calling her to report on this story.
The Vanity Fair report went viral on Twitter
on Friday, with pundits and analysts from both sides of the aisle calling for Ducko to resign or get canned. Some questioned whether the Biden administration is sincere in its call to bring unity and respect back to the White House.
The Politico Playbook also questioned Biden’s standards for professional behavior while recently reporting the new president’s promise to fire disrespectful staffers. “Serious question on our minds this morning: Does this standard apply to how mid-level press aides treat reporters?” the outlet wrote last month.
Psaki responded by tweeting that Ducklo has apologized to Palmeri, and written her a personal apology, as well.
She added that Ducklo has been placed on a one-week suspension without pay, and he would be the first to say that “this is not the standard of behavior set out by the President.”
When Ducklo returns, he will not be assigned to work with reporters at Politico anymore.