During President Trump’s term in office, critics often lambasted him for his frosty relationship with the press. Today however, it is not Trump who is in the firing line, but Biden. White House deputy press secretary, T.J. Ducklo, has been suspended for a week without pay after Vanity Fair reported that he had harassed a female journalist. The harassment occurred during an off-record-call in which he attempted to hide his relationship with another reporter. Throughout the conversation, Ducklo made derogatory, profane, and sexist comments towards Politico’s Tara Palmeri, from which, many argue, he has got off lightly.
‘I will destroy you’, he threatened her during the off-record call, whilst accusing Palmeri of only working on the story because she was ‘jealous’ of past relationship dramas involving Alexei McCammond, Axios’ political reporter. Ducklo also accused Palmeri of being ‘jealous’ of his current relationship with McCammond, despite the fact that she had only ever spoken to the Axios reporter once about a report she was working on. Ducklo used very explicit language (which I have chosen not to include here) and acted in an extremely unethical and unprofessional manner, using threats and tactics of intimidation to try and silence the press.
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A day after the abusive phone call, a Politico editor reached out to the White House to let them know what happened. Politico had several conversations with senior officials, including press secretary Jen Psaki, though at first the Biden administration seemed reluctant to apologise or even acknowledge that what Ducklo had done was wrong. Eventually, an official acknowledged that Ducklo’s handling of the call was inappropriate, and said he would send an apology note to Palmeri. However, in another phone call, the same White House Officials accused Palmeri of breaking an off-the-record agreement, and demanded to know why the contents of the call were revealed.
Ducklo apologised, though his apology did not mention the sexual harassment or derogatory comments he made, and was subsequently suspended for a week without pay with the permission of the White House Chief of Staff. When Ducklo returns from his suspension, he will no longer be assigned to work with Politico reporters. For Biden, Ducklo’s unethical behaviour comes at a bad time; it hasn’t even been a month since he promised to crack down on ‘disrespect’ within his administration. During a virtual swearing-in of White House appointees, the President said the following: ‘I am not joking when I say this: If you are ever working with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect, talk down to someone, I promise I will fire you on the spot. No ifs, ands, or buts.’
It must be noted that despite the Biden administration’s campaign promises of honesty and transparency, it took a lot of persistence on the part of Politico for Ducklo to be punished for his utterly unacceptable behaviour, and he certainly wasn’t ‘fired on the spot’. To many, it will seem like the Biden administration has failed the first test of whether or not it will live up to expectations, and I think most people will agree that Ducklo was let off far too lightly.