By:
February 15, 2021

That didn’t take long. Less than a month into the Biden administration and already there was a significant, embarrassing and completely inappropriate situation in his press office. And it ended, as it should have — with someone losing their job.

It all started when Vanity Fair’s Caleb Ecarma reported that White House deputy press secretary T.J. Ducklo had threatened a reporter who asked about his relationship with another reporter. Politico’s Tara Palmeri was reporting that Ducklo was in a romantic relationship with Axios reporter Alexi McCammond, who had covered Joe Biden’s campaign.

Axios told Politico that McCammond had disclosed her relationship and she was taken off the Biden beat. However, McCammond, as a part of her beat, had continued covering Vice President Kamala Harris and that, obviously, could be seen as a major conflict of interest.

When Palmeri asked Ducklo about his relationship with McCammond, he reportedly told her, “I will destroy you” if she published the story. He also, according to the Vanity Fair piece, said Palmeri was jealous of his relationship with McCammond along with other misogynistic and disgusting comments.

After the Vanity Fair story broke, Ducklo was originally suspended a week. Assuming the details of the Vanity Fair piece were true, a week’s suspension was both laughable and infuriating, particularly coming from a Biden administration that vowed to treat everyone with respect.

After being sworn in, Biden told those working for him, “I’m not joking when I say this. 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. Everybody — everybody — is entitled to be treated with decency and dignity.”

That’s why it was so disheartening when White House press secretary Jen Psaki, apparently without speaking to Biden, suspended Ducklo for a week, calling it a “significant step” and that she took the matter “seriously.”

Only after pushback from many inside and outside the media did it become apparent that a week’s suspension wasn’t going to be sufficient. Ducklo resigned over the weekend.

In a statement, Ducklo said, “No words can express my regret, my embarrassment, and my disgust for my behavior. I used language that no woman should ever have to hear from anyone, especially in a situation where she was just trying to do her job. It was language that was abhorrent, disrespectful, and unacceptable. I am devastated to have embarrassed and disappointed my White House colleagues and President Biden, and after discussion with White House communications leadership tonight, I resigned my position and will not be returning from administrative leave.”

Psaki had built up some good points with the media in her first couple of weeks as White House press secretary, but this incident and her original handling of it is going to scuff up some of those good vibes.

During an appearance on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday, Politico editor Carrie Budoff Brown told host Brian Stelter, “I expect my reporters to behave professionally. And in return, we expect the same of the people we cover, but particularly public officials who are paid by taxpayers.”

Amen to that.

Now, on to some of the other important links and media stories …. 

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

Correction: This newsletter has been updated to indicate that it was The New York Times, not another publication, that published the visual investigations about the Capitol insurrection. I apologize for the error.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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