A senior Biden administration press official was suspended on Friday after he allegedly threatened a reporter who sought comment from him about his romantic relationship with another journalist.
The White House suspended deputy press secretary T.J. Ducklo for one week without pay after he allegedly used derogatory language and threatened a reporter for Politico in an effort to quash a story about him.
Ducklo reportedly lashed out at Politico’s Tara Palmeri after she asked him to discuss his relationship with a second reporter, Alexi McCammond of the news site Axios.
Ducklo and McCammond said their relationship began in November, during the presidential campaign, when McCammond was covering Biden and Ducklo was Biden’s chief spokesman.
Romantic relationships between reporters and people they cover are generally considered a conflict of interest in journalism, and this one raised questions about McCammond’s political reporting.
The couple publicly disclosed their relationship in People magazine on Monday — in a largely sympathetic story that some read as an effort to preempt more critical coverage. An Axios spokeswoman told People that McCammond had asked to be taken off the Biden beat in November, and was reassigned to cover Vice President Kamala Harris and liberal politics.
Palmeri, a co-writer of Politico’s popular Playbook blog, began to pursue the story on Jan. 20, Inauguration Day, and contacted McCammond for comment, according to an account in Vanity Fair. Another Politico reporter sought comment from Ducklo around the same time, according to the magazine.
Ducklo allegedly threatened to “destroy” Palmeri if she published her story, Vanity Fair reported. He reportedly accused her of pursuing the story because she was “jealous” of McCammond’s relationship with Ducklo.
The call prompted Politico’s editors to contact White House press secretary Jen Psaki, communications director Kate Bedingfield, and Biden senior adviser Anita Dunn to protest Ducklo’s behavior.
The White House officials apparently acknowledged that Ducklo’s comments were inappropriate and warranted an apology, but also accused Palmeri of breaking an off-the-record agreement with him by revealing the contents of their phone call.
Politico reported on Ducklo and McCammond’s relationship a day after the story was revealed by People. A spokesman for Politico did not reply to a request for comment.
Biden has sought to change the White House’s relationship with the news media, which was testy, at best, under former president Donald Trump.
“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 you I will fire you on the spot. No ifs, ands, or buts,” the president said during his first day in the White House.
Ducklo’s punishment was notably lighter. He won’t be assigned to work with any Politico reporters after he returns to work, Psaki wrote on Twitter Friday.
“TJ Ducklo has apologized to the reporter, with whom he had a heated conversation about his personal life,” she wrote. “He is the first to acknowledge this is not the standard of behavior set out by the President.”