We saw a deeply revealing episode play out this weekend concerning the excusal/reprimand/punishment/firing of Deputy Press Secretary T.J. Ducklo, following the revelations of his abusive and sexist comments directed at a reporter. Not only does this scandal expose some of the falsehoods behind touts of administration expertise (delivering Biden his own Scaramucci in less than a month) but we also see the insistence of a warm relationship with the press is revealed as completely fabricated.
As the scandal blew open on Friday with salacious specifics there was another detail in the revelation that has been lightly regarded. It reveals a White House that is not as gleaming and open as reported, also that animus and entitlement are ingrained in the players, with transparency becoming an empty claim as they are willing to operate as they see fit.
This entire dust-up surrounds the reports which first began a week ago, when it was going to be revealed that Ducklo was in a relationship with a White House beat reporter, Alexi McCammond, of Axios. Politico was set to run a story on the relationship so the White House, in an effort to control the narrative and diffuse controversy, fed the breaking details to People Magazine, which ran a glowing bio on the couple. Scandal averted, they could now move on, was the attitude from the White House.
But then the story turned dark. On Friday Vanity Fair ran a report on the background of the story, detailing how Ducklo had become threatening and vulgarly abusive with Politico reporter Tara Palmeri. This article led to Jen Psaki coming forward to state that Ducklo was to be placed on administrative leave for one week, and T.J. was removed from direct work with Politico. There were many pointing out this lenient suspension was laughable, and then the White House team — absent Joe Biden’s involvement, it should be noted — scrambled the next day and decided they had to save face and force Ducklo to resign.
What has been overshadowed by all of the drama, helped by playing out in the light weekend news cycle, is a detail seen in that Vanity Fair piece, where they spoke with those at Politico about the events leading up to this weekend. As an introduction to the specifics of the obscenity-laced tirade we get this passage:
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 the 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.
Palmeri, following their exchange, informed her editors of what had transpired. This led to management from Politico contacting the White House the next day, kicking off a series of conversations between both sides. These calls involved Psaki, White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield, and Biden senior adviser Anita Dunn. During one conversation one of the officials suggested Palmeri was in the wrong here, because the phone call between her and Ducklo was supposed to be off the record. This is ridiculous since Palmeri published nothing at that point; she had only informed her superiors of the abusive conversation.
During another call it was agreed that Ducklo had been out of line, and so it was decided that he would issue an apology to Palmeri. The apology, described by Psaki this Friday as displaying ‘’profound regret’’ from Ducklo, appears as something barely above a boilerplate pre-written filing.
Didn’t see this earlier: Psaki claimed Ducklo’s apology to Palmeri had been “profound,” but @oliverdarcy obtained a copy of the apology. It’s profoundly half assed. https://t.co/OfJxYbMrj5 pic.twitter.com/hM1idkkKdf
— Olivia Nuzzi (@Olivianuzzi) February 13, 2021
So Ducklo issued this ‘’My bad’’ missive on January 21, and everything was supposed to have been smoothed over. Consider what this means. The White House knew about Ducklo’s behavior — literally from Day-1 — and they took little to no action. This becomes painfully laughable when you look at the press release from the White House on Saturday regarding the resignation.
‘’We are committed to striving every day to meet the standard set by the President,’’ reads the copy, in a pathetic deflection. The administration attempted to bury this story and move past it – for 20 days. When they were informed of Ducklo’s abusive nature they sought any path to be permissive — first they blamed the reporter, then tried to issue a wan apology, then attempted to assuage the outrage with a weak suspension. All the while they further defended Ducklo with a fed puff piece to People, looking to preserve his integrity. Now note something else; those defending the sexist and misogynistic behavior were Biden’s celebrated female staff team.
This proves out the cynical attitude in the administration. Ducklo felt he was above reproach, the press office was sure they could manage the story, and Psaki thought she could steer the controversy away with glib retorts from the podium. This displays the dismissive attitude they harbor towards the press, something clearly entrenched with all of those involved.
They claim to act with ‘’civility and with a value for others through our words and our actions.’’ Well, they certainly delivered those words, except they are shown to hold not much value at all, based on the actions which have become revealed this weekend.