Some sort of scandal eventually emerges from every presidential administration. But alarmingly little time had passed before the first one of the Biden administration arrived.
On Feb. 12, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced that she had suspended, for one week, her deputy, TJ Ducklo, after a Vanity Fair magazine article revealed that Ducklo had threatened a reporter who was working on a story about his romantic relationship with a reporter who had been assigned to cover Biden.
According to numerous press accounts, Ducklo is said to have told Politico’s Tara Palmeri that he would “ruin her on Twitter,” the social media platform. And he reportedly warned Palmeri that she should be careful moving forward with the story because she had “skeletons” in her background. Those were certainly menacing comments in their own right, but apparently not the most vile Ducklo made to Palmeri.
The comments Ducklo sent to Palmeri were also interpreted as being sexist in the view of several women’s rights organizations.
“This sort of aggressive behavior is a prime example of toxic masculinity, which has no place in any workplace, let alone the White House,” Christian F. Nunes, president of the National Organization for Women, said in a statement to The Washington Post.
Stephanie Schriock, the president of Emily’s List, a group that pushes for pro-choice women to be elected, told the Post that Ducklo’s comments “are wrong and have no place in political discourse or any work environment.”
What is amazing is the tepid reprimand on the part of high-up officials on the Biden team, notably Psaki, senior adviser Anita Dunn and Chief of Staff Ron Klain. One would think they would have better gauged the potential fallout in a world in which social discourse frequently goes viral, which is exactly what happened in this case.
Within 24 hours, Ducklo resigned, with apologies extended to Palmeri, and to the White House for letting the administration down.
Insiders said Ducklo was a favorite of top officials on the Biden team and they may have been trying to preserve a job for him somewhere in the administration.
But this is the same administration that had campaigned against the tone and culture of government under former President Donald Trump. Indeed, as the Washington Post reported, Biden while swearing in nearly 1,000 appointees and staff in a virtual ceremony, said: “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. No ifs, ands or buts.”
Except in this case.
The administration no doubt will survive this made-for-TV “Peyton Place” scandal. But it’s going to be interesting to see how it responds to the next scandal, perhaps one more serious, and how the next response will mesh with the high ideals of transparency and decency on which Biden campaigned.