The decade's most triggering comedy
The latest hire to President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign is no stranger to the White House: he was ousted from there two years ago for allegedly threatening and sexually harassing a reporter.
The former White House deputy press secretary, T.J. Ducklo, resigned in February 2021 after allegedly telling then-POLITICO reporter Tara Palmeri in an off-the-record call that he would “destroy her” over an investigative story into the potential conflict of interest in his relationship with Axios reporter Alexi McCammond. Ducklo also allegedly sexually harassed Palmeri with explicit accusations of jealousy.
One of Palmeri’s editors reportedly informed the White House about Ducklo’s remarks, prompting conversations with senior-level officials including then-Press Secretary Jen Psaki and senior advisor Anita Dunn. Vanity Fair reported that White House officials criticized Palmeri for disclosing Ducklo’s remarks because it was an off-the-record conversation.
The incident occurred on Inauguration Day, the same day that Biden promised while swearing in appointees that disrespectful behavior was a fireable offense.
“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 if, ands, or buts. Everybody — everybody is entitled to be treated with decency and dignity,” said Biden.
Yet, the White House only suspended Ducklo over the incident. Ducklo resigned a day after.
My statement on resigning from the White House. pic.twitter.com/3Jpiiv75vB
— TJ Ducklo (@TDucklo) February 14, 2021
Ducklo’s stint in the West Wing lasted all of two months. However, Ducklo wasn’t left without a job for long. The renowned New York-based public relations firm, Risa Heller Communications, hired Ducklo as their senior vice president.
The firm’s founder and namesake, Risa Heller, has commandeered public discourse on major controversies for a number of high-profile clientele, including Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), former Democratic New York Governor David Paterson, former Rep. Anthony Weiner, Harvey Weinstein, longtime CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, and former CNN President Jeff Zucker.
New York Magazine’s Intelligencer characterized Heller as “the crisis communications warrior of choice for [New York City’s] most cancellable elites.” (The feature article also includes a lengthier list of her other noteworthy clients, which more recently includes the parents of fallen crypto magnate Sam Bankman-Fried).
After a year with Heller’s firm, Ducklo — a Nashville, Tennessee, native — was hired as a chief communications officer and senior advisor to Nashville Mayor John Cooper. Last December, Ducklo’s outspokenness incited controversy once again. In a since-deleted tweet, Ducklo mocked Metro City Council members who were upset over a deal with the Tennessee Titans.
“Tough night for the loudest voices in the room,” read Ducklo’s tweet.
— Councilman Russ Bradford aka Mr. ✈️ (@Bradford4D13) December 22, 2022
Despite the nature of his departure from the Biden administration, Ducklo serves as a familiar choice for Biden’s team: he served as the national press secretary for the 2020 campaign, then as the senior spokesman for the transition team. Dunn, who was one of the senior-level officials involved in conversations over Ducklo’s alleged behavior two years ago, defended Ducklo as a “valued friend in our community” in remarks to POLITICO last month.
Joining Ducklo on the communications side of the Biden campaign is the Democratic National Committee’s former national press secretary, Michael Tyler, who will serve as the communications director. Tyler has worked for Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), as well as a firm involved in Biden’s 2020 campaign and both of former President Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns.
Another addition to the Biden campaign communications team is recently-departed White House office of digital strategy director, Rob Flaherty, who AP News credited as the man behind recruiting celebrities and social media influencers like the “Ted Lasso” cast, Bennito Skinner, Olivia Rodrigo, and the Jonas Brothers for messaging. The Biden campaign disclosed that they plan to create an “influencer army” to secure the votes for a second term.
The Biden administration faced widespread criticism for hosting transgender influencer Rose Montoya, who posed topless alongside two other transgender influencers at the White House last weekend.
The White House’s assistant press secretary, Kevin Munoz, also departed the administration recently to join the campaign as a spokesman.