President Biden and his press department have sought to strike a new tone with the correspondents who endured years of hostility while covering the previous administration.
That effort was undercut last month when a deputy White House press secretary, T.J. Ducklo, threatened a Politico journalist who was reporting on his close personal relationship with a reporter who had covered Mr. Biden. On Friday, after Mr. Ducklo’s threat came to light, the White House announced that it had suspended him for a week without pay.
In a Jan. 20 phone call, Mr. Ducklo told the reporter, Tara Palmeri, a writer of Politico’s Playbook newsletter, that he would “destroy” her after she made inquiries about his romantic relationship with Alexi McCammond, an Axios reporter.
Ms. Palmeri was asking about the relationship because it coincided with Mr. Ducklo’s time as Mr. Biden’s press secretary during the presidential campaign and the transition period between Election Day and the inauguration. Axios reassigned Ms. McCammond after she told her bosses about the relationship in November, taking her away from coverage of Mr. Biden and putting her on a beat that includes Vice President Kamala Harris.
Mr. Ducklo’s threats against Ms. Palmeri were reported earlier on Friday by Vanity Fair and confirmed by two people with knowledge of the phone call.
On Monday, Politico informed the White House that it would run an item in Playbook the next day on the relationship. That night, People magazine beat Politico to the story, publishing a feel-good article headlined “Reporter Forgoes Covering President as Romance Blossoms With Biden Aide Battling Cancer.” (Mr. Ducklo has been receiving treatment for lung cancer.)
Politico’s item appeared Tuesday morning, under the headline “Open Secret.” It chided Axios for allowing a reporter to continue covering the White House while dating a member of the administration.
The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said in a statement on Friday that Mr. Ducklo “will no longer be assigned to work with any reporters at Politico” after his suspension.
“T.J. Ducklo has apologized to the reporter, with whom he had a heated conversation about his personal life,” Ms. Psaki said in a statement. “He is the first to acknowledge this is not the standard of behavior set out by the president. In addition to his initial apology, he has sent the reporter a personal note expressing his profound regret.”
Politico’s editor in chief, Matt Kaminski, and its editor, Carrie Budoff Brown, said in a statement on Friday that they had raised concerns about the threatening remarks with the White House soon after the phone call.
“No journalist at Politico — or any other publication or network — should ever be subjected to such unfounded personal attacks while doing their job,” the statement said.
In remarks shortly before the swearing-in ceremony for members of his administration last month, Mr. Biden said he would not hesitate to fire staff who behaved in a disrespectful manner.
“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,” Mr. Biden warned. “No ifs, ands or buts. Everybody is entitled to be treated with decency and dignity. That’s been missing in a big way the last four years.”
At a White House briefing on Friday, Ms. Psaki defended the decision to suspend rather than fire Mr. Ducklo, even as she called his behavior “completely unacceptable.” She did not explain why he was not suspended until Vanity Fair reported on the exchange.