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State Department Spokeswoman's Promotion Means End To 'Psaking' In Russia


President Obama announced his pick for the next White House communications director yesterday. It's the current State Department spokesperson, Jen Psaki. She's not exactly a household name here in the U.S. She's probably much better known in Russia. The state-controlled media in Russia have mocked her as a symbol of what they say is an ignorant and arrogant American foreign-policy. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Moscow.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: As the voice of the State Department, Jen Psaki frequently criticizes Russian involvement in Ukraine, and that makes her a target of Russia's state-run media. Russian TV channels dug out every misstep the spokeswoman made, such as the time she denounced a form of vote fraud known as carousel voting that was reported during an independence referendum in eastern Ukraine. Carousel voting is when groups of voters are driven around to various polling places so they can cast multiple ballots. But a reporter's question revealed that Psaki herself didn't know what the expression meant.


JEN PSAKI: You know, the truth is I was reading that. I'm not familiar with that term either. It may be that people weren't checking in. I'll check and see what our team meant.

FLINTOFF: The mocking references to Psaki started last spring, but they accelerated in June, after pro-Kremlin TV personality Dmitry Kiselyov told his audience that the spokeswoman's mistakes had given rise to a new Internet buzzword that he called Psaking. He defined it as when someone makes a dogmatic statement about something they don't understand, mixes facts up and then doesn't apologize. Kiselyov is the head of Russia's international news agency, so his words carry a lot of weight with Russian broadcasters. Psaki defended herself at a press briefing.


PSAKI: There are efforts by the Kremlin and the propaganda machine to discredit a range of officials including, recently, myself, as silly as that is, because the United States supports a strong, democratic Ukraine. So if I get dinged a bit for that, I will take it as a badge of honor.

FLINTOFF: But Psaki continued to be the butt of Russian media jokes, culminating in a comedy segment on a nightly news and entertainment program.


FLINTOFF: It's on NTV, a privately owned, but pro-Kremlin channel.


MIKHAIL GENDELEV: (Speaking Russian).

FLINTOFF: Actor Mikhail Gendelev hosts the segment called Psaki For The Night, the implication being that you'll get your nightly dose of jokes about the spokeswoman or America in general.


GENDELEV: (Speaking Russian).

FLINTOFF: "Jen Psaki," he says, gesturing at a portrait of the red-haired spokeswoman that hangs behind his desk, "here she is. For the whole month, we've been running our program with this name on our lips, and now we've learned that she's leaving the State Department, that she's abandoning us."

In her new role as White House communications director, Psaki won't be as visible as she has been at the State Department, and that may be a loss for Kremlin comedy. On the other hand, it's not clear that the Kremlin's efforts to make Psaki into a symbol of U.S. incompetence have gained any traction with the average Russian viewer. Psaki For The Night played a little joke on itself by sending a reporter out on the street to ask Russians whether they recognized the name of the show.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Speaking Russian).

FLINTOFF: The answers were a mixed bag. One said - coffee in bed? Another offered - exercises to help you sleep, an American pop diva. Only two people knew that it was a TV show. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.