The Russia connectionA New White House Spokeswoman, An Old Photo, And A Message About Russian Propaganda

By Mike Eckel

Published 4 December 2020

Six years ago, Jen Psaki, who was the face of the U.S. State Department, was subjected to constant trolling on the Russian-language Internet, not to mention derision from the state-controlled satellite channel that used to be known as Russia Today. Psaki is to become the White House spokeswoman when Joe Biden is formally inaugurated as president on January 20, 2021. “For anyone who hasn’t been the target of Russian propaganda,” Psaki wrote in a tweet, “the purpose is to discredit powerful messengers and to spread misinformation to confuse the public. Anyone who repeats it is (unwitting or not) simply a puppet of the propaganda machine.”

Six years ago, the woman who was the face of the U.S. State Department was subjected to constant trolling on the Russian-language Internet, not to mention derision from the state-controlled satellite channel that used to be known as Russia Today.

Fast forward to December 2020, seven weeks before Jen Psaki is to become the White House spokeswoman when Joe Biden is formally inaugurated as president on January 20, 2021.

tweet Psaki posted on December 2 appears to be an early marker about how she intends to conduct the job, and how the Biden administration may treat what it considers propaganda from the Kremlin — as well as those it thinks are furthering it.

And a brouhaha that preceded the tweet, and may have prompted it, added a twist as Psaki prepares for a second round of interactions with Moscow that seems likely to be tense at best.

“For anyone who hasn’t been the target of Russian propaganda,” Psaki wrote, “the purpose is to discredit powerful messengers and to spread misinformation to confuse the public. Anyone who repeats it is (unwitting or not) simply a puppet of the propaganda machine.”

The tweet hints at her own experience as a target of trolls. And she referred to two other figures, also from the administration of Barack Obama, who faced mocking and more from Russian officials and Kremlin-linked media. One was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who charged that Russian propaganda undermined her 2016 presidential bid.

The other was Michael McFaul, who served as U.S. ambassador to Moscow in 2012-14, arriving as then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was preparing to return to the presidency.

Aside from references to Clinton and McFaul, Psaki did not mention any specific alleged Russian disinformation in the tweet or provide any other explanation as to what prompted it.

A question sent by e-mail to the Biden transition team was not immediately answered.

However, it came about a day after a tweet was posted by a spokesman for U.S. President Donald Trump that included a photograph that subsequently circulated in social media and some media outlets.

“Soldiers of the Information War”
The photo, taken in Paris in January 2014, showed Psaki standing, smiling with her then-boss, Secretary of State John Kerry, alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Psaki’s counterpart at the time.

The diplomats were in the French capital for talks over the ongoing war in Syria.

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