Obama's new communications director is Russian media's favorite punching bag

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  • Barack Obama
    Barack Obama
    44th president of the United States
  • Jen Psaki
    Jen Psaki
    American political advisor and White House press secretary
In this photo taken Feb. 16, 2011, Jen Psaki is seen in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. White House officials say State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki will become President Barack Obama's new communications director, filling a key slot as Obama embarks on the final two years of his presidency. She replaces veteran Democratic media strategist Jennifer Palmieri, who is leaving the White House to join Hillary Rodham Clinton's likely presidential campaign. Psaki will step into her new role on April 1. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
In this photo taken Feb. 16, 2011, Jen Psaki is seen in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. White House officials say State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki will become President Barack Obama's new communications director, filling a key slot as Obama embarks on the final two years of his presidency. She replaces veteran Democratic media strategist Jennifer Palmieri, who is leaving the White House to join Hillary Rodham Clinton's likely presidential campaign. Psaki will step into her new role on April 1. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Obama announced Thursday that State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki will be the next White House communications director. Though Psaki played lead communications roles in both of Obama’s presidential election campaigns and has served the administration as Secretary of State John Kerry’s spokesperson since 2013, the average American might not be familiar with her. In Russia, on the other hand, “Psaki” is a household name.

Or at least Russia’s pro-Kremlin media wants it to be.

Mashable pointed out Thursday that the incoming communications director has already inspired a new nightly program on Russia’s NTV. “Psaki at Night,” which premiered about a month ago, is kind of like the Russian version of “The Daily Show.” Except, since NTV is a pro-Kremlin network, instead of Russian politicians, host Mikhail Gendelev lambasts the envoys — Psaki in particular — of other Western countries.

This relatively obscure communications operative might seem like a random choice for the focus of an entire nightly TV show, but “Psaki at Night” is just the latest manifestation of the Russian media’s obsession with Psaki. Back in June, ABC News pointed out that any State Department spokesperson is traditionally mocked in Russia but that Psaki had become a particular favorite punch line of the Russian press. Her briefings on the escalating crisis in Ukraine prompted relentless ridicule.

Media outlets like the state-sponsored Russia Today latched onto Psaki’s slip-ups — real and imaginary — as evidence of the U.S.’s incompetence. Mean-spirited Psaki memes started popping up on Russian social media. A rumor that Psaki was being fired for her incompetence sparked the sarcastic #SavePsaki hashtag

Pro-Kremlin propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov declared “Psaking” to be the buzzword sweeping the nation and defined it as a phrase used “when someone makes a dogmatic statement about something they don’t understand, mixes up facts, and then doesn’t apologize.” Yet, as BuzzFeed noted at the time, the Psaki meme seemed to be more a media manifestation than a public phenomenon.

During a June press briefing, Psaki accused RT and others of who ridiculed her and spread rumors of her termination of being motivated by sexism. But in August, when Russian reporters and bloggers took to taunting her for wearing an orthopedic boot, Psaki seemed to have no choice but to shake it off.

“That’s a new form of creativity in terms of their efforts to misconstrue the facts on the ground,” Psaki said about Russian state media’s new fascination with her reparative footwear. “It’s a badge of honor.”

Hopefully she feels that way about "Psaki at Night," since she probably won't be spared any scorn in her new high-profile role.

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