USA Today panned for 'fact checking' viral photo of Jen Psaki wearing hammer and sickle hat: 'missing context'

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USA Today was mocked on social media over a so-called "fact check" after an unflattering photograph of President-elect Joe Biden's press secretary pick went viral. 

Jen Psaki, an Obama administration alum, was one of several women who were named to head the White House communications team recently announced by the Biden-Harris transition. Psaki is set to take over the podium in the White House briefing room. 

However, following the announcement of Psaki's hire, a 2014 image resurfaced featuring her posing with her then-boss, former Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova during her tenure as a State Department spokesperson. 

Psaki is seen wearing a pink shapka, or fur hat, that bears the communist hammer-and-sickle logo as part of a gift exchange between herself and her Russian counterpart Zakharova.

The hammer and sickle has come to represent communist movements around the world. It also was featured on the flag of the former Soviet Union. It has also become a symbol of economic and political repression that occurs under communist regimes.

U.S. State Department/Flickr

The photograph sparked mockery on social media as critics poked fun at the Russian collusion narrative that plagued much of the Trump presidency that jokingly would carry over into the Biden administration. 

On Tuesday, USA Today released a "fact check" that weighed in on the viral image. 

"The claim: A photo shows Jen Psaki wearing a hammer and sickle hat while posing with officials from Russia," USA Today wrote before reporting that Psaki did not end up keeping the hat according to a source familiar with the gift exchange. "Our ruling: Missing context."

The "fact check" explained, "The image is real, but claims that the hat was anything more a gift or that Psaki was with Russian officials in any capacity beyond her official role are MISSING CONTEXT."

Regardless, the newspaper's "fact check" was panned by critics on the right.

"Why are you [fact] checking this? No one’s making a claim just showing her wearing a commie hat… [THAT'S] A FACT!!!" Donald Trump Jr. exclaimed. "If the media stopped running cover for Democrats as their primary mission maybe they have some credibility left."

"This is not a fact-check. You're fact-checking a photo saying it 'needs context.' That's honestly Orwellian," Matt Whitlock of the National Republican Senatorial Committee told USA Today's fact checker Camille Caldera. 

"What context makes wearing communist symbolism in a photo — while representing the US — acceptable?" Daily Caller associate editor Virginia Kruta asked. 

"Missing context?! Sorry, this IS inexcusable. Not to sound harsh here, but if you abhor Nazism and Nazi symbols, you ought to equally abhor the communist hammer & sickle. Pleading ignorance here is unacceptable. But I'm just a kid of immigrants who fled the USSR…What do I know," Townhall.com writer Gabriella Hoffman tweeted.

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In a tweet sent out Tuesday evening, Psaki appeared to allude to the viral controversy, but suggested that it was "Russian propaganda."

"For anyone who hasn't been the target of Russian propaganda (cc: @MCFaul @HillaryClinton) 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," Psaki wrote. 

Fox News' Sam Dorman contributed to this report. 

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