Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov might punish U.S. journalists if State Department criticism of a Kremlin-backed media outlet continues, his spokeswoman said.
“I would like to focus on a shocking incident yesterday, when it was stated at a briefing at the U.S. Department of State that the State Department does not put RT television on a par with other respected media outlets,” Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday. “If our TV channel faces the same attitude in Washington once again, American journalists will have a special place set aside at the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson’s briefings.”
That threat was prompted by a testy exchange between State Department spokesman John Kirby and a reporter from Russia Today that pertained to the ongoing civil war in Syria. Kirby had cited “credible aid organizations” that Russia and Syrian dictator Bashar Assad recently attacked five hospitals and a mobile clinic. When the Russia Today reporter pressed for specifics, Kirby rebuffed the question.
“You work for Russia Today, right? Isn’t that your agency?” Kirby said. “Why shouldn’t you ask your government the same kinds of questions that you’re standing here asking me?”
Subscribe today to get intelligence and analysis on defense and national security issues in your Inbox each weekday morning from veteran journalists Jamie McIntyre and Jacqueline Klimas.
The reporter protested her treatment. “When I ask for specifics, it seems your response is ‘why are you here?'” she replied. “Well, you are leveling that accusation.”
Kirby denied that he was making an accusation against Russia. “Relief agencies that we find credible are leveling those accusations,” he said. “So why don’t you question them about their information and where they’re getting it? And why don’t you question your own defense ministry?”
American reporters defended Russia Today. “Please be careful about saying ‘your defense minister’ and things like that. I mean, she’s a journalist just like the rest of are,” another reporter interjected. “The questions that she’s asking are not out of line.”
Kirby didn’t complain about the question, but denied that the Russia Today reporter is a journalist “just like the rest” of the press corps. “[She’s] from a state-owned outlet that’s not independent,” he said. “I’m sorry, but I’m not going to put Russia Today on the same level with the rest of you who are representing independent media outlets.”