New Delhi: The Associated Press (AP) has fired its national security reporter James LaPorta over ‘false’ information about a missile strike in Poland last week that led to a widely circulated but inaccurate report blaming Russia for the incident.
An investigation into LaPorta’s actions, however, revealed miscommunication between the news agency’s editors and LaPorta that resulted in the report on 15 November. LaPorta was fired Monday.
The explosion in Przewodow, a Polish town near the border with Ukraine, on 15 November, was reported by the AP with a quote from an unnamed senior US intelligence official that said two individuals were killed when Russian missiles crossed into NATO member Poland. The AP report also said that Polish leaders were conducting an emergency meeting due to a “crisis scenario”.
The story led to fears of a significant escalation in tension between the US and Russia, and potentially turning Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine into a larger conflict.
How an editorial call lead to erroneous reporting
According to a report by the website Semafor, LaPorta had initially alerted his colleagues at AP — via instant messaging platform Slack — that a senior US intelligence source had informed him of Russian missiles crossing into Moldova and Poland.
LaPorta also said Ron Nixon, the publication’s vice president of news and investigations, vetted this source as “official”. However, Semafor’s report states, while that Nixon had previously authorised the use of this anonymous source, but “people involved” said he was unaware of the latest tip to LaPorta.
In the conversation on Slack, LaPorta also does not explicitly assert that Nixon had approved the source in the particular case, but his statements were construed by the editors to imply that he did.
Screenshots of the conversation also showed that Lisa Leff, an editor at the European desk in AP, inquired if they could send out a warning, or if confirmation from another source was required.
To this, LaPorta responded saying, “This is beyond my pay grade.”
When Leff asked LaPorta to compose the report, he informed the office Slack group that he was unavailable.
The agency, however, went ahead and sent an alert less than 10 minutes after LaPorta’s initial communication because Deputy European News Editor Zeina Karam believed that the source was validated by Nixon.
AP fired LaPorta after an investigation found that he violated the organisation’s regulations that require all sources be validated.
The article cited a single “senior U.S. intelligence official” as the source of the report, despite AP’s policy that it “routinely seeks and requires more than one source when sourcing is anonymous,” Daily Beast reported.