PA fires reporter for misreporting Russian missile strike in Poland – Reuters

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Just over a week ago, the Associated Press published an exclusive article titled “BREAKING: Senior US intelligence official says Russian missiles entered NATO member Poland, killing two people”. The story was about a missile that exploded in the Polish countryside, killing two people. I posted about this story in A Russian cruise missile explodes in Poland and kills two; Polish government calls crisis meeting.

The missile turned out to be Russian, in that it was a Russian S-300 surface-to-air missile fired from a Ukrainian launch unit during a massive missile bombardment of Ukrainian cities .

The story was retracted and on Monday the Associated Press fired one of the signature reporters, Jim LaPorta. LaPorta is a former Marine who joined the AP in 2020. He covers military and national security topics. This was the statement from AP:

“The Associated Press’s rigorous editorial standards and practices are essential to AP’s mission as an independent news organization. To ensure that our reports are accurate, fair, and fact-based, we follow and enforce these standards, including the use of anonymous sources. When our standards are violated, we must take steps to protect the integrity of reporting. We do not make these decisions lightly, nor on the basis of isolated incidents.

The other reporter sharing a byline with LaPorta was John Leicester (who still works at the AP).

Two important things came out of the incident. First, it was obvious that virtually no one paying attention to Putin’s war in Ukraine had any idea what was needed to invoke the mutual defense provisions, called Article 5, of the North Atlantic Treaty. [SPOILER ALERT: there is no universe in which an erroneous, or even correct, AP report could prod NATO into action. This did NOT nearly start World War III.] The second was that calling PA processes chaotic would be an act of charity.

Here’s how it went according to screenshots of AP’s internal Slack chat.

Lisa Leff is an editor in the European office. The Ron Nixon they refer to is the Vice President of News, Investigations, Enterprise, and Grants and Partnerships. He most recently led AP’s global investigations team. Thus, the single, anonymous source of the story is known to Nixon.

Monika Scislowska and Vanessa Gera are AP journalists based in Warsaw. Zeina Karam (@zakram) is deputy editor of European news. Tom Berman is a US-based editor.

Daria Litvinova is an AP journalist based in Europe; from his signatures, I assume Warsaw.

And then we come to the penultimate act.

What we can see here is a cascade of errors.

The immediate cause is that the story was based on a single source. The source was a senior US intelligence official who had previously been used not only by the PA but also by a senior PA official. This gave the information a credibility it did not deserve. AP’s policy states that it “regularly seeks and requires more than one source when sourcing is anonymous.” There is a condition that allows single source when the “material comes from an authoritative person who provides information so detailed that there is no doubt as to its accuracy”. Sounds like a case from a reliable source who came out on his skis.

At one point, saying the source had been “verified” by a senior AP official was interpreted as the information in the story being verified.

There is no evidence that anyone questioned the factual basis of the story or that approval was granted above the level of Slack’s deputy editor.

Nine minutes passed from LaPorta filing the story until it was on the wire. I don’t know what the correct answer is, but for a story of this magnitude; it seems a bit more introspection was needed.

The obvious question we are left with is why LaPorta was fired. There were two journalists on the signature. Its editor accepted the source’s veracity, did not require a confirming source, and sounded the breaking news alert. Did he, as the AP spokesperson suggested, have a story to walk on the razor’s edge?

The Associated Press said the incident was part of a pattern of behavior. In a statement, spokeswoman Lauren Easton said the publication was continuing to review the incident. But she hinted that the decision to fire LaPorta was not based solely on last week’s story, although she did not specify what those incidents were.

“When our standards are violated, we must take the necessary steps to protect the integrity of reporting. We do not make these decisions lightly, or based on isolated incidents,” she said.

Or was he simply the most consumable person involved in the fiasco?

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