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Associated Press reporter fired over false story about Russian attack


The Associated Press on Monday fired a national security reporter who provided false information last week about a missile strike in Poland that resulted in a widely circulated but inaccurate news alert and a story suggesting Russia was responsible for the incident.

James LaPorta, 35, was fired after a brief investigation, people at the news organization confirmed to The Washington Post.

The November 15 explosion in Przewodow, a Polish village near the border with Ukraine, killed two people and sparked global unrest. Hours later, the Associated Press issued a news alert saying an unnamed “senior US intelligence official says Russian missiles entered NATO member Poland, killing two.”

That information was apparently incorrect. Officials in Poland and the European Union later said they believed a single missile fired by Ukrainian forces had gone off course and landed across the border in Poland.

But the first AP warning, sent to thousands of news outlets around the world, suggested a dire new escalation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Poland is a NATO member and a Russian attack on its territory could have provoked a Western military response under the treaty organization’s mutual self-defense provisions. Other news organizations quickly passed on the news.

A day later, the AP replaced its story citing the unnamed US official with a correction note. It said its anonymous source was wrong and that “subsequent reporting showed that the missiles were Russian-made and were most likely fired by Ukraine in defense against a Russian attack.”

Earlier: How an anonymous source raised false alarms about the Russian attack on Poland

LaPorta’s firing was first reported Monday night by the Daily Beast.

LaPorta declined to comment. A former U.S. Marine who served in Afghanistan, joined the AP in April 2020 after working as a freelance reporter for several years. He covered military affairs and national security issues for the news service.

Associated Press officials declined to identify LaPorta as the source of the warning. In a statement, AP spokesperson Lauren Easton said: “The Associated Press’s rigorous editorial standards and practices are critical to AP’s mission as an independent news organization. To ensure our reporting is accurate, fair and fact-based, we adhere to and enforce these standards, including with respect to the use of anonymous sources. When our standards are violated, we must take appropriate steps to protect the integrity of the news report. We do not make these decisions lightly, nor are we based on isolated incidents.”

Internal AP communications viewed by The Post show some confusion and misunderstanding during the preparation of the erroneous report.

LaPorta shared the tip from the US official in an electronic message around 1:30 p.m. Eastern time. An editor immediately asked if AP should issue a warning about his tip, “or do we need confirmation from another source and/or Poland?”

After further discussion, a second editor said she “would vote” to publish a warning, adding, “I can’t imagine any US intelligence official would be wrong on this one.”

But a person at the Associated Press familiar with the bigger conversations surrounding the story that day said LaPorta had also told its editors that a senior manager had already vetted the source of LaPorta’s tip — creating the impression that the source of the story was approved. Although that editor had signed previous stories using LaPorta’s source, that editor hadn’t interfered with the rocket story.

Easton said the organization did not expect discipline for the editors involved.

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