Associated Press’ internal messages show what led to retracted missile story that got reporter fired

Leaked internal reports from the Associated Press show that the reporter was fired for filing the false story that Russian-fired missiles entering Poland may have been a scapegoat for mistakes made by the paper’s editors.

AP’s security reporter James LaPorta wrote the story on Nov. 15 that Russian missiles were fired at Poland, killing two people. The news organization retracted the story the next day when it came to light that Ukraine had probably fired the anti-missile missiles during the Russian bombing.

LaPorta was fired Monday, but reports of the incident between him and his editors on AP’s internal Slack channel, obtained by Semafor, cast doubt on who is responsible for publishing the bogus story.

LaPorta sent a Slack message to AP European Desk Editor Lisa Leff on Nov. 15, saying the report came from a U.S. source vetted by AP vice president of news and research Ron Nixon.

“From a senior intelligence official (vetted by Ron Nixon) yes, Russian missiles crossed into Poland. At least two dead from initial reports,” LaPorta wrote.

James LaPorta quoted only one anonymous source in the piece, who was found to have provided false information.

“Can we raise the alarm from there or do we need confirmation from another source and/or Poland?” Leff replied.

“That call is above my pay grade,” LaPorta replied.

“Yes, it should be fine, I see the source has been vetted by @rnixon,” AP deputy European news editor Zeina Karam agreed via Slack.

Aerial photo taken on November 17, 2022 shows the site where a rocket attack on November 15, 2022 killed two men in the village of Przewodow in eastern Poland, near the border with war-torn Ukraine.
Aerial photo shows the site where a rocket attack killed two men on Nov. 15, 2022, in the village of Przewodow in eastern Poland, near the border with war-torn Ukraine.
AFP via Getty Images

Within 10 minutes of LaPorta’s initial message, the AP issued a warning about the Russian missile strike.

However, according to Semafor, Nixon never saw the tip attributed to the intelligence officer.

“While Nixon had approved the use of that particular anonymous source in the past, those involved said, Nixon was not aware of that tip or story,” the online publication wrote. “LaPorta didn’t exactly claim that Nixon approved the source in this case, but his words were interpreted by the editors as if he did.”

Police search for pieces of the missile near the explosion site in Przewodow, Poland, on Nov. 17, 2022.
Police are looking for pieces of the rocket near the explosion site in Przewodow, Poland.
The Washington Post via Getty Im

The AP did not comment on the leaked messages.

A spokesperson told The Post on Wednesday that LaPorta was fired because “the story didn’t meet our standards. We continue to investigate every aspect of what happened.”

“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,” the representative added.

The AP released a report Tuesday noting that “other disciplinary action has been taken” than LaPorta’s firing.

The AP fired reporter James LaPorta after the story was deemed false.
The AP fired reporter James LaPorta after the story was deemed false.
Getty Images

“The AP is reviewing all aspects of the story and the way it was handled and how the material made it to the wire,” said Julie Pace, AP’s senior vice president and executive editor.

LaPorta had been with the AP since 2020 after stints at Newsweek, PBS “Frontline,” and the Daily Beast.

“I’d love to comment on the record, but I’ve ordered from the AP not to comment,” he said after being fired.

He too Posted on Twitter: “I would like to thank the many journalists, editors and loyal readers who have approached me with words of encouragement and kindness. It truly means the world.

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