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Tipsheet

Looks Like There's Much More Blame in AP's Botched 'Russian' Missile Story

Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

The Associated Press fired one of the reporters involved in the story the wire service sent out, detailing a U.S. intelligence official blamed a Russian missile landing in Poland, killing two, but internal messages obtained by Semafor reveal the editors played a big role in publishing the false story.

The story triggered a lot of worry as if it was in fact a Russian missile exploding in Poland with fatalities, it could have sparked World War III since Poland is a NATO member. The AP fired James LaPorta, a Marine Corps veteran, for the significant mistake but the Slack messages reveal he did not write up the actual story since he was at a doctor's appointment and was simply passing along what a source had told him. Because of the brevity in the Slack messages, there was a critical miscommunication: 

On Tuesday afternoon at 1:32 PM ET, LaPorta wrote in an internal Slack channel that he’d been told by a senior US intelligence source that Russian missiles crossed into Moldova and Poland. LaPorta described the source as an “official (vetted by Ron Nixon),” referring to the publication’s VP of news and investigations.

But while Nixon had approved the use of that specific anonymous source in the past, people involved said, Nixon was not aware of that tip or that story. LaPorta did not exactly claim that Nixon had approved the source in this case, but his words were interpreted by the editors to mean that he did.

Lisa Leff, an editor on the European desk, immediately asked if the wire service could send an AP alert, or if they would need confirmation from another source.

LaPorta responded to Leff's question with, “That call is above my pay grade." Deputy European news editor Zeina Karam was the one who decided to publish the seemingly huge scoop because she thought Nixon had vetted the source. The AP said LaPorta violated company policy by using only one unnamed source but the messages show the editors he contacted played a much larger role in sending it out so quickly.

One correspondent, Vanessa Gera, went as far as to write, "I can’t imagine a US intelligence official would be wrong about this."

The explosion was actually caused by a Ukrainian air defense missile, not a Russian strike.

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