The Russia-Ukraine war has raged for months, with enormous casualties on both sides. It’s become a bloody slog in the mud as Russian forces, exposed as exceptionally ill-supplied and inept, have started to retreat from crucial territory within Ukraine. Its officer corps has been said to be devastated entirely, which will take decades to replenish. Yet, the world entered a brief period of panic when the Associated Press reported that Russia had fired missiles against Poland. Two people were killed in the village of Przewodów near the Polish-Ukrainian border on November 15. Yet, it turned out this was fake news.
The missile was not Russian but Ukrainian, fired by its air defense forces. The AP report cited one anonymous source, which—shocker—turned out to be wrong. The news organization fired the reporter who wrote the story, citing a failure to adhere to editorial standards regarding sourcing (via WaPo):
The Associated Press on Monday fired a national security reporter who had provided erroneous information about a missile strike in Poland last week that resulted in a widely circulated but inaccurate news alert and story suggesting Russia was responsible for the incident.
James LaPorta, 35, was terminated after a brief investigation, people at the news organization confirmed to The Washington Post.
The Nov. 15 explosion in Przewodow, a Polish village near the border with Ukraine, killed two people and triggered global anxieties. Hours later, the Associated Press issued a news alert stating that an unnamed “senior U.S. intelligence official says Russian missiles crossed into NATO member Poland, killing two people.”
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 over the border in Poland.
But the initial AP alert, 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 might have invoked a western military response under the treaty organization’s mutual self-defense provisions. Other news organizations quickly passed along the news.
A day later, AP replaced its story citing the unnamed U.S. official with a correction note. It said that its anonymous source was wrong and that “subsequent reporting showed that the missiles were Russian-made and most likely fired by Ukraine in defense against a Russian attack.”
As it turns out, printing stories that could push the world closer to nuclear World War III can be an offense worthy of termination.