False Russia report forces Associated Press to reconsider its standards

Last week, the Associated Press ran a news story claiming that Russia was responsible for a deadly missile attack on Poland, according to a senior US intelligence official. It would have been a serious escalation in the Russia-Ukraine conflict and, given Poland’s NATO membership, might have prompted the alliance to react militarily. However, the story, which the news organization relayed to thousands of others around the world, was a false alarm, as national security officials later said a single missile was fired by Ukrainian forces and went off course and toward a nearby one Polish village hit the border. AP acknowledged this in a correction the next day, replacing the original story.

But the fiasco didn’t end there. On Monday, AP fired James Laporta, the reporter who provided anonymously sourced material for the story that turned out to be false. The disciplinary action was first reported by the Daily Beast, which noted that the information was attributed to a single source, despite AP’s policy that it “routinely seeks and requires more than one source when sourcing is anonymous” unless, the “material comes from an authoritative person who provides information so detailed that its accuracy is beyond question.” A later report in the Washington Post offered more insight, revealing that LaPorta had told its editors that a senior executive had already verified the source of his tip, “leaving the impression that the story’s provenance had been approved.” But that was a misunderstanding; while the relevant senior manager Ron NixonsAP’s Vice President of News and Investigations, who has approved of the source’s use in the past, was reportedly unaware of this particular tip and story by Nixon.

That wasn’t the only internal mixup contributing to the bug, as evidenced by screenshots of Slack messages reported by Semafor Tuesday night Max Tani. Before Semafors report, the postalso reported that there was a “misunderstanding during the preparation of the erroneous report,” but the screenshots, timestamps and all posted by Semafor offer a fuller look at the 10-minute mess that led to AP’s massive error. A minute after LaPorta informed the editors about the tip he received, Lisa Lef, an editor at the European Desk, asked whether additional confirmation of the notice was required before an alert would be issued. “This call is above my pay grade,” LaPorta replies. another editor, Vanessa Gera, chimes in to say that she would “vote” to issue a news alert, adding, “I can’t imagine a US intelligence official going wrong on that score.” Leff then asks LaPorta, if he’s able to craft an urgent story, to which LaPorta replies, “I’m actually at a doctor’s appointment. What I’ve passed on is all I know at the moment,” he says. Another editor chimes in to say that it “should be fine” if the source was verified by Nixon, misinterpreting LaPorta’s earlier message.

On Wednesday, AP spokesman Lauren Easton said that “the story did not meet our standards,” adding, “When our standards are violated, we must take the necessary steps to protect the integrity of the news report.” We do not make these decisions lightly, nor do we base them on individual cases.” The firing of LaPorta, a former US Marine and longtime freelance reporter who joined the AP in April 2020, met many journalists how rashunless unfounded. As it turns out, LaPorta was actually suspended last Thursday and officially fired Monday after an AP review, according to Semafor. “But the fact that a story that could theoretically have sparked an armed conflict between NATO and Russia took less than 10 minutes, an anonymous source, and just over a dozen Slack messages for the news outlet to publish is suggestive a systemic editorial failure, not a reporter’s error,” Tani wrote. On Tuesday, LaPorta told Semafor he “would like to comment, but I’ve been instructed by AP not to comment.”

The AP’s own report on LaPorta’s firing suggested that LaPorta isn’t the only employee facing consequences David Bauder reports that “according to the company, other disciplinary actions have been taken, which did not provide details as of Tuesday afternoon.” It appears AP is also addressing this as the kind of “systemic editorial failure” Tani described: According to Bauder, the agency is reviewing its standards on using anonymous sources in light of what the editor-in-chief is Julia Pace called a “monstrous” error. “Anytime we have a mistake, and certainly a mistake of that magnitude, we have to stop,” Pace said. “We need to make sure we have the right policies in place when it comes to anonymous sources and reporting of sensitive information, and we need to make sure our employees are properly trained and have a clear understanding of how to implement these standards.”

https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2022/11/false-russia-report-forces-the-associated-press-to-reflect-on-its-standards False Russia report forces Associated Press to reconsider its standards

Charles Jones

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