Texts reveal AP reporter passed on the tip but was fired anyway

Was AP reporter fired over wrongful reporting of Russia missile strike on Poland a scapegoat? Texts reveal that James LaPorta passed on the tip – but said decision to run it ‘above my pay grade’

  • The correspondence occurred on Slack hours before AP filed the alert Tuesday
  •  James LaPorta reported a ‘senior US official’ said the missile was Russian 
  • The Associated Press retracted the story the following day 
  • LaPorta, 35, was fired Monday after he ‘violated’ their standards, they said 
  • The Slack messages obtained by global news platform Semafor paint a different picture, and suggest the reporter was not responsible for the erroneous report

The Associated Press’ firing of a reporter over a false story about a missile strike in Poland last week has come into question, as leaked messages reveal the journalist deferred judgement on the piece to higher-ups but was canned anyway.

The correspondence transpired on Slack Tuesday, minutes before the outlet filed a news alert that that ‘a senior US intelligence official’ said ‘Russian missiles crossed into NATO member Poland.’ 

The attack, the report from the wire service noted, left two dead. 

Almost immediately, fears of an escalation of tensions between the US and Russia became widespread, as the world took the story as true without questioning its contents.

But within hours – after countless cable news networks and outlets had picked up the news – national security officials would dismiss the report was false, forcing the AP to retract the piece a day later. 

On Monday, the outlet fired James LaPorta, the national security reporter who received the tip that set the story in motion. The tip, the wire service said, came from a single source who turned out to be incorrect.

LaPorta’s firing was reported that day by the Daily Beast, and then confirmed by the Washington Post. Both publications quoted AP sources that put the blame solely on the 35-year-old journalist. 

However, the slack messages obtained by global news platform Semafor tell a completely different story – rife with miscommunications, internal confusion, and a lack of a clear procedure to vet the tip’s accuracy before publishing.

AP has not disciplined any of its other staffers for the blunder, which has brought the credibility of one of the most reliable news services into question – and has left an award-winning journalist and father out of a job.

The Associated Press fired veteran reporter James LaPorta (pictured) after they were forced to retract his story about Russian missiles landing in Poland. Leaked internal messages reveal the journalist deferred judgement on the piece to higher-ups but was fired anyway

The Associated Press fired veteran reporter James LaPorta (pictured) after they were forced to retract his story about Russian missiles landing in Poland. Leaked internal messages reveal the journalist deferred judgement on the piece to higher-ups but was fired anyway

The correspondence transpired on Slack Tuesday, minutes before the outlet filed a news alert that that Russian missiles crossed into NATO member Poland. In the messages, Laporta - who was not on the clock at the time and had been at a doctor's appointment - seemingly deferred judgment to his editors, writing: 'That call is above my pay grade'

The correspondence transpired on Slack Tuesday, minutes before the outlet filed a news alert that that Russian missiles crossed into NATO member Poland. In the messages, Laporta – who was not on the clock at the time and had been at a doctor’s appointment – seemingly deferred judgment to his editors, writing: ‘That call is above my pay grade’

On Tuesday afternoon at 1:32 pm ET, LaPorta – who has bylines across several publications including PBS, Newsweek, and The Daily Beast – approached his editors in an internal Slack channel with the erroneous tip.

Writing to the several senior staffers, Laporta said that he’d been notified by ‘a senior US intelligence source’ that Russian missiles had crossed into Moldova and Poland.

LaPorta, protecting the insider’s identity, described the tipster as a political ‘official (vetted by Ron Nixon),’ referring to AP’s VP of news and investigations. 

Despite this assertion, people involved with the matter said Nixon was not aware of that tip or that story, even though he had used that specific source in the past.

However, in this particular instance, LaPorta’s initial message did not claim that Nixon had vetted the source – but within minutes, his words were interpreted by editors that that had been the case.

One of those editors, Lisa Leff of the outlet’s European desk, promptly asked if they could send out an alert containing the tip’s contents, or if they would need to wait for further confirmation from another source. 

The AP’s typical rule, the outlet has since said amid fallout over the reporting, is that it ‘routinely seeks and requires more than one source when sourcing is anonymous.’

The reporter, protecting hs anonymous source's identity, described the tipster as a political official vetted by AP's VP of news and investigations Ron Nixon (pictured)

The reporter, protecting hs anonymous source’s identity, described the tipster as a political official vetted by AP’s VP of news and investigations Ron Nixon (pictured)

In response, Laporta – who was not on the clock at the time and had been at a doctor’s appointment – simply wrote: ‘That call is above my pay grade.’

When Leff asked if LaPorta could write the story, he notified her of his previous obligation.

‘I’m actually at a doctor’s appointment,’ he wrote, adding, ‘What I passed along is all I know at the moment.’

Despite this deferral, Deputy European news editor Zeina Karam would decide to publish the alert at 1:41 pm ET – less than ten minutes after LaPorta’s initial message.

Insiders familiar with the matter said that, at the time, Karam and her fellow editors believed that Nixon had vetted the source, with one source telling the The Beast that LaPorta left ‘the impression that the story’s sourcing had been approved.’

The leaked messages, meanwhile, seem to contradict those claims, as they provide no indication that Laporta suggested to his team that the tip had gone through the proper channels.

LaPorta's initial message did not claim that Nixon had vetted the source - but within minutes, his words were interpreted by editors that that had been the case

LaPorta’s initial message did not claim that Nixon had vetted the source – but within minutes, his words were interpreted by editors that that had been the case

The story promptly caused panic across the world that NATO and much of the Western world would be dragged into Putin’s war against Ukraine – but it ultimately proved to be false.

The newswire report, sent to countless publications across several countries, read: ‘A senior U.S. intelligence official says Russian missiles crossed into NATO member Poland, killing two people.’ 

The piece, originally co-bylined with reporter John Leicester – who still works at the AP – attributed the information to Laporta single ‘senior U.S. intelligence official’ source.

One of those editors, Lisa Leff (pictured), promptly asked if they could send out an alert containing the tip's contents, or if they would need to wait for further confirmation from another source. In response, Laporta wrote: 'That call is above my pay grade'

One of those editors, Lisa Leff (pictured), promptly asked if they could send out an alert containing the tip’s contents, or if they would need to wait for further confirmation from another source. In response, Laporta wrote: ‘That call is above my pay grade’

Within hours, as millions grappled with the prospect of a potential World War III, NATO officials shot down the outlet’s claims as false, revealing that the missiles, while Russian-made, were fired by Ukrainian air defense.

More than likely, the initial tip may have been a true accounting of what senior officials mistakenly discerned immediately after the explosion – however, the source’s claim was ultimately proven wrong.

AP would proceed to take down the story, replacing it with an editor’s note admitting the 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.’

The wayward missile launch, officials said, was likely the result of a misfire, leading it to strike a farm in the small village of Przewodow, killing two civillians.

LaPorta was then suspended on Thursday morning, insiders said, and fired on Monday after brass conducted an internal review on the incident. 

When asked for comment regarding his dismissal, the award-winning investigative journalist said that he would ‘love to,’ but that he had ‘been ordered by AP not to.’ 

Despite this deferral, Deputy European news editor Zeina Karam would decide to publish the alert at 1:41 pm ET - less than ten minutes after LaPorta’s initial message

Despite this deferral, Deputy European news editor Zeina Karam would decide to publish the alert at 1:41 pm ET – less than ten minutes after LaPorta’s initial message 

The was no indication from the chat logs, which cover a span of less than ten minutes before the agency decided to publish, 

AP has since said that it does not anticipate disciplining the editors for the report, despite there being no indication from the chat logs – which cover a span of less than ten minutes before the tip was published – that staffers sought a second source.

In a statement Monday, spokesperson Lauren Easton alluded that Laporta’s firing was not solely due to the missile mix-up, suggesting that the incident was indicative of previous behavior from Laporta.

‘When our standards are violated, we must take the steps necessary to protect the integrity of the news report,’ Easton said. ‘We do not make these decisions lightly, nor are they based on isolated incidents.’ 

The AP staffer would not clarify what those incidents were. She added that despite already firing Laporta, the agency is still investigating the situation.

‘The story did not meet our standards. We continue to look into every aspect of what happened,’ she added. 

Officials have since said that the wayward missile launch  was likely the result of a misfire by Ukrainian forces, leading it to strike a farm in the small village of Przewodow, killing two locals. Crew members are pictured in a crater next to an overturned vehicle after the explosion

Officials have since said that the wayward missile launch  was likely the result of a misfire by Ukrainian forces, leading it to strike a farm in the small village of Przewodow, killing two locals. Crew members are pictured in a crater next to an overturned vehicle after the explosion

A chunk of metal is pictured lying in the dirt after the explosion. The Polish president said the missile appears to be 'Russian-made'

A chunk of metal is pictured lying in the dirt after the explosion. The Polish president said the missile appears to be ‘Russian-made’

Polish investigators work at the site where a missile hit a tractor carrying grain on Tuesday afternoon, killing two farm workers

Polish investigators work at the site where a missile hit a tractor carrying grain on Tuesday afternoon, killing two farm workers

Russian officials, meanwhile, have been left outraged over the erroneous report, accusing the West of engaging in a blatant propaganda effort.

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who is deputy head of the country’s security council, wrote in a tweet Monday after AP pulled the report:  ‘The incident with the Ukrainian-alleged ‘missile strike’ on a Polish farm proves just one thing: waging a hybrid war against Russia.’

The official then charged: ‘The West moves closer to the world war.’ 

AP sources, meanwhile, have said the do not believe that the initial tip was deliberate misinformation. 

LaPorta, 35, who previously served in the Marines before moving to journalism, has bylines across several other publications including PBS, Newsweek, and The Daily Beast. He was the only one fired in relation to the false report, which is still being investigated

LaPorta, 35, who previously served in the Marines before moving to journalism, has bylines across several other publications including PBS, Newsweek, and The Daily Beast. He was the only one fired in relation to the false report, which is still being investigated

Amid the unrest, Polish President Andrzej Duda would also play down suspicions that Moscow was behind the missile, a long range S-300, insisting it was ‘highly probable’ that it had instead come from Kyiv‘s forces.     

Ukraine, on the other hand, has continued to claim Putin was behind the attack, and has yet to fully admit responsibility.

Last week, President Volodymyr Zelensky said he had ‘no doubt that it was not our missile’ based on military intelligence – remaining adamant Russia was responsible.

He also accused Ukraine’s Western allies of blocking his investigators from inspecting the crash site or being part of the probe into exactly what had happened. 

Kurt Volker, former US special envoy to Ukraine, appeared to throw his weight behind Zelensky saying Kyiv has ‘very sophisticated’ missile tracking systems and ‘knows what’s going on’. 

Though he did not specifically endorse Zelensky’s version of events, he called for Ukraine to be included in the missile probe.

‘The Ukrainians have very good data collection – they have good radars, they track every single missile, I’ve been to their headquarters where they do this,’ he told the Washington Examiner.

‘They know what’s going on. I’m sure the Poles do as well. I’m sure we do as well. So the Poles and Ukrainians need to sit down with their experts and look at their data… and come up with what they think actually happened.’

One European official told the same newspaper he was ‘puzzled’ by the different versions of events being put forward, pointing out that claims the missile was Ukrainian have ‘calmed down the situation’ for NATO, at least for now. 

LaPorta, who previously served in the Marines before moving to journalism, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. 

He did, however, post a tweet, in which he revealed he had received an outpouring of support from fellow journalists following his firing.

AP has not disciplined any of its other staffers for the blunder, which has brought the credibility of one of the most reliable news services into question - and has left a decorated journalist and father out of a job. Laporta, pictured here with his seven-year-old son, said he has since been barred by AP brass from speaking on the incident

AP has not disciplined any of its other staffers for the blunder, which has brought the credibility of one of the most reliable news services into question – and has left a decorated journalist and father out of a job. Laporta, pictured here with his seven-year-old son, said he has since been barred by AP brass from speaking on the incident

‘I’d like to thank the multitude of journalists, editors and long-time readers that have reached out to me with words of encouragement and kindness,’ LaPorta wrote. 

‘It sincerely means the world.’ 

Aside from firing LaPorta, AP has yet to take any further disciplinary action in relation to the incident. An investigation is still underway.

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