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.”
LaPorta’s firing was first reported Monday evening by the Daily Beast.
LaPorta declined to comment. A former U.S. Marine who served in Afghanistan, he joined AP in April 2020 after several years as a freelance reporter. He covered military affairs and national security issues for the news service.
Officials at the Associated Press declined to identify LaPorta as the source of the alert. In a statement, AP spokesperson Lauren Easton said, “The rigorous editorial standards and practices of the Associated Press are critical to AP’s mission as independent news organization. To ensure our reporting is accurate, fair and fact-based, we abide by and enforce these standards, including around the use of anonymous sources. When our standards are violated, we must take the steps necessary to protect the integrity of the news report. We do not make these decisions lightly, nor are they based on isolated incidents.”
Internal AP communications viewed by The Post show some confusion and misunderstanding during the preparations of the erroneous report.
LaPorta shared the U.S. official’s tip in an electronic message around 1:30 p.m. Eastern time. An editor immediately asked if AP should issue an alert on his tip, “or would we need confirmation from another source and/or Poland?”
After further discussion, a second editor said she “would vote” for publishing an alert, adding, “I can’t imagine a U.S. intelligence official would be wrong on this.”
But a person at the Associated Press familiar with the larger conversations surrounding the story that day said LaPorta also told his editors that a senior manager had already vetted the source of LaPorta’s tip — leaving the impression that the story’s sourcing had been approved. While that editor had signed off on previous stories using LaPorta’s source, that editor had not weighed in on the missile story.
Easton said the organization did not anticipate any discipline for the editors involved.