A 10-minute Slack exchange led to one of the biggest Associated Press reporting snafus in recent memory, according to a Semafor report.
Last week, after two Polish citizens were killed by a projectile in eastern Poland, The Associated Press sent out a global alert that blamed Russia, potentially sparking an international crisis. He said: “A senior US intelligence official said Russian missiles entered NATO-member Poland, killing two people.”
If the alert was accurate, it would have meant that Russia attacked a NATO member, which could have triggered a military response from the transatlantic alliance, which includes the United States. According to article 5 of the treaty of the alliance, an attack against a member must be considered. an attack on all. The report was repeated by other news outlets and caused international consternation.
The AP alert went beyond what the Polish government and the US government were confirming, and some open-source military analysts also questioned whether the projectile came from Russia, citing photos of the aftermath and noting that the damage could be caused by Ukrainian air defense missiles. .
The next day, Poland confirmed that the projectile was a Ukrainian air defense missile that “unfortunately” fell on Polish territory, and the AP withdrew its report. The Daily Beast reported on Monday that the AP fired the reporter who spouted the misguided advice.
Semafor posted a Slack exchange on Tuesday that showed the company’s internal communications leading up to the failed alert.
According to the report, James LaPorta, a national security reporter, sent a message to Slack that read, “From a senior US intelligence official (verified by Ron Nixon) yes, Russian missiles have entered Poland. At least two people are dead according to initial reports. Also, missiles entered Moldova – no casualties so far (edited). “
A colleague said: Can we alert from this or would we need confirmation from another source and/or from Poland? »
LaPorta replied, “This call is above my pay grade.”
Several publishers have weighed in favor of sending an alert. LaPorta said he couldn’t write the alert because he was at a doctor’s appointment, adding, “What I’m going through is all I know at this time.” Someone else created the alert and sent it. LaPorta would tweet the alert.
Semafor reported: “…the loose messages on which the incident unfolded tell a different story, of honest mistakes, internal confusion and a lack of clear process that led to disaster for the one of the few news organizations whose presence on Twitter is an authoritative account of world affairs.
Those involved told Semafor that Nixon, an editor, had previously endorsed this specific anonymous source in the past, but was unaware of the particular trick or story, and that LaPorta editors took his words “approved by Ron Nixon” to mean he did.
The AP had to pull the story and issue a rare correction, saying, “Later reports showed the missiles were Russian-made and most likely fired by Ukraine to defend against a Russian attack.”
LaPorta was first suspended and then fired after a review by the press office.
He told Semafor he “would love to comment, but AP ordered me not to comment.”
Semafor said the exchange revealed a “systemic editorial failure”:
The Associated Press sends alerts to its hundreds of news partners around the world at lightning speed and updates stories continuously as they change. But the fact that a story that theoretically could have sparked an armed conflict between NATO and Russia took less than ten minutes, an anonymous source and just over a dozen Slack messages for the news service to publish suggests a systemic editorial failure, not that of a journalist. blunder.
The AP, however, said the confusion stemmed from the fact that LaPorta added that his source had been verified by Nixon, which is a violation of the organization’s policies, since anonymous sources must be verified every time.
An AP spokesman told the Washington Post they hadn’t planned to discipline editors for the snafu.
The AP told Semafor the incident was “part of a pattern of behavior.”
AP spokeswoman Lauren Easton said the AP was continuing to review the incident, but suggested the decision to fire LaPorta was not based solely on last week’s story. , but did not specify what the incidents were.
“When our standards are violated, we must take steps to protect the integrity of reporting. We do not make these decisions lightly, or based on isolated incidents,” Easton told Semafor. story did not meet our standards. We continue to review all aspects of what happened.
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