The Associated Press published a story claiming Russian missiles struck Poland after an editor decided that a single anonymous source was sufficient, newly published internal messages show.

Reporter James LaPorta said in a Slack chat room that he’d heard from a source, described as a senior American intelligence official, that “Russian missiles crossed into Poland.” LaPorta said his source had been vetted by Ron Nixon, an Associated Press vice president.

Lisa Leff, an editor, asked if the wire service could run with the narrative despite only having a single source.

“That call is above my pay grade,” LaPorta said.

Vanessa Gera, an Associated Press reporter, said that she supported sending out an alert, writing, “I can’t imagine a US intelligence official would be wrong on this.”

Leff asked Zeina Karam, another editor, what she thought. “Yes should be ok I see source vetted by @rnixon.”

“Sending alert, barring no objections,” Leff said.

The Associated Press was the first outlet to report that Russian missiles struck Poland on Nov. 15. The outlet later retracted the report after information emerged pointing to the missile actually being fired by Ukraine, and fired LaPorta, one of the reporters whose name was on the byline.

Semafor obtained and published the internal messages. The Associated Press did not dispute their authenticity.

LaPorta, Gera, and Nixon did not respond to requests for comment. Leff and Karam could not be reached.

In the immediate aftermath of the report being published, some officials floated the attack triggering obligations under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance.

LaPorta told colleagues: “Wonder if this triggers Article 5?”

Article 5 says that an attack against any one member of the alliance is considered an attack against all allies. The United States is part of the organization.

“My thoughts exactly,” another Associated Press employee wrote. Their name was redacted.

Anonymous Source Standards

News outlets deal with anonymous sources differently. At the Associated Press, the outlet says reporters can only cite anonymous sources if the material is information, rather than opinion or speculation, and is vital to the report.

The information must also be unavailable elsewhere and the source must be “reliable, and in a position to have direct knowledge of the information.”

The Associated Press says it requires more than one source when an anonymous source is utilized and that “stories should be held while attempts are made to reach additional sources for confirmation or elaboration.”

“In rare cases, one source will be sufficient–when material comes from an authoritative figure who provides information so detailed that there is no question of its accuracy,” the outlet’s source standards say.

“The rigorous editorial standards and practices of The Associated Press are critical to AP’s mission as an 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,” an Associated Press spokesperson told The Epoch Times via email. “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.”

Some media experts recommend outlets identify an anonymous source when the information that sources gave turns out to be incorrect. The Associated Press has not identified its source.

Ordered Not to Comment

After being fired, LaPorta Semafor said that he could not comment on the situation.

LaPorta said he “would love to comment on the record, but I have been ordered by the AP to not comment.”

LaPorta wrote on Twitter that he was receiving encouragement from writers and readers.

“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. It sincerely means the world,” he said.

While LaPorta said Nixon had vetted his source, Nixon later said he did not know that the source was being cited for the missile story, according to people who spoke to David Bauder, an Associated Press reporter.

The Associated Press has taken additional disciplinary action but declined to say against whom that action was taken. There have been no reports of any person besides LaPorta losing a job, including John Leicester, who was also listed on the byline.

According to Bauder, Leicester was not involved with the anonymously sourced material being placed into the story.

Julie Pace, a senior vice president at the outlet, told Bauder that the outlet is reviewing how the story was handled.

“Anytime that we have an error, and certainly an error of this magnitude, we have to stop,” Pace said. “We have to make sure we have the right policies when it comes to anonymous sources and reporting on sensitive information, and we need to make sure that our staff is trained properly and has a clear understanding how to implement these standards.”


Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news for The Epoch Times. He is based in Maryland.

You Might Like
Learn more about RevenueStripe...