Associated Press fires reporter over Russian missile story

Former Associated Press reporter Jim LaPorta appears in an undated social media image.
Former Associated Press reporter Jim LaPorta appears in an undated social media image. (Photo via Twitter, Graphic by The Desk)

The Associated Press fired one of its top investigative journalists on Monday after the newswire was forced to retract one of his stories that wrongly blamed Russia for an explosion in Poland.

Last week, AP journalist Jim LaPorta cited an unnamed U.S. government official who blamed the explosion in Poland on a missile that came from Russia. The story was widely reported by newspapers, websites, television and radio stations who picked up the AP’s reporting before U.S. and Polish officials confirmed the explosion was actually linked to Ukraine’s missile defense system.

The AP retracted its report last Wednesday, a rare occurrence for an international newswire that is widely relied upon by other news organizations.

LaPorta was dismissed for violating the AP’s rules for using anonymous sources. Those rules require journalists to obtain more than one source who can corroborate newsworthy information before it is published. The rules make an exception for information that originates from an “authoritative figure” who “provides information so detailed that there is no question of its accuracy.”

According to a copy of the LaPorta’s story, a “senior U.S. intelligence official” was the source for the AP’s information that the missile “crossed into NATO member Poland.” LaPorta later wrote that “a second person told the Associated Press that apparent Russian missiles struck a site in Poland,” though no other information was provided about that source’s relationship to the information.

A spokesperson for the AP did not dispute LaPorta’s firing, instead choosing to focus on its internal rules for newsgathering and reporting.

“The rigorous editorial standards and practices of the Associated Press are critical to AP’s mission as an independent news organization,” the spokesperson said. “To ensure our reporting is accurate, fair and fact-based, we abide by and enforce these standards, including around the use of anonymous sources.”

LaPorta did not respond to numerous requests from reporters for comment. On Monday, he tweeted an early birthday card created by his 7-year-old son, and “liked” several tweets wishing him a happy birthday.