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AP fired reporter after dangerous blunder – Slack chats reveal chaotic process (semafor.com)
202 points by danso 10 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 169 comments

>I can’t imagine a US intelligence official would be wrong on this

Has this AP reporter been asleep for … their entire career? Charitably, I can interpret this as the reporter thinking they wouldn’t make up something about a potential Article 5 event, but - and maybe it’s my cynicism about this war - wouldn’t that mean you’d want to guarantee that what you’re saying is super precise? “Russian missiles hit Poland” vs “Russian missiles fired by Ukraine hit Poland” obviously mean very different things.

Doesn’t look like LaPorta did anything wrong here, necessarily, and this looks like an editorial problem to me.

Who say things like “American missiles fired by Ukraine?” It would only make sense to say that if US troops on the ground hosted by Ukraine fired the missiles.

It’s stupid. No one says Chinese AK-47s fired by Ukrainian soldiers.

Someone was playing stupid.

If you pay attention, you’ll realize media often use ambiguous titles that are technically correct, in a sense, but which most of their audience will interpret in a different and wrong way that fits their agenda. It’s really common when it comes to reporting on geopolitical rivals. Usually not this blatant, though.

Btw, there are a lot of reporting on how Russia uses Chinese drones, often without mentioning Ukraine uses the very same (consumer) drones.

While I very much agree w/ your points -- the Chinese drones in Russia is a little different. Because of sanctions against Russia (and not Ukraine), the source of their drones is very meaningful. I.e. If the majority of their usable munitions are from China, and the US can pressure China into stopping that, they can stop the flow of munitions to Russia in a meaningful sense. Given that's a key part of the strategy I think reporting on where Russia's sourcing its drones is extremely relevant, while generally irrelevant when the context is Ukrainian usage.

Exactly! "new reports reveal rifts in organization XYZ" or "findings reveal increasingly erratic actions by CEO" or "(something) sends (company) into tailspin"

I've seen it referred to as "exonerative tense" mostly in reference to how e.g. the New York Times will refer to incidents of police shooting and killing citizens.

Likely what happened is that all the source knew what that missiles had hit Poland, and they were (made in) Russia. From that point, things will have been lost in translation, ignored (not necessarily maliciously) in the rush or augmented due to unconscious biases.

It's certainly an editorial problem if this kind of information is not being double and triple-checked for confirmation and precision.

Headlines like "US bombs dropped on bus full of children" are somewhat common in stories about the war in Yemen.

But those were sold with the expectation to be used by Saudi Arabia for that purpose.

Exactly. And the planes that dropped those bombs could only perform their sorties because they were refueled midair by US pilots.

And if we're going down this road, the targets were often provided by US intelligence. Still, Saudi's did the bombing so our hands are squeaky clean.

Yes, thank you for bringing that up! Although rather than “often,” I would say “almost exclusively provided by US intelligence.”

>> Someone was playing stupid.

Welcome to the real world. Even if the intelligence offical was being scrupulously careful to lay out the facts the reporter may mishear or misunderstand the context. The only thing that would have been known immediately was that the missile was manufactured in the soviet union. The offical thinks he is telling the reporter one thing but the reporter just hears 'russian missile' and runs with it because he believes it comes from a verified source.

The Slack chat is pretty clear that the AP reporters here are just jumping to conclusions that fit their preconceptions. The reporters are breathlessly invoking article 5 as if a stray missile hitting a polish farm would rise to the level of a deliberate act of war.

Are you saying that LaPorta, a Marine so he’s probably more likely to be familiar with these weapons systems than other non-military veteran journos, is playing stupid in the thread about the manufacturing origins of those missiles?

The origin, both manufacturing and who fired them, seems pretty relevant in this war because both sides are using a lot of the same weapons systems.

The missiles aren't even Russian made. They're Soviet made, and there's a fair chance they were even made in Ukraine at least partly. Yes, someone is playing dumb here.

It’s way more relevant WHO fired them from where than who manufactured them.

> Are you saying that LaPorta, a Marine so he’s probably more likely to be familiar with these weapons systems than other non-military veteran journos…

Isn’t this assumption of knowledge/authority pretty much the same sort of appeal to validity that this quote from the Slack thread fell into?

“I can’t imagine a US intelligence official would be wrong on this”

I am saying often in an effort to push a narrative or POV or get the scoop, journos may overlook inconvenient facts or appeal to an authority that perhaps they shouldn’t…since that authority may have an ulterior motive.

The gravity of the allegations required hyper-responsible journalism that did not happen here…this was a rush to get a scoop. This wasn’t a message board post that effectively had a small audience where assumptions of a rumor’s validity had essentially zero real world impact. This has the chance to create mass death.

> The origin, both manufacturing and who fired them, seems pretty relevant in this war because both sides are using a lot of the same weapons systems.

That, logically, make the manufacturer less relevant, bordering on irrelevant.

> Who say things like “American missiles fired by Ukraine?”

Russia-aligned internet commenters seem to say things like that a lot. I think it's part of their cope; Russia couldn't be struggling against Ukrainians... no... they're struggling against Ukrainians with American weapons! I guess this is gentler on their egos.

I mean… that is the truth though.

Without the full force of US Intelligence and more money sent to Ukraine this year than any year of the Iraq/Afghanistan war… yes, Ukraine would have folded months ago.

This is very clearly a proxy war.

I'm not sure it is a proxy war, as the Ukrainian government is not being instigated by the US. Granted I'm not v. familiar w/ Ukrainian politics but if the Ukrainian leadership is democratically elected, and the population is generally against Russian leaders taking over the country (this part seems likely), it is much closer to an alliance no? In the same way the US supplied Russia with materials in WWII -- while clearly of a much different scale and impact -- it would seem awkward and inaccurate to claim the Nazi's were fighting the US when they were invading Russia.

> I'm not sure it is a proxy war, as the Ukrainian government is not being instigated by the US.

Ukraine military spending is ~$6b/yr [0] and so far this year the US has sent ~$57b of "aid" to Ukraine [1], of which ~$27b is military.

The total US commitment dwarfs the contribution from all other countries [2] and it appears there is a request for another ~$38b [3] of which ~$21b is military spending.

So while one could claim that the US is not instigating Ukraine govt to war, it's clear that the US is funding a greater part of the military activities by providing equipment for the war to the tune of at least (to date) 4-5x Ukraine's normal military spending each year.

[0]. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1293277/ukraine-military... [1]. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1303432/total-bilateral-... [2]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_foreign_aid_to_Ukraine... [3]. https://www.defensenews.com/congress/budget/2022/11/15/white...

Even the intelligence community's own PR materials wouldn't put forward such a claim.

Saying something like "can’t imagine a US intelligence official would be wrong on this" in the first place shows a misunderstanding of what the point of such "intelligence" is: collecting (often-dubious) information as quickly as possible to enable probabilistic (but sometimes wrong) assessments for decision-making.

Nobody with the sort of fundamental lack of judgement shown by Gera belongs anywhere near an editorial chain of command.

You can always retract your statements and pieces, most of the time the evidence isn't as glaring and it just goes unnoticed. I firmly believe prioritizing shock value in journalism is dangerous and without brakes it'll keep getting worse, and some will absolutely, inevitably pay for it because misinformed people acted in some unpredictable way. Especially in such a propagandized conflict.

Speaking of US officials, or from any country at all, they don't really care about evidence. It's political games that news media feeds with like vultures, sometimes.

>It was an attention-grabbing assertion that made headlines around the world: U.S. officials said they had indications suggesting Russia might be preparing to use chemical agents in Ukraine.

>President Joe Biden later said it publicly. But three U.S. officials told NBC News this week there is no evidence Russia has brought any chemical weapons near Ukraine. They said the U.S. released the information to deter Russia from using the banned munitions.

from https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/national-security/us-using-...

It seems like the actual story here is entirely ignored:

Why are a bunch of journalists concerned with how fast they can send out a push notification?? is the world that creates that incentive healthy? What can we do to remove the incentive that led to people having this kind of a discussion on a slack channel while one dude is at a doctors appointment?

This seems like an utter failure of the editorial process in this case. Also the English language (and parentheticals) are hard!

Entire careers can be made by being first on the spot or first to report - this has been the case as long a journalism has been a thing.

And journalists fight over that - it’s going to be hard to countermand as long as we want “news” and not “olds”.

The news publishing business has a tremendous amount of unhealthy incentives. Rather few good ones, really.

On the plus side, we now live in a time where more such internals come to light (at least in Western democracies with free press) and news consumers can make their own informed choices which sources they read and trust. I've personally come to view AP more critical over the past years long before the rocket story. Their quality has gotten worse and they've become slightly political which a news agency should never be, their job is to report what happens in a neutral manner. Not that they're the only ones, it seems to be a general trend that media outlets increasingly feel they need to tell people what to think.

Anyway they definitely messed up big time with that rocket story but if the chats are to be believed it seems like an honest mistake. I agree with you that this isn't how things should be done but in practice there's always been pressure to break stories as fast as possible. It's just the way the industry works and I'd at least partly blame this on the readers as well. People should prioritize quality and truth over speed but that's not how it works. Social media needs its news and it needs it now. If you wait hours or even a day until the situation is clear, at that point the discussions have already moved on.

I saw an AP article recently that was obviously biased. The word choice the omissions on a topic I know a lot about. I did a double take on it.

Turns out the author is an AP journalist, but works for CNN and has a long history of misrepresenting and omitting the facts about this topic.

I agree AP is on the down slope.

The answer isn't to hope others do the right thing or try to find ways to force them to, it is to learn to deal with them not doing the right thing. People should learn (or be taught) to distrust journalists, "experts", politicians, corporations, police, courts, government agencies, celebrities, and anybody who would try to influence our opinion or exert power over us.

Fortunately many people have recently been inoculated with a very healthy distrust of corporate media, so most people I know were pretty sure this story was hogwash from the beginning.

Teaching people to distrust experts is what got us COVID. Do not recommend.

I don't think so. That sounds like typical disinformation spread by journalists and authoritarians.

Well, if it were true, it would be important to get the story out as quickly as they could while doing the necessary diligence, right? Timeliness is important in the news, if NATO were going to war with Russia I'd want to know as soon as possible. The problem is that they didn't do any further diligence.

I think this may be a case of attributing malice to incompetence.

Scoop: "a piece of news published by a newspaper or broadcast by a television or radio station in advance of its rivals. The word scoop is of American origin, first documented in 1874. As a verb, meaning to beat someone in reporting first, it is first recorded in 1884."

BREAKING NEWS. Thats how news works.

> What can we do to remove the incentive that led to people having this kind of a discussion on a slack channel while one dude is at a doctors appointment?

Delete the internet, then return to newspapers published once a day. Short of that, it's hopeless. With continuous 24/7 publishing, journalists race to beat each other.

Newspapers have had made very public blunders all the time, and have had extremely bad consequences already. Sure the internet has made it worse, but there would a difference in having comparatively localized consequences versus this, which would be technically WW3.

> which would be technically WW3.

I think it's important to remember that NATO isn't an unthinking machine that executes mechanistically. Supposing Russia had been responsible for those missiles, I sincerely doubt that would have been the start of WW3. Nobody really wants that outcome, so the humans in the loop would bend over backwards to find a way to prevent that. This might mean pretending to not notice the missile strikes, or asserting they were accidents. I think both Russia and NATO would prefer Russia admitting to an accident and paying out some reparations to a full blown WW3.

WW3 happens if there's really no other choice, as perceived by NATO and/or Russian leadership.

And Twitter is still beating them every single time.

No coincidence that so many journalists are twitter addicts.

Qoah so they really threw him under the bus. Crazy that the editorial staff didn't even pause when article 5 was brought up. It seems like something you might want to really be sure about, and ask more questions on who did it (not just making sure that missiles actually landed somewhere). Extremely careless

Surely the actual militaries (at least Poland and the US who would presumably be the primary decision makers) would have actual knowledge of what happened/what their confidence in that was. I believe they fairly quickly clarified that the missiles were not suspected to have come from Russia.

At any rate, if they were wrong too seeing the AP publish it citing their own intelligence as a source wouldn't have made them any more confident in their analysis.

They obviously wouldn't, but it could cause escalation. If Russia thought that NATO had its causis belli, it's a dangerous situation no matter what.

Again, you are right that it is not likely at all that any side would act on a mere report, but the stakes are so high that even a 1% chance of a misunderstanding is very dangerous.

> Crazy that the editorial staff didn't even pause when article 5 was brought up.

What I think would be crazy was if this news was real and some nobody journalists were sitting on this info based on those kind of considerations. I mean, these aren't the people I want making such decisions. Let them pass on the information they have as accurately as possible, and let an elected representative act on it.

We've had AWACS in the air watching the Ukrainian border round the clock since Feb. 24. That means anything bigger than a seagull has been tracked with pinpoint precision from launch to terminus. Particularly so for anything that could have been fired from Russian positions. Anyone with a brain would have known to wait for the official US government statement before making a call on this. Total negligence.

There’s still not been an “official call” on this either by Poland or the US. And Ukraine still insists they weren’t their missiles and insisting they have access to the investigation. It’s very peculiar.

My personal view. They were Russian missiles, but it was 100% an error. NATO doesn’t want to have to respond so they blame Ukraine, Ukraine will use this to negotiate more weapons and air defenses.

> LaPorta did not exactly claim that Nixon had approved the source in this case, but his words were interpreted by the editors to mean that he did.

I think that's a reasonable read. That's what I took away from it initially. He said an official source, which had been vetted, said a thing.

The fact that he didn't make it clear that this source had not been vetted for this particular report is negligent at best.

Yes, either very poor wording or deliberately trying to imply something that he knew wasn't actually the case while still having plausible deniability.

But he was vetted. It's this report that wasnt vetted. If Nixon's judgement was critical for this report then why didnt they confirm with Nixon?

I'm not saying there weren't other failures here, just that LaPorta was vague. On purpose or not, he was vague, and that began the cascading failure event.

One person commented specifically that the source was vetted (not the story). There was also another comment about how they couldn't believe a senior intelligence could be wrong ( so no reason to get a second source). This doesn't really make sense if the story was vetted by a senior editor. Also, why would a senior editor make any difference about the credibility of a story? Thats the reporters job. If the senior editor signed off on the story why then he would have immediately put the story out.

Either the source is wrong or LaPorta was confused about "Russian missile" i.e. was it Russian made or fired by the Russian Federation?

What's with the assertion that countries would go to war over a hasty AP report? Pretty sure military action would be taken based on the same primary sources that the AP was relying on, not just taking the AP's word for it...

Considering that Ukrainian leadership was tweeting that NATO needed to get involved after this story ran, despite the fact that they had to know where the missile originated is the real problem. They used this quickly ran story to literally try and rush WW3 instead of owning up to their mistakes.

Third time is a charm

A war between NATO and Russia right now would almost only happen by accident. Someone misinterprets something and escalates which causes the other side to escalate which feeds back, etc etc. So, escalating tensions is dangerous.

Russia likely sees the AP as a propaganda tool of the West, and as such treats it as semi-official.

(Democratic) countries go to war depending largely on public support.

If they think the population is going to quickly turn on them then they hesitate to commit themselves.

As soon as this report was published I saw Reddit froth at the mouth to invoke Article 5 and call up Schwarzenegger and Rambo to teach the evil commie-nazis that this time they’ve crossed the line.

I wouldn’t be surprised if 50% of them will never even hear this story was retracted and someone got fired over it.

Reddit isn’t real life, but yes; there’s a large group of people who grew up experiencing war as an enjoyable clip show on CNN or as “Soldier returns home to puppy after 2 years in Iraq” on YouTube, who wouldn’t mind at all getting into yet another “war”.

(Democratic) countries go to war entirely against public support

Wild that they would go to press even with a single intelligence source. We know the CIA has used journalists to spread lies in the past, why wouldn't they be doing it now?

For reference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UwerBZG83YM

I'm dumbfounded that something so serious (even mentioning Article 5) was rushed to publishing without at least a second source/more clarification. Really damages credibility of news reporting.

"This will make my career! ...what's that bright flash out the window?"

Honestly, a declaration of Article 5 would be one of the most significant events in the last 20 years and they really never gave it more thought than just being able to declare that they got a "scoop"

What credibility? They lost it years ago

reputation grows back if you never admit fault

Reputation takes a lot longer to get back, when the failure to admit your own fault finds you 100% at fault.

Seems if anyone were to be fired it would be the editor who decided to push send, not the reporter with the tip.

It's terrifying to know that this is the process for an alert like that going out. I agree with other commenters that this looks like an editorial mistake, but even if not-- a bad-actor journalist (or someone having compromised their Slack account) can get a headline like this on a major wire service in ~10 minutes!? What?!

I'm surprised but not surprised this all happens over slack and not via some more formal system aware of the rules around publishing a story.

Ron Nixon could click a button on a launch document saying "I vetted the source per the rules", and not rely on someone saying something vague about the fact that he had vetted the source for past uses.

Say what you will about the tech industry but most startups have better processes than this for a crisis situation. There’s a lot the conventional world could learn about the development of incident response ops in the tech world IMO.

I dunno about you but this chat had the same chaotic energy of every outage chat I've ever been in. Definitely some different consequences, but the "sending a push if there's no objections" sounds eerily like something I'd see when trying to mitigate a problem.

Let me get this right.

A Soviet-made (pre-USSR) S-300 was fired from within Ukraine to outside of her border.

S-300 was (presumably from Internet-source) manufactured within Ukraine (during Soviet days).

So we should really be looking into:

- how was it hooked up the S-300 fire and control to the Internet, securely or unsecurely.

- who wrote the S-300 software

- who fired the weapon ... arguably remotely.

Of course, I assume that fire and control has "Internet" option for maximum military flexibility.



It's very simple. They didn't add the word "allegedly" because they trusted the source. The reporter made it seem like the anonymous source was trustworthy and they trusted the reporter's claim on this. That missing word got the reporter fired.

There's not enough information here, and I also don't know how trustworthy it is.

One way the AP could handle this situation is to bring in an outside investigation panel of impeccable credentials.

Outside journalists could also investigate without approval (that's one of their capabilities), but access to information might be harder, and then there's the question of why AP isn't driving that.

This was a legit big screw up. I remember seeing the news alerts coming in thinking this could be the start of World War III.

It always scares me how easy it is to make assumptions that end up totally backfiring like this.

Frankly, this seems like an editorial mistake not a journalists mistake.

Unless he completely made up the information he received, or lied about the attribution in the internal slack chat, he should not have been fired for this. This was an editorial error.

In fact, the exact information he passed along was factually correct by one interpretation. The S-300 rockets were "Russian" in the sense that they were Russian manufacturing. They were not "Russian" in the sense that they were fired by Russian armed forces (to the best of our knowledge).

Really think the AP has tried to pin the blame on this one reporter incorrectly.

Do people often say when reporting on wars: Chinese AK-47s killed 20 civilians in Afghanistan, or do they say 10 Isis fighters fired AK-47s killing twenty civilians in Kabul?

Oh, Twenty American guided missiles killed Houthi fighters —but but they were fired by Saudi Arabian forces from Saudi Arabia. Or French Exocet missiles killed blah blah blah in blah blah blah (without further context?)

You want to know who in hell fired them not who the hell actually manufactured the damned armaments. WTF kind of idiotic reporting is that?

Now that you mention it though this should be stated every time. Certainly not instead of, but in addition yes.

It's academic yes, but in a murder investigation you want to know who had the gun and pulled the trigger not so much what make it was. For evidentiary purposes, yes, you want to know what exact gun it was and who manufactured it, but that's not at all the point of a murder trial. you want to know who the perp was.

War weapons are not really like murder weapons in this sense. If you want to stick with that metaphor, the country of manufacture here is more like the friend who bought the gun for the murderer. That sort of relationship is very relevant in a trial.

I don't recall reporters customarily mentioning the country of origin/manufacture of weaponry unless it was germane to the discussion.

When they report ISIS or Taliban killing people they might mention it was with AK-47s but they don't mention where they were manufactured. They may say things like The Taliban are buying AK-47s from China which they then issue to their members.

If this reporter wanted to be correct, they likely want to say Soviet missile fired by Ukraine, given the age of the missile fired, it was likely of vintage manufacture.

You will be surprised how many times in the news about those missiles they were specifically called Russian-made/produced.

Another funny fact that most likely it's USSR-made missile. I don't think Ukraine bought any arms from Russia, so everything they have is USSR-made they were an integral part of.

Given the vintage I expect they are Soviet missiles —though the actual factory of these unlike Anyonov were/are in the Moscow general area.

Some factories were in Ukraine, the factory even did some stuff for S-300 after USSR broke.


I get what you’re saying but also larger weapon systems often get referred to by their country of origin. Reason being is threat labeling/studying I think in the face of weapon sales. “Russian vs American artillery” gets eval’d a lot without referring to Russian and American soldiers, for example. “Iranian drones in Ukraine.” And so on. If the person quoted is from that background, easy to see this happening. It’s not a hard and fast rule but I don’t see as much justifiable outrage as you do.

Or an American Stinger missile shoots down an American Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/jul/25/afghanistan-ta...

> "In fact, the exact information he passed along was factually correct by one interpretation. The S-300 rockets were "Russian" in the sense that they were Russian manufacturing. They were not "Russian" in the sense that they were fired by Russian armed forces (to the best of our knowledge)."

I think if the reporter knew the missiles were fired by Ukrainian forces but manufactured by Russia, then he's ultimately responsible for communicating that in a clear way that isn't going to be misconstrued to mean something it doesn't.

In this case though I think it's more likely that his source told him something that wasn't true, and there was a misunderstanding about just how well-vetted the source was. Whether the reporter is responsible for that is less clear -- in that case it seems like calling it an editorial mistake rather than the reporter's mistake seems reasonable to me.

> I think if the reporter knew the missiles were fired by Ukrainian forces but manufactured by Russia, then he's ultimately responsible for…

I agree with this completely.

> In this case though I think it's more likely that his source told him something that wasn't true…

My point was that it could also been that the source told him something that was true, but the thing he understood it to mean was false.

So, source says “a Russian S-300 missile hit Ukraine” (where Russian was just intended to be a clarification about the manufacture of S-300), the journalist misunderstands as “a Russian launched missile hit Ukraine”, and writes the slack message.

Obviously, this is just a hypothetical, but it’s an example of why editorial should’ve waited until they had another source, and taken time to clarify/vet.

> In fact, the exact information he passed along was factually correct by one interpretation. The S-300 rockets were "Russian" in the sense that they were Russian manufacturing. They were not "Russian" in the sense that they were fired by Russian armed forces (to the best of our knowledge).

That's a fucking terrible interpretation. By that interpretation both sides of war in ukraine are russian coz UA happened to use some of russian equipment...

Actually no, it's not terrible, it's outright malicious

> By that interpretation both sides of war in ukraine are russian

Well, no, I made a pretty clear distinction about what context we were using "Russian" to refer to.

By that interpretation both sides of the war in Ukraine use Russian manufactured weapons. Which isn't a crazy thing to suggest, since it's manifestly true.

It seems very likely to me that the journalist meant "Russian-fired rocket". But is that what their source meant? I could easily see a conversation where a source said "Russian missile" referring to the type or manufacture of the missile, and the journalist misunderstood that as "Russian missile" referring to the army who fired it. Clearly, from the context of the slack conversation, this happened quickly without a lot of time to clear up the context.

So if a Boeing plane is shot down in Iran, it would make sense to say "Iranians shoot down American plane"? During the Iran/Iraq war would have made sense to say "American missiles hit American planes in Iraq"?

Would it make sense for the AP to report that? No, of course not.

Could it make sense for someone to communicate that idea? Sure, absolutely.

Does it make sense to say the sentence you wrote? It really depends on who is saying what, and in which context!

My main point was: this looks like it was a misunderstanding (which, unless the source was fabricated, or just lying to the journalist, it was). I was presenting a hypothetical context in which that misunderstanding could arise.

> it would make sense to say "Iranians shoot down American plane"?

If you had no idea who the plane belonged to, it wouldn't be very strange to say that it was an American-manufactured plane.

Not to mention all of the American munitions raining down all over the world.

That seems likely, but you still don't let the reporter off the hook. "Technically correct by one interpretation" isn't the standard for journalistic sourcing. He needed another source or more context (just an identification of these as AA missiles would have been enough to kill the story) and didn't get one.

It was a messup on a few different axes, but it's started with bad journalism.

Whether or not the guy was fired as a scapegoat or to cover up someone else's mistake is, heh, not something we have reportable sourcing for.

> He needed another source or more context (just an identification of these as AA missiles would have been enough to kill the story) and didn't get one.

Did you read the slack chat?

The journalist 100% does not need another source to inform his internal team of the initial story or the sourcing.

Did the journalist make the decision to publish? NO! They said that decision was above their pay grade. When people asked for clarifying information, they said they didn't have any.

That's why it was an editorial mistake.

Frankly, I simply don't see how you can conclude the journalist needed another source, given that it clearly it wasn't their decision to publish the article. That was an...editorial decision! Which is why I think the blame for publishing without enough information should go to...the editorial team

> . He needed another source or more context

To publish, maybe. He was at a doctors appointment, got a tip, and passed it to his boss. He didn't write the news alert. If they wanted more context, the other people on the chat should have found some.

That's not how I read the linked story? That particular Slack message happened to coincide with his doctor's appointment, but the article that printed had his byline on it. Surely he wrote it, or at the very least dictated it to an editor who put it in the system. No one publishes stories on the wire based on a two-message slack thread sent from the doctor's office!

Unfortunately, and unless AP releases something further in the way of explaining this, we don’t actually know if that’s what happened.

Their retraction note is very brief, and simply states the information was wrong.

Edit: pasting the entire message

> WARSAW, Poland (AP) — In earlier versions of a story published November 15, 2022, The Associated Press reported erroneously, based on information from a senior American intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity, that Russian missiles had crossed into Poland and killed two people. Subsequent reporting showed that the missiles were Russian-made and most likely fired by Ukraine in defense against a Russian attack.


That's exactly what it looks like happened, though!

He posts the received tip at 1:32, mentions his doctors appt at 1:38. Lisa says sending alert at 1:40.

What article with his byline? It looks like someone else wrote the news alert that's discussed in the linked article.

You can see the alert here[0], it does not have any byline. If you view the source of the page it has a "timestamp" like this:

<span class="Timestamp Component-root-0-2-39 Component-timestamp-0-2-38" data-key="timestamp" data-source="2022-11-15T18:41:15Z" title="2022-11-15 18:41:15 - Tue Nov 15 2022 13:41:15 GMT-0500 (Eastern Standard Time)">November 15, 2022</span>

which exactly corresponds to the 1:41pm "alert sent" message in the screenshotted Slack conversation. So they did indeed publish it based on this Slack thread.

[0] https://apnews.com/article/nato-ap-news-alert-europe-poland-...

> No one publishes stories on the wire based on a two-message slack thread sent from the doctor's office!

Seems like an optimistic assumption.

It started with commonplace entry level potential story journalism.

The reporter literally passed on a tip that missiles (alleged to be Russian type missiles) had landed in Poland (true).

He also passed on that this came from a previously vetted source (also true).

After this point the story was literally in the hands of the editorial staff.

Lisa: "Can we report from that or do we need confirmation from another source".

James: "That call is above my pay grade" + "I'm at a doctor's appointment".

Zeina says "source is vetted".

Newsflash sent. Then later retracted.

Laporta fired.

Just flabbergasting.

> just an identification of these as AA missiles would have been enough to kill the story

I understand why "Russia fires on Poland" is news.

Why is "Ukraine fires on Poland, blames Russia" not news?

Because there's no intentionality involved, and it's unlikely to escalate into a military conflict. "Ukraine fires an S-300 at a Russian missile but it misses and kills a couple people in Poland" is a tragic accident, probably newsworthy, but not in the same way as Russia or Ukraine deliberately launching missiles into Poland would.

I think Russia deserves most of the blame for this incident, since it wouldn't have happened if they weren't trying to destroy their neighbor.

Zelensky continuing to insist the missile that hit Poland was launched by Russia would be news I suppose. I think that's what he was saying early on, but I haven't been following the story; maybe he gave up on that once more information came out.

Probably because Ukraine didn't fire on Poland they fired on armament launched by Russia.

> Why is "Ukraine fires on Poland, blames Russia" not news?

Because that's not what happened? That's spin. In fact Ukraine jumped on this story only once the AP published it. It's popular to attribute this to Ukrainian propaganda in some circles, but (heh, again getting to the actual subject at hand) that's not something you can report unless you can find evidence.

All the facts we know point to the Ukrainian government being just as fooled by the AP story as we were.

Ukraine is still insisting that they didn't fire the missile. It's not an oversight or a misinterpretation.

And it’s not impossible to dream up a world where that kind of mistake would actually get Article 5 moving.

Ukraine should know not from AP whose missile it was, but they are still in denial, can you imagine?

Two main reasons

1) Article 5. If Poland is attacked NATO would have to use whatever force was needed to protect it. In Russia's case, that means war against a nuclear power. In Ukraine's case, it means telling them NATO'll stop delivering weapons and Ukraine can fight Russia alone unless they apologize. Even if there was a war with Ukraine, it's not a nuclear power and wouldn't last long against NATO.

2) It was an accident. Russia launching on Poland could have been intentional. Ukraine almost certainly did it by mistake. (BTW, Russia apologizing in an hour and paying reparations would likely also have had no long term effect). Since it was an accident Ukraine probably blamed Russia thinking it was Russia since they didn't think they had done it. And by "blamed" I mean, it was after the AP story brought it to light. So more like denied it was them. Fog of war and all.

> Russia launching on Poland could have been intentional.

If we assume that Russia is dying to give NATO an excuse to escalate, i.e. that they're insane and want to destroy the world.

If you replace "Russia" with "Putin" it's possible that he would rather end the world than lose in Ukraine. And it's possible that he would need to generate the escalation to justify ordering the ICBMs to fly, otherwise the commanders might decline.

There's a celebrity Putin created by propaganda who is a rabid foaming maniac, and there's the real Putin, who hasn't ever seemed particularly irrational, or even overly adventurous. There's also a war with Russia, a whole country, that a lot of people have sought to reduce to Putin, but as adults we don't have to pretend that Russia is an appendage to a single great man's will.

The real Putin isn't irrational, but he is fairly adventurous, launching wars for territory against smaller neighbors quite a bit (I think 5 times now.) But there is also the "Putin has terminal cancer" rumor, where he wants to reassemble Greater Russia or blow up the world trying, as he's running out of chances to shoot his shot.

> Why is "Ukraine fires on Poland, blames Russia" not news?

The same reason that a lot of people assumed that "Russia fires a single missile at Poland" was not an obvious, tragic accident from the get-go. Motivated thinking.

Not to sound like a wise-ass but by defintion there is no such thing as bad journalism. If you're doing "bad journalism" you're doing journalism at all.

Giving such credit (even with the disclaimer of bad) where credit is *no* due is why the "news media" has become so pathetic and Orwellian. It's sad to see a profession that doesn't even know its own definition and standards.

They can be clueless, that doesn't mean the rest of us have to be complicit.


>just an identification of these as AA missiles would have been enough to kill the story

Oh, you don't know the story how Ukraine constantly blames Russia for striking civilians by repurposed S-300 missiles!

I bet this is the reason they are still in denial about the Poland incident. Because it breaks the legend and points to the real cause: issues with the missiles they launched. Meanwhile there is a constant flow of videos where Ukraine's S-300 missiles fly into land.

Can anybody knowledgeable tell me why Ukraine would have old-ass Soviet missiles left? I would naïvely assume that old munitions would be long gone (aren't we like 8 months in?) and replaced with shiny US stuff.

Ukraine has captured a lot of Russian equipment during the recent Russian retreats.

I’ve even seen it claimed in the past few months that Russia was, at points, the number 1 supplier of Ukraine in terms of equipment due to how much they left behind. [1]

If you’re interested in this topic and have some time, I’d recommend https://youtu.be/sNLTE75B0Os

[1]: https://www.wsj.com/articles/ukraines-new-offensive-is-fuele...

While there are simple US weapons that have been provided (things like TOW missiles, M777 howitzers, etc.) and a small handful of complex ones (the famous HIMARS) many of the weapons provided have actually been of Soviet manufacture- since the Ukrainians already know how to take care of and use them, it is easier to give them Polish MiG-29's that the Ukrainian Air Force already can operate than to spend months training everyone on how to take care of a F-16. (Though in the end, I don't believe the Poles ended up giving any MiGs to the UAF, that was the central topic of negotiations for some time.)

The current signals (UKR having low artillery stocks and US and other NATO countries inability to provide more, with Russians stocks also apparently low) have reminded me of 1915 in the First Big Mistake, when everyone had used up their prewar stocks of artillery shells, and waited to bring the factories online to make vastly more of them- the build-up to the mega-deaths at Verdun and the Somme. Hopefully we won't see that level of death in this war.

The ammo makers have already increased production. There are many sources for 155mm shells. Nammo [1] BAE Systems.[2] Dezamet [3] General Dynamics [4]. Those are somewhat generic. The real shortages are in the fancier guided stuff. Most of which is decades-old technology and could be built today from common smartphone parts.

[1] https://www.nammo.com/product/our-products/ammunition/large-...

[2] https://www.baesystems.com/en/product/shell-155mm-how-he-l15

[3] https://dezamet.com.pl/155mm,26,en.html

[4] https://www.gd-ots.com/munitions/artillery/

RU didn’t really use its airforce to deplete UA’s AA missiles (S-300 can’t lock on low altitude cruise missile). Also because UA was a buffer between NATO and other Soviet territory it inherited a lot of AA missiles (thousands, maybe lower 10s of thousands).

The location might be a factor. Munitions that have been stockpiled in the western part of the country are likely not being expended at nearly the rate that they are in other parts.

This didn't occur to me at all. Makes a lot of sense.

Look at the globe. It was the main part of USSR defense against West offensive. The only country which had a comparable amount of defensive systems is Poland.

I wonder if either Soviet or US export arms include remote disable and/or Identification, friend or foe (IFF) systems preventing attacks on "friendly-to-exporter" targets.

I think that they want to get rid of their old stuff (and the best way to do that, is throw it at the Russians). Maybe those missiles were protecting something of a lower priority, than the "shiny" kit.

Also, the most important aspect of any enterprise, is the human. These folks trained for years, on Russian kit, and know it backwards and forwards.

I would assume that they had gotten rid of their old stuff 7 months ago.

It would have been highly unusual for the Ukrainian military to have depleted their entire anti-air arsenal in April, given that, at the time, they weren't receiving Western high-altitude anti-air systems. (Nor were they facing a persistent campaign by Russian warplanes deep behind the front line, since by that point the Russian air force had largely given up on straying deep into Ukraine.)

More likely this was akin to the WMD reports and Iraq. There's a conclusion and and information that supports it is fast tracked and not given due diligence. Then the retraction and correction is far more muted. This isn't a bug, it's a feature of modern media propaganda.

The WMD reports were obviously false at the time and the people peddling those lies clearly understood what they were doing. That wasn't a case of something being missed in the heat of the moment and discovered later - tens of millions of people took to the streets in protest and all of them were making it VERY clear that they knew the WMD story wasn't true right at the time it was first brought up.

The WMD story was clear, wilful duplicity and nothing more.

This is an absurd interpretation.

I wonder in how far this might be related to Elon Musk's post


This just lets him blast the media and deflect from criticisms, while fully avoiding the fact that he and his companies have made very large errors in the past too, granted nobody sane is looking at him for news of world affairs.

Generally this is the standard playbook. “Look my <hand waived definition of enemy> is fallible once, so must always be fallible when criticizing me , but they’re trustworthy when it’s good stuff”

This isn’t to excuse the AP. They really messed up, but Elon hamming it up is his usual disingenuous self.

Completely unrelated? Happened on a different day

I have doubts about whether a source who has supplied misinformation should continue to be given anonymity. Is this unfashionable?

Seems that maybe should a case arise where a government official lies in a way that is consistent with getting the public to support military action, they are not a "source" and deserve no protection whatsoever. They should go from feeding the false story to being the true story in short order. Is that nuts? What am I missing? These kinds of liars will avoid speaking to your publication in the future and that's a bad thing? Something more?

You're not nuts, but the side-effects of this would destroy the sourcing for all other news.

Imagine you work at $INTEL_AGENCY, and you truly believe that a missile was fired from Russia. That info came across your desk from two separate analysts or trusted sources or whatever. You leak this to a reporter. Then it turns out that your info was wrong and the reporter outs you as the source.

Will anyone ever be a source under these circumstances? Even if they're acting in good faith? No. Not worth he risk of destroying your career or even your freedom.

If I'm a reporter, I will put this name in my own "Brady" list of untrustworthy sources, but I won't make all future sources wary of me by outing them.

At what point is it no longer tenable to say it was an honest mistake? What did the source have to gain from leaking the story? How do you avoid being used by some other source to plant a false story in the future? How do you avoid this source picking someone else to plant their next one?

Is there really no way to balance "destroy all sourcing for other news" with "not be a patsy for WMD style propaganda?"

Like eating the goose that lays golden eggs. Why be the source to a news org if they can suddenly turn on you and make you the news?

The idea is that they do that if you manipulate them into printing a lie. Think Weapons of Mass Destruction here. Or "Putin is paying bounties to kill Americans in Afghanistan." Something that is clearly both false and fabricated for the effect it will have on the public to smooth the way for something (maybe something noble even, doesn't matter) politically by heading off public opinion.

You should be terrified of doing that if that's what you're doing. Seems like right now those pushing such lies have nothing whatsoever at stake. There is no reckoning at all when it comes out.

Is that the way it should be?

Interesting that the only man in the entire conversation is the one fired while all the rest are women.

> But while Nixon had approved the use of that specific anonymous source in the past, people involved said, Nixon was not aware of that tip or that story. LaPorta did not exactly claim that Nixon had approved the source in this case, but his words were interpreted by the editors to mean that he did.

As other commenters have suggested, this seems like an editorial failure in the rush to say "FIRST!" and severely damages the AP's reputation even with their retraction and response.

I hate to imply that this isn't the first time, since I don't have the resources or time machines to back myself up, but I don't think this is the first time AP (or Reuters) has done this. Just maybe the most visible and recent.

At risk of flame baiting, I am curious whether this retraction and correction will be taken into account when discussing the veracity of speeches given by former/potentially future political figures; per CNN:

> Missile landing in Poland > > Trump claimed Tuesday that a missile that was “sent in probably by Russia” landed 50 miles into Poland. “People are going absolutely wild and crazy and they’re not happy,” Trump said from Mar-a-Lago. > > Facts First: This claim is false. While Poland said a Russian-made missile did land in their territory Tuesday, killing two Polish citizens, the explosion happened about four miles west from the Ukrainian border. > > Additionally, it remains unclear where the missile was fired from, and why it fell in Poland.

At the time, like many of us, Trump relied on the AP's reporting of the facts. Will he be blamed for "lying" long after? My guess is yes.

Was the story false? Because Polish government sources also strongly suggested it was Russian until a meeting with Biden, where they backpedelled hard...

As of right now, the Polish investigation is ongoing and it's never actually been confirmed that it's a Ukrainian missile. But the story's been buried.

So was the AP source not vetted and did the journalist screw up or did officials change the narrative for political reasons?

The US has not said anything more definitive than it was "probably" a Ukrainian missile...

As for the reporter being fired, feels like a scapegoating...

Unfortunately, we the people might not know the real truth for years.

We have to acknowledge that there is a very real incentive for NATO to spike an attribution of Russian military missile on NATO in order to prevent escalation by popular demand.

High level military officials and select diplomats will be the ones with first hand info and the ability to decide the geopolitical move on what is sent to the news.

Ukraine shot down a Russian airliner in 2001 during joint exercises because of a crappy S-200. It happens.

Which has nothing to do with this incident.

Jesus. The quality of discussion in that thread ranks right up there with Reddit.

These are the people who are writing world-changing news everyday.

And the worst part is they even mention "Will this trigger article 5?". So they know just how big the implications of the story are but decide to run it because "US intelligence [via unnamed source] can't be wrong!".

And these are the same organizations that rail again "disinformation".

The source needs to be outed!

The morons almost caused WW3.

A cursory glance (which ironically is probably what created this dangerous misinformation) suggests to me that news agency haste to be first to announce something was the primary factor in this miscommunication.

I now wonder if pre-internet news was as prone to these kind of mistakes since it took so much longer to publish news (thereby giving sources more time to confirm things).

Actually the fact that it took longer to publish and distribute the paper, but it still had to be in everyone’s driveway before work, produced a major time crunch for publishers.

In 1948, for example, the Chicago Tribune assumed Truman would lose the election and published it as fact on the front page in order to make their print deadline.


There's at least some truth to that. There was still a lot of time pressure over whether the presses should roll or not. But it wasn't a continuous process that strongly rewarded publishing this very second.

For a filmic example of the process of holding presses and then going with the story. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBXuyRXNIHE&t=1s

The people in that Slack thread, except for the reporter James LaPorta, exhibited an incredible amount of willful ignorance that bordered on stupidity. The original statement was vague and did not name a source. It held the pretense of a source by saying an unnamed senior American intelligence official was in some capacity vetted by Ron Nixon. It's not clear whether the person was vetted as an official, if his words were vetted as correct, or whether the official was vetted as having said those words.

Named officials, such as Presidents and Secretaries of State, get us into wars through misapplication of evidence and in some cases creation of evidence. These doomsday reporters and editors are nothing more than squabbling hacks, using third hand stories from second hand reporters that are then published by third party editors.

I was in shock when I read, "I can't imagine a US intelligence official would be wrong on this." This thread contained people who should all have been fired, except for the person who was fired. Either that or pay for them to attend remedial journalism school.

The road to hell is paved with good itentions, but your guides on that road are AP editors.

I feel your clear and general disdain for the press is coloring your interpretation of events here and the reality of editing and sourcing.

There was an editorial failure, certainly, but in a rapidly changing situation due to a misunderstanding of the evidence given by a vetted source (such sources are seldom named even internally). Don't forget five or six nations were "squabbling" over the origin and nature of these missiles for days afterwards. Russian missiles did hit Poland, but they were Russian-made, not Russian-launched. It's not hard to imagine how easily this message could be muddled somewhere between Lviv and New York.

The person saying US intel was unlikely to be wrong was not evincing a blind trust in government but expressing that a vetted source was unlikely to volunteer information of this nature, in this situation, that was inaccurate, given that Poland had essentially confirmed there was a crisis event unfolding.

It was not a third hand story (US intel official claimed direct knowledge), reporters are not second hand (they interpret, contextualize, and synthesize) and editors are not third party (they are an integral part of the news process).

News organizations are under immense pressure from every quarter. It is very easy to pick apart the process in retrospect and suggest they should have distrusted a trusted source or questioned the somewhat ambiguous wording of the message from the reporter. News, and reporting about war especially, is complex and messy - remember this all took place within 9 minutes.

That does not make these people "doomsday reporters," "hacks," or that they need to be fired and attend remedial journalism school. It was an honest mistake not unique to virtual newsrooms but exacerbated by them. They retracted the story when it was clear that the intel their source provided was mistaken, fired the reporter for, I would guess, failing to communicate and handle the news properly, and likely chastised the editors for erring too far on the side of shipping the news.

Sorry for this long comment, I just completely disagree with your assessment.

  It was not a third hand story (US intel official claimed direct knowledge),
  reporters are not second hand (they interpret, contextualize, and synthesize)
  and editors are not third party (they are an integral part of the news
It literally, according to the definition of third-hand, was a third-hand story. This isn't up for debate, as the term can be found in any dictionary.

Your parenthetical on the direct knowledge is wrong. Direct knowledge was not stated anywhere. That is your spin or second-hand version of what was written in the slack thread, which was at least second hand derivative of the missile strikes.

My mantra is that it’s always bad management. Insane that none of the managers or editors got fired here. What a mess!

> Either that or pay for them to attend remedial journalism school.

You're assuming that journalism school is teaching things that are preventing this from happening.

Excellent point. This is standard practice for Pentagon stenographers. Someone just got caught too far out on a limb on this occasion.

LaPorta's a fine reporter who absolutely doesn't deserve to be scapegoated for what was primarily an editorial error in judgment (also, Nixon's an excellent national security reporter with deep sources).

The initial few hours after the explosion were chaotic; Poland did hold a national security committee (BBN) meeting and talked about triggering an Article 4 consultation, both of which were consonant with a belief that the missile was a Russian offensive missile that went awry. It's very possible, indeed likely, that a national security source, possibly within NATO/ACO/SHAPE, jumped the gun (so to speak) based on Polish sources; what we do know is that as ISR data came in, the USG itself (including Biden and SecDef) was officially reticent to affix blame until they were able to pinpoint the explosion as coming from Ukraine air defense.

As you say, there was a failure in the editorial process -- LaPorta passed along a tip from a source, Karam made the call to go with the story based entirely on that source. For the AP to go after a journo who didn't even write the story, and then say that they don't intend to even dig into the editorial failures, is unconscionable.

People seem to only discover now that AP is not even a remotely reliable organization. You just had to read their news to find out.

All of us is not as smart as one of us.

The thundering herds of groupthink and Tragedy of the Commons ensue.


You might want to add the sarcasm tag just in case people miss the sarcasm.

Sadly quite true.

This entire affair has exposed the people who police "misinformation" as hacks. Simply suggesting that the missile might not have been Russian was shouted down and would have been banned on Twitter if you-know-who didn't own it.

This is how all the news is handled. It's not an isolated incident. If reporters are bad at handling a situation like this, they must be bad at handling other situations too. And the so-called fact-checkers base their information on stuff like this.

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