The Associated Press has fired the reporter behind an erroneous report that claimed that the missile that struck Poland last week had been fired by Russian forces. The original report relied on the word of a single anonymous U.S. intelligence official. An investigation into the erroneous report shows that a willingness to take official sources at their word seems to have been part of the larger problem:
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.” [bold mine-DL]
Skepticism about official claims should always be the watchword for journalists and analysts. These are claims that need more scrutiny than usual rather than less. If you can’t imagine that an intelligence official could get something important wrong, whether by accident or on purpose, you are taking far too many things for granted that need to be questioned and checked out first.