Associated Press Fires Journalists Over Erroneous Terry McAuliffe Report

Democratic gubernatorial, Terry McAuliffe gestures during a  forum at the University of Richmond  in Richmond, Va., Thursday,
Democratic gubernatorial, Terry McAuliffe gestures during a forum at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Va., Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013. McAuliffe is facing Republican Ken Cuccinelli in the November election. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

NEW YORK -– The Associated Press has fired a reporter and editor over an erroneous Oct. 9 report that Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe lied to an investigator in a federal fraud case, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The AP retracted the article in question roughly an hour and a half after publication, and last week, suspended its author, veteran political reporter Bob Lewis.

According to sources, Lewis has since been fired. He could not be reached for comment.

The AP has also fired Dena Potter, a Richmond-based news editor for Virginia and West Virginia. When reached by phone, Potter directed inquiries to Paul Colford, the AP’s Director of Media Relations. Colford declined to comment on personnel matters.

Another editor is expected to be reprimanded over the incident, sources say.

The firings on Monday stemmed from the AP's erroneous reporting on McAuliffe's relationship to Joseph A. Caramadre, a Rhode Island real estate planner charged in a federal fraud case.

Prosecutors allege that Caramadre orchestrated an investment scheme that used the identities of the terminally ill. On Oct. 9, The Providence Journal reported that McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman now running for governor, was named in court documents along with dozens more of Caramadre's investors.

That night, the AP's Lewis appeared to advance the story by reporting that McAuliffe had lied to federal investigators on the case. But the news organization soon retracted that claim -- by far the most explosive element of the original story -- after being contacted by the McAuliffe campaign.

The Washington Post reported the following day that “federal court documents do not accuse McAuliffe of wrongdoing, and it wasn’t clear whether he had made money or lost money on the investments.” McAuliffe's campaign described the candidate as "one of of hundreds of passive investors."

A Virginia NBC affiliate examined the error and reported that McAuliffe is referenced on two pages of the federal indictment in question as T.M. However, the T.M. the indictment references as having lied to an investigator is not McAuliffe, but a different person with the same initials.

After the AP retracted Lewis’ story, he apologized, tweeting, “The error was mine and I take responsibility for it.

“We’ve consistently said this story is water under the bridge and did not ask for any actions to be taken against those involved,” McAuliffe Communications Director Brennan Bilberry said in response to the news of the firings. “We have had a professional relationship with Bob Lewis, Dena Potter and the rest of AP’s Virginia team during this campaign.”

Given Lewis' stature in Richmond politics, the erroneous report and subsequent retraction "sent shock waves throughout the political press corps," Politico reported.

Michael Shear, a New York Times White House correspondent who has previously worked in Richmond, described Lewis to Politico as “the dean of the press corps” in Virginia’s capital and a reporter who “sets the tone” among his colleagues.

The AP's decision to fire Lewis and Potter over the error stands in contrast to the organization's more lenient response to past high-profile flubs.

In April, for example, AP executive editor Kathleen Carroll acknowledged “some missteps” in the news organization's erroneous reporting that a suspect was in custody in the hours after the Boston marathon bombing. However, the AP did not fire any editors or reporters over the mistake.

This article was updated with comment from the McAuliffe campaign, as well as additional details.