Politics

Exclusive—AP Admits It Has No ‘Geolocation Data’ to Back Up Moreno Smear

A spokeswoman for the Associated Press (AP) admitted to Breitbart News on Saturday that the organization does not, despite previously reporting in two different pieces that it did, have any “geolocation data” to back up its smear piece about Ohio Senate candidate Bernie Moreno.

Lauren Easton, the director of communications for the AP, on Saturday told Breitbart News that while the organization stands by the story and its reporter Brian Slodysko, it does not have “geolocation data” as the two articles it previously published originally claimed.

This bombshell admission by a major news organization comes after the newswire service had reported on Thursday evening in two different pieces that an email address for Moreno, the candidate that former President Donald Trump is backing for the U.S. Senate in Ohio in Tuesday’s primary election, had been used to create an account on Adult Friend Finder back in 2008. The AP admitted in both of its stories that it did not know if Moreno himself created the account, but the organization cast heavy doubt on team Moreno’s response, which included providing statements from a man who interned for Moreno at the time who admitted to making the account as a prank and from another executive at one of Moreno’s companies confirming that the then-intern had access to Moreno’s email account and his duties included regularly checking it.

Importantly, both Associated Press stories on the matter claim that the news organization had in its possession “geolocation data” that further substantiated connecting the Adult Friend Finder account’s creation to Moreno himself.

“Beyond the work email, the profile lists Moreno’s correct date of birth, while geolocation data indicates that the account was set up for use in a part of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where property records show Moreno’s parents owned a home at the time,” Slodysko, the AP reporter, and the AP’s Aaron Kessler wrote in one of the pieces.

Identical language appears in the second piece.

“Geolocation” is a very precise term. The dictionary definition says that “geolocation” means: “the process of determining the location of an electronic device, as a computer, cell phone, satellite, etc.”

So when the Associated Press said it had “geolocation data” associated with the account in question, that would clearly mean that it was saying it had information that the account was created with a specific IP, or internet protocol, address that can be tied to a specific location–something beyond just a zip code provided by whoever created the account. But now it turns out that the AP’s spokeswoman, Easton, is admitting to Breitbart News that the AP did not have anything beyond just that–the supposed “geolocation data” that the AP originally claimed it had was not in fact anything more than what Adult Friend Finder based on what zip code was entered by whoever created the account. That means anyone, anywhere in the world, could have entered that zip code when creating an account, and the so-called “geolocation data” in question would have been exactly the same.

The two AP pieces have not, as of the publication of this piece from Breitbart News, been updated or corrected in any way, and Easton and AP Executive Editor Julie Pace have not replied to follow-up inquiries about whether these admitted errors will be corrected and whether correction will be prominently affixed to the stories.

But this key admission that an important fact in both original AP stories from Thursday evening is incorrect is particularly startling. When asked in a series of inquiries from Breitbart News if the AP had any “geolocation data” beyond the zip code whoever made the Adult Friend Finder account with Moreno’s email address more than a decade ago had provided when making the account, Easton told Breitbart News that the AP did not.

Instead, Easton actually sent a tweet thread from the founder of Adult Friend Finder in which he explains that in 2008 when the account in question was created, the only location data that would be associated with it is a “lookup table” that matched the zip code the person who created the account provided “to map it to latitude and longitude.”

“This tweet thread may be helpful,” Easton, the vice president of corporate communications for the Associated Press, told Breitbart News when sending the above tweet from Adult Friend Finder founder Andrew Conru.

In other words, there was no “geolocation data” associated with the account—only a zip code provided by whoever created it and a program that matched that zip code provided to a spot on a map.

Conru’s tweet came after an earlier message on Saturday he sent essentially debunking the original AP story, saying all the publicly available information suggests that the matter is “ consistent with a prank.”

The Moreno team’s version of events, which the AP cast serious doubt on, is that a man interning for Moreno back in 2008 created the profile as a prank. Moreno’s attorneys provided statements from the man and another executive at one of Moreno’s companies confirming that the then-intern had access to Moreno’s email account and his duties included regularly checking it. Now, with the public statements from Conru and the admission from the Associated Press that it does not have any “geolocation data” to back up its original reports, this version of events from Moreno is looking much, much more like the truth rather than some cover story invented by a political candidate, as the AP made it appear.

In communications earlier on Saturday, before she admitted on behalf of the AP by sending Conru’s tweet explaining it that there was no “geolocation data,” Easton had said that the organization stood by the story despite the heavy scrutiny the AP has come under.

“This is a deeply reported piece of accountability journalism in an election year. We stand by the story,” Easton originally told Breitbart News. She added back then: “We did not report the location where the account was created.”

That original inquiry was sent not to Easton but to Pace. Pace, the executive editor at the AP, forwarded the inquiry to Easton, who responded to it.

In a follow-up inquiry to both Pace and Easton, Breitbart News informed Easton that multiple sources familiar with the matter said that Pace was taking over all communications and dealings on this matter from the original reporter, Slodysko, given the likelihood of serious litigation looming. Moreno has hired Charles Harder as one of his attorneys. Harder is the attorney who led the lawsuits that led to the downfall of Gawker.

Sources familiar with the matter have also told Breitbart News that Pace expressed unease with Slodysko’s heavy-handedness on this story, including how in the aftermath of its publication he sent out several tweets promoting it with salacious claims from it but without the revelations that a Moreno intern says he was the one who created the account as a prank. They have also said that Slodysko has been told not to comment on the matter further publicly via social media or in other settings, without express approval from Pace herself or from AP counsel—all while the organization investigates internally whether Slodysko has been compliant with AP ethical guidelines, particularly about social media postings.

Slodysko, for what it’s worth, has not posted on X–the platform formerly known as Twitter–since Thursday evening, when he was out promoting his pieces.

Easton denied these points that anonymous sources had told Breitbart News. “As I said, we stand by the story and we stand by the reporters,” Easton said. “Brian Slodysko is an experienced journalist who covers politics for The Associated Press. He is in no way under investigation by the AP. The other claims made by your sources are also untrue.”

It was after this in a later email that Easton made the admission that the AP does not have “geolocation data” to back up its original stories. Pace, the executive editor of the AP, has been notoriously silent on all of these questions and did not say anything despite being offered the opportunity to do so multiple times throughout the course of the day Saturday.

As the AP’s original pieces fall apart, top Republicans are rallying behind Moreno in Ohio ahead of Tuesday’s upcoming primary election, where he faces state Sen. Matt Dolan and Secretary of State Frank LaRose. Former President Donald Trump held a rally with Moreno on Saturday afternoon in Dayton, Ohio, at which Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH), Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD), and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), among others, appeared and campaigned for Moreno. Elsewhere, Sens. Eric Schmitt (R-MO) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) also weighed in and publicly backed Moreno.

What’s more, a Super PAC associated with Dolan has tried to air ads in Ohio ahead of the Tuesday election elevating the AP’s smear of Moreno, but sources familiar with the matter told Breitbart News that with very rare exception ,most of the Ohio press corps and television stations throughout the state have refused to back up the AP on this matter. In fact, some of these media figures, including some top editors at local newspapers, have even publicly backed up Moreno.

UPDATE 11:15 p.m. ET:

After the publication of this story on Saturday, several high-profile people weighed in on it calling for the Associated Press to correct its inaccuracies or even to retract the story because it has no “geolocation data.”

Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) even said what this demonstrates is a “major scandal” at the Associated Press and called on the outlet to “retract or at least correct its story” on Moreno:

In response to Vance, the Associated Press’s corporate communications account–which is run by Easton–claimed that the AP did not admit this and this Breitbart News article is not true:

The AP sent a similar response to Breitbart News’s tweet of the piece:

But, alas, here are receipts that prove that Easton did in fact admit this over the course of multiple communications throughout the day on Saturday. This is a highly, highly unusual step but since the Associated Press is claiming that nobody from its organization said what Easton in fact did say to Breitbart News, Breitbart News has made the determination that in the public interest it is releasing the entire conversation between the two news organizations that show Easton on behalf of the Associated Press did in fact send that tweet thread to Breitbart News from the Adult Friend Finder founder that lays out how the account in question made with Moreno’s email address does not have “geolocation data” associated with it. That means she admitted the AP does not have “geolocation data” for the story in which the AP said that it did.

In these emails, too, readers will be able to see there are several other questions that the Associated Press has thus far refused to answer. For instance, several sources familiar with the matter have told Breitbart News on Saturday evening that Slodysko was in fact aware of this distinction between “geolocation data” and the zip code information input by someone creating an account before the publication of the AP stories on Thursday evening and communicated that to several people outside the Associated Press. The AP has not denied that or commented on that question.

In addition, the Associated Press has not answered whether it will appoint an outside counsel or attorney to investigate what happened with the publication of its story as is standard when news organizations make major mistakes like this. There are also references to previous Breitbart News investigations into the Associated Press which like this one the AP originally at first stood by its reporters and reports but eventually fired them and retracted or corrected inaccurate or questionable pieces. The incident of Melanie Plenda in 2017 comes to mind, when the AP originally stood by a fake report from a leftist who worked there then backed down and corrected it and fired the leftist.



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