Associated Press changes ‘shockingly bad’ headline about Soleimani, Ukrainian plane crash after backlash

The Associated Press changed a headline Thursday night that implied that the strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani last week resulted in a Ukrainian passenger plane being shot down by mistake by an Iranian anti-aircraft missile.

Pentagon officials have told Fox News that U.S. intelligence increasingly points at the airliner being accidentally struck by a Russian-made missile, killing all 176 people on board the flight, just hours after Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles targeting two military bases housing American and coalition troops.

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The AP’s story about the situation was widely ridiculed and critics condemned the AP’s initial headline, “An Iranian general dies in U.S. attack, and innocents suffer,” which quickly became a hot topic on social media.

The AP’s White House reporter Zeke Miller eventually tweeted that the earlier link to the story was deleted and it was republished with a different headline: “As Iran and U.S. take step back from the brink, Canada grieves.”

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An Associated Press rep attempted to explain the situation when reached by Fox News.

“The headline was updated to more clearly describe what the story is about: Canadians struggling to come to terms with how the killing of an Iranian general in a U.S. drone strike may have led to the deaths of dozens of their citizens in a plane crash,” the spokesperson told Fox News.

“AP stories and headlines are routinely updated, as wire stories are. The original headline on this story when it was published yesterday evening was ‘An Iranian general dies in a U.S. attack, and Canada suffers.’ It became ‘An Iranian general dies in U.S. attack, and innocents suffer,’ when new information was added to the story. Overnight the headline became ‘As Iran and US take step back from the brink, Canada grieves,” the spokesperson continued.

Criticism continued to pour in once the headline was changed.

“Following public reaction to their ridiculous original headline, the Associated Press stealth edited the headline to now read, ‘As Iran and US take step back from the brink, Canada grieves.’ The stealth edits also included additions to the body of the piece that further boosted Iran and lied about President Trump,” Media Research Center analyst Nicholas Fondacaro wrote.

After the headline change, the story still featured a paragraph that many critics have found issues with, as it implies that the conflict with Iran “had begun” when Trump ordered a strike on Soleimani.

The U.S. took out Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Forces, early last Friday in Baghdad, days after Iranian-backed militia supporters stormed the U.S. embassy. Administration officials have said that the strike was conducted to deter imminent attacks on U.S. interests — but that's not how it was framed by the AP.

“What had begun with a drone attack on Gen. Qassem Soleimani’s motorcade at the Baghdad airport had suddenly rippled outward until dozens of Iranian-Canadians, dozens of Iranian students studying in Canada, were dead,” the AP reported.

“The Associated Press made it abundantly clear who they blamed for the deaths of 176 people in the skies over Tehran,” Fondacaro wrote. “Hint, it wasn’t the country that shot two surface-to-air missiles at a passenger jet.”

Earlier Thursday, CNN national security and legal analyst Susan Hennessey was similarly criticized for claiming "crossfire of reckless escalation" resulted in Iran taking down the plane.

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Fox News’ Adam Shaw and Greg Norman contributed to this report.