The two-day sentencing hearing and imprisonment of former TV star Bill Cosby ended a decades-long battle over sexual assault accusations against the comedian once known as “America’s Dad.” An AP team of reporters, photographers and video journalists drew on strong planning and great coordination to excel in all formats while fending off a throng of competition amid driving rain.
The AP was ahead at all key moments in the sentencing, from a judge’s decision to label Cosby a sexually violent predator to the moment he handed down a sentence of 3 to 10 years and then denied bail. Staffers moved top photos to the wire almost instantly after they were shot, and provided live video of the scene.
For their excellent work in covering the Cosby sentencing, the team of Michael Sisak, Maryclaire Dale, Claudia Lauer, Pete Brown, Alyssa Goodman, Matt Rourke, Matt Slocum, Jackie Larma, Mike Householder and Joe Frederick share the Best of the Week award.
Preparations for the sentencing began days ahead of the event.
AP reporter Maryclaire Dale, whose work getting a deposition unsealed in 2016 let to the charges against Cosby, prepped text for every possible outcome and worked with her Philadelphia colleague, Top Stories Editor Pete Brown, to pull together key background.
The AP placed Dale and New York-based reporter Mike Sisak in the main courtroom and Philadelphia reporter Claudia Lauer in an overflow room. As a result, Lauer was able to get news that the judge had declared Cosby a sexually violent predator ahead of the competition, who were stuck in the courtroom.
AP photographers and video journalists carefully plotted their positions outside the court, right down to the exact angles they needed to successfully ensure they got Cosby with his handcuffs exposed. Captions were preloaded, and Philadelphia photographers Matt Rourke and Matt Slocum filed directly from their cameras to New York photo editor Alyssa Goodman for real-time distribution of photos. Philadelphia photo editor Jackie Larma got a key shot of the handcuffed Cosby leaving jail later in the day, wearing his red suspenders over a t-shirt in place of the crisp white dress shirt he had had on earlier in the day.
Despite the driving rain, video journalists Joe Frederick, New York, and Mike Householder, Detroit, were able to offer clients multiple live shots outside the courthouse and grab soundbites from victims and other key players that competitors were unable to secure.
“My chief interest all along was to find out what he said under oath – as opposed to what his camp was saying about the accusers to the media,” said Dale, reflecting on the beginnings of the case. She had played the key role in opening up a years-old deposition to the public that ultimately led to the prosecution. “His testimony in the deposition was startlingly candid about that.”
She added, “It was gratifying to hear the jurors who convicted him, in a public statement they released, say Cosby's own words from that deposition proved the most damning evidence.”
Customers and readers took notice of the team’s hard work. The AP grabbed 18 front pages and the main story was used by more than 700 outlets, according to Newswhip. It ranked No. 1 for engaged minutes on apnews.com and scored nearly 150,000 Facebook engagements the morning after the sentencing.
For their meticulous planning and sterling execution that allowed the AP to dominate the story it had led from the beginning, the team earns this week's Best of the AP.