At a time when the very integrity of news is under attack in some corners, it is more important than ever that The Associated Press be a key champion of accuracy. This includes not only fighting back against false claims and false reporting, but sometimes simply waiting as we push for more specificity. New York City News Editor David Caruso did exactly that over the weekend, avoiding the missteps of other news organizations by pressing for details of a federal judge's emergency order temporarily staying part of President Donald Trump's travel ban for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim nations.
Caruso demanded, and got, a copy of U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly's order so the AP could be precise about reporting on its relatively narrow effects, even as other news outlets relied on tweets from advocates who made it seem more sweeping. Caruso’s careful, painstaking work that resulted in this Washington-datelined story is the Beat of the Week.
The court ruling came at the end of a dramatic Saturday in New York. Dozens of foreign travelers were being held at the airports. Some were being deported. Lawyers were scrambling to learn who was in custody. At least 2,000 people spontaneously went to Kennedy airport to protest the detentions.
At 6:20 p.m., AP learned there would be an emergency hearing on the travel ban at a federal court in Brooklyn. NYC bureau reporter Karen Matthews rushed to the courthouse, but was barred from entering by U.S. marshals as a crowd of demonstrators gathered outside.
Just before 9 p.m. rumors began circulating that a judge had issued a ruling. An ACLU attorney tweeted “we won” and “stay is granted” with no explanation.
Caruso held off reporting until we could actually see the ruling. A law student working on the case ... emailed photographs, taken with a smartphone, of the order issued by the judge.
Clearly the U.S. administration had suffered a setback. But what, exactly? Caruso held off reporting until we could actually see the ruling. A law student working on the case who had been speaking throughout the day with reporter Verena Dobnik called the office to ask if we had heard about the ruling. Yes, but could she send us a copy? At 9:22 p.m., she emailed photographs, taken with a smartphone, of the order issued by the judge.
Within a few minutes, AP had an alert on the wire with the news that the judge had temporarily barred the U.S. from deporting travelers covered by Trump’s order -- but stopped well short of declaring the executive order unconstitutional. Matthews and New York reporter Colleen Long got quick interviews with the attorneys in the case shortly after to fill in key details on the likely practical effect of the ruling.
The court decision capped a marathon of strong reporting across AP. Alicia Caldwell in Washington anchored the story all day. Rachel Zoll in New York and Ellen Knickmeyer in San Francisco started reporting late Friday night after receiving tips about airport detentions and word of panic among faith-based resettlement agencies about the fate of refugees who were already en route to the United States at the time Trump signed the order. They kept working the phones and pressing sources to help lay the groundwork for the refugee coverage over the weekend; their work sounded the alarm for what was to come. There were key assists from Olga Rodriguez, Caryn Rousseau and stringer William Mathis on the impact the travel ban was having on travelers and refugees.
Said AP Executive Editor Sally Buzbee in a note to Caruso: "We have you personally to thank for the fact that our reporting on the court ruling was accurate and precise. That is hugely important: I have frankly been shocked today at some of the imprecision by other news organizations about the court ruling. Accuracy and precision are our bedrock values and they are even more important in hot times like this."
For keeping those values at the forefront of AP’s work, Caruso wins this week’s $500 prize.