Amazing things can come out of political demonstrations – and sometimes, they have nothing to do with politics. Miami-based video journalist Josh Replogle was covering a protest by about 3,000 people outside Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach when a colleague pointed out a striking woman wearing a Cleveland Indians hat. That, he was told, was Casey Anthony – once acquitted in the murder of her 2-year-old daughter in a case that became an international obsession.
Replogle did a quick Google search to confirm that this was, indeed, the woman once dubbed “the most hated mom in America.” He then obtained the first in-depth interviews with her since she was accused, an accomplishment that earns him the Beat of the Week.
“Excuse me,” he said, introducing himself to Anthony. “I¹m a reporter with the Associated Press, can I please get a few quotes?” She declined, saying she didn’t want to detract from the protest.
Replogle backed off, but asked if she might talk with him at some later date. She agreed, but he was out of business cards; Anthony gave him her phone and told him to call himself, so he would know he had her real number. A few days later, he texted her to ask if they could talk, off the record at first. “Absolutely,” she replied.
At their first meeting Replogle had no intention of addressing the topic of her daughter and trial. But Anthony mentioned she keeps her daughter's photos and artwork in her room and invited him to see for himself.
He learned later that Anthony researched him a bit online before agreeing to meet, and was impressed by his first-person account of covering the massacre at the Pulse nightclub after working there as a college student. At their first meeting, at a restaurant, Replogle had no intention of addressing the topic of her daughter and trial. But a few hours into their conversation, Anthony mentioned she keeps her daughter¹s photos and artwork in her room. Anthony invited him to see for himself.
“She brought me to her house and showed me all the photos and artwork Caylee had made,” he said. “Anthony pointed out she wears Caylee¹s ashes on her wrist. I couldn¹t believe I was where I was, listening to who I was listening to. Anthony grabbed a photo of Caylee wearing two tutus and a Princess Leia wig, and started crying.”
Replogle told Anthony he needed to document her “incredibly powerful” words. The only still camera he had was his iPhone. “I asked if I could take a picture of her crying, holding the photo of Caylee. She said, `Yes, please,’ and thanked me.”
She was talking now about Caylee. Replogle asked if he might record their conversation “for my notes and an eventual story.” She agreed. A series of interviews followed. Replogle hoped to persuade her to appear on video, but she never agreed. She would later ask that the AP not run the story, though she had sat for five interviews, had allowed them to be audio-taped, and had clearly acknowledged the conversations were on the record.
A video version broke the AP record for downloads by broadcasters. One Florida broadcaster said of the second-day story: “Every word was compelling.”
Tampa correspondent Tamara Lush, who had covered the Anthony case, helped shape the first story. It was No. 1 on AP News.com, with 253,000-plus engagement minutes, and No. 1 on mobile, with 30,000-plus views. It garnered more than 150,000 engagements on Facebook. A video version broke the AP record for downloads by broadcasters. Replogle’s extensive interviews provided material for three follow-ups. One Florida broadcaster said of the second-day story: “Every word was compelling.” And Replogle was interviewed on NBC’s “Today,” which featured the story several days in a row.
For recognizing the possibilities presented by the unexpected sighting of a newsmaker, and for his persistence in interviewing someone who had shunned the media for more than a decade, Replogle wins this week’s $500 prize.