Sept. 06, 2019

Best of the States

In Mississippi Delta, Catholic abuse cases settled on cheap

As allegations of sexual abuse by clergy have proliferated across the Catholic Church, millions of dollars in settlement money has been paid to victims. Some have received as much as $500,000 apiece.

Not La Jarvis D. Love.

At an IHOP in the Mississippi Delta, a white official from the Franciscan religious order offered to pay him just $15,000 to keep years of alleged abuse secret.

“He said if I wanted more, I would have to get a lawyer and have my lawyer call his lawyer,” Love told The Associated Press. “Well, we don’t have lawyers. We felt like we had to take what we could.”

The story, the latest in AP’s investigation into abuse in the Catholic Church, revealed deals struck with two black men for abuse they said happened in grade school that represent far lower amounts than what other clergy abuse survivors have received. It also revealed the men had been asked to sign nondisclosure agreements, which had long been banned by U.S. Catholic leaders.

Despite the challenges, the team – investigative reporter Mike Rezendes, photographer Maye-E-Wong, video journalist Sarah Blake Morgan, digital storytelling producer Samantha Shotzbarger and researcher Randy Herschaft – produced extraordinary work. Herschaft discovered several critical threads that showed an alleged abuser was working with children even after the church had known about one of the men’s allegations.

For their sensitive work on a complex, emotional and previously untold story, the team of Rezendes, Morgan, Wong, Shotzbarger and Herschaft win this week’s Best of the States.

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Sept. 06, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP ahead of the competition in Bahamas Hurricane coverage across formats

Through smart planning, speed and considerable courage, the AP managed to be the only agency on the ground Sept. 1 as Hurricane Dorian, a powerful Category 5 storm, arrived and parked itself over the Bahamas for more than 24 hours dumping tons of water and packing sustained winds in excess of 185 MPH. Not even local broadcasters, including the government channel, were able to feed live images.

https://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2019-09-01/northern-bahamas-hunkers-down-as-hurricane-dorian-closes-in

Sept. 06, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Coming soon to natural park trails: motorized bicycles

For source reporting and collaboration that enabled AP to break the story about the Trump administration's plan to open national park trails to motorized bikes. Sharp got a tip that the Interior Department was expected to lift a decades-long ban on any vehicles with motors on National Park hiking and biking trails. He began reporting to get reaction even before the rule change was announced. Meanwhile, Knickmeyer got a tip that evening from a non-profit foundation that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt had without any public notice signed an order lifting the ban immediately and classifying e-bikes as non-motor vehicles.

https://apnews.com/d22c8bb8a83c48c0b421dc0da81efd0b

Sept. 06, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP probes a pharmaceutical fortune, dispersed in a global labyrinth

Amid reports of an opioid settlement, an investigation shows the myriad ways that the Sackler family which owns Purdue Pharma in a web of companies and trusts, many of them overseas.Adam Geller, national writer, New York. Geller reviewed court papers, securities filings and documents leaked from an exclusive Bermuda law firm. He found that the family has shielded its wealth in ways that could complicate efforts to recover the money in opioid settlements.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/familys-web-makes-it-hard-to-track-cash-from-opioid-maker/2019/08/29/80d4f43e-ca99-11e9-9615-8f1a32962e04_story.html

Sept. 06, 2019

Best of the Week

In the face of death, the party of a lifetime

In a world focused on life and survival, death is often unseen, endured in private and acknowledged in glowing obituaries or tragic news stories. It’s also mostly out of the control of the person who is dying.

Now, with nine U.S. states allowing terminally ill people to end their lives with fatal drugs, thousands of people have legally chosen how and when to end their lives.

Seattle Photographer Elaine Thompson has long wanted to show the real, personal side of what often comes across as an impersonal process. She spent months looking for the right subject, getting tantalizingly close to success before plans fell through. She stuck with it, and when she found Bob Fuller, she enlisted reporter Gene Johnson to tell his story.

This week’s Best of the Week goes to the team of Elaine Thompson and Gene Johnson who chronicled how one man, in the face of death, created the party of a lifetime.

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Sept. 06, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP gets first live video, photos of Iranian plane on surprise visit to G-7 summit

AP was first to spot an Iranian government plane at the G7 summit in France, providing the world the first visual evidence of French President Emmanuel Macron's surprise diplomatic gambit at a key global meeting with Donald Trump. When flight tracking websites showed an Iranian government plane unexpectedly landing in the locked-down French city of Biarritz during the G-7 summit, AP's well-prepared team snapped to action, confirming that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was aboard and getting the back story of the visit. Crucially, Chernov and de Cristofaro rushed to the tightly guarded Biarritz airport. Although police turned them away at multiple checkpoints, they eventually found a hole in a fence that allowed them a view of the tail of the Iranian government plane.

https://www.apnews.com/f19d28009bc94db387ac238dffa27348

Aug. 30, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP upends Venezuelan politics with scoop on secret US-socialist talks

for acting on a source’s tip to reveal the existence of a secret backchannel that the U.S. had opened up with socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello. The news was a shocking development in Venezuela’s grinding crisis and was bound to cause heartburn in Washington and Caracas because of Cabello’s alleged ties to drug trafficking — and allegations he ordered a hit on U.S. Senator Marco Rubio. Goodman took the off-the-record tip to senior Trump administration officials, who agreed to talk out of concern that the explosive scoop would make them look desperate.

The story dominated the week’s news cycle in Venezuela, and in a first for the AP’s aggressive coverage of the ongoing Venezuelan crisis, President Donald Trump confirmed the meetings from the White House, as did National Security Adviser John Bolton. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said that he had authorized the contacts – even though the U.S. said Cabello and others were negotiating behind his back. The story received top billing in the Miami Herald and other news organizations scrambled to match the AP story.

https://bit.ly/2Zk6VL8

Aug. 30, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Breaking news of top US prison official’s ouster after Epstein death

for breaking the news that the head of the long-troubled federal prison system was being removed in the wake of Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide. Balsamo had been pressing sources at the Justice Department about the fate of Hugh Hurwitz, the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons. Two guards and the warden had been disciplined, but nothing was said about the senior leadership. Balsamo worked up prep in case Hurwitz resigned or was fired.

Nine days after Epstein’s death, Balsamo heard from a source who had just met with Attorney General William Barr: Barr was going to remove Hurwitz. The decision was extremely sensitive; even Hurwitz didn't know yet. Balsamo had just a brief window to break the news before it became public, but because he had the prep in place, he was able to move quickly. AP had a 650-word story before any other outlet had even sent an alert. Hurwitz’s removal quickly became one of the top stories of the day, with Balsamo’s story receiving wide play, even by some news organizations with their own Justice Department reporters. https://bit.ly/2NBYC7k

Aug. 30, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

APNewsBreak: More than 300 accusers in Ohio State doctor scandal

for dogged source work and thorough reporting to confirm the growing number of sexual misconduct accusers against the late Ohio State team doctor, Richard Strauss, Franko has covered the scandal from the beginning and has deep sources, but nailing down the number of accusers has been difficult. Because the lawyers have been tight-lipped about the mediation process, Franko stayed in touch with some of the plaintiffs even if they would talk only off the record. The subject of the growing number of accusers came up during one such conversation, and Franko started checking with some of the lawyers to confirm it. She learned enough to prep a draft story, and when she finally got multiple confirmations and comment, she had the story ready to roll out: More than 300 accusers have come forward. The APNewsBreak was used by the hometown Columbus Dispatch and received wide play online with solid engagement on social media. https://bit.ly/2MFdD8F

Aug. 30, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP gets first word of plan to allow drilling, mining near national monument

for breaking the news that the government would allow mining, drilling, grazing and recreation on lands around Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah that had been off limits. President Donald Trump downsized the protected area two years ago.

Impressed by AP’s fairness in coverage of the ongoing debate about managing public lands in the West, the Bureau of Land Management reached out to McCombs to share embargoed materials and the first interview by the region’s acting director ahead of the plan’s release. The APNewsBreak revealed that not only would the formerly protected lands be made available to a wide variety of uses but that those activities could have an adverse effect on the monument that is home to dramatic formations and vistas and is prime territory for paleontologists. https://bit.ly/2UafUcE

Aug. 30, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

All-formats reveal: California to build world’s largest animal crossing

for reporting about the world’s largest animal crossing, planned for the U.S. 101 freeway northwest of Los Angeles. California transportation officials didn’t have much to say about the plan, but Weber connected with a source at the National Wildlife Federation, a major backer of the project. They gave AP access to plans, renderings and other images, and eventually the site itself. The organizers allowed the AP all-formats package, which received extraordinary play, serve as the project’s public announcement. https://bit.ly/2KXSGnl

Aug. 29, 2019

Best of the States

Early Epstein accuser: Police could have stopped him in 1997

It’s exceedingly rare to get any details from a police report in California and even rarer to get a glimpse inside a detective’s notebook. But Jennifer Peltz and Katie Campione did just that. Peltz and Campione convinced police to finally explain how they handled one of the earliest known sex crime accusations against Jeffrey Epstein, a 1997 case that the accuser has called a massive missed opportunity to bring the financier to justice years before he was accused of sexually abusing dozens of girls and young women.

Their story turned out to be one of the most popular stories of the week on the AP News mobile site and was also one of the most engaging with readers. Even the Los Angeles Times had no choice but to put the AP story on its website front page.

For going the extra mile to get an explanation for a case that could have stopped Epstein from the start, Katie Campione and Jennifer Peltz win this week's Best of the States.

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Aug. 29, 2019

Best of the Week

AP delivers powerful dispatches and visuals from the front line of climate change

“There are lucky journalists but no such thing as a lucky lazy journalist.” That industry adage was again proven true when the crack team of video journalist Mstyslav Chernov, photographer Felipe Dana and science writer Seth Borenstein captured global attention by squeezing every last drop out of being in the right place at the right time for The Associated Press and its clients.

The place was Greenland, so inhospitable and remote that it is infrequently visited by journalists despite being at the epicenter of planet-threatening climate change. And the timing couldn’t have been better: As the giant but often ignored frozen island was suddenly thrust into the news when U.S. President Donald Trump unexpectedly expressed interest in buying it, sparking a diplomatic spat with Denmark, which said the semi-autonomous Danish territory wasn’t for sale.

The stories, photos and videos were widely used by AP’s membership and resonated with the public. The Helheim Glacier story landed on 16 front pages and was downloaded 85 times on AP Newsroom.

For their shining example of how to turn a pre-arranged media trip into essential world-grabbing journalism with tireless enthusiasm, smart thinking and the sharpest of eyes, Chernov, Dana and Borenstein share AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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Aug. 23, 2019

Best of the Week

Chance encounter, tenacious reporting reveal harassment allegations against Placido Domingo

Jocelyn Gecker’s bombshell investigation of sexual harassment allegations against opera superstar Placido Domingo started with a song.

San Francisco-based Gecker was at a party about 18 months ago when she noticed the beautiful voice of the woman next to her singing “Happy Birthday,” and complimented her. The woman was a former opera singer who confided that the industry had a dark underbelly, offering her assessment that “Placido Domingo is the Bill Cosby of the opera world.”

The discussion sparked months of work by Gecker to publicly reveal what many said had been an open secret in the opera world. In all, Gecker would find nine women who accused Domingo of sexual harassment and a half-dozen more who said the star made them uncomfortable. Getting people to go on the record proved challenging, but a breakthrough came when one of Domingo’s accusers agreed to tell her story on camera. The resulting 5,200-word story – and Domingo’s response – commanded instant attention and heavy engagement in global media.

For finding a major international story in an unlikely setting, and her care in dealing with sources while reporting tenaciously on a sensitive topic, Gecker earns AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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Aug. 23, 2019

Best of the States

Foresight, persistence, sources put AP ahead on green card restrictions for legal immigrants

Few reporters were paying attention to a draft rule barring legal immigrants from getting green cards if they received benefits like Medicaid or food stamps – but AP’s Colleen Long was.

Long, AP’s Washington-based Homeland Security reporter, had spent months asking U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services when the final rules would be published, making them official. With a heads-up from sources, she was eventually able to get an advance briefing and interview, writing the story just before heading off on vacation. Then, as soon as the rule appeared, she alerted the Washington desk to move the story, giving AP a major beat over other news organizations. By the time the White House and Homeland Security held briefings, Long already had all the key details on the wire.

For her skilled source-building, persistence and meticulous reporting, Long wins this week’s Best of the States honors.

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