Feb. 19, 2021

Best of the Week

Latest on New York COVID policy: State sent over 9,000 virus patients to nursing homes

For nine months, AP has led all media on the story of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s controversial directive to return recovering coronavirus patients from hospitals to nursing homes during the pandemic.

Last week, reporters Bernard Condon and Jennifer Peltz added to that record. Using data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, they reported exclusively that more than 9,000 patients in New York were released under the state’s policy, amid criticism that it accelerated nursing home outbreaks. The latest AP scoop has helped put Cuomo and his administration on the defensive at home and nationally.

For keeping AP at the forefront of this accountability story for the better part of a year — including their latest break documenting the release of COVID patients into nursing homes — Condon and Peltz earn AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 05, 2021

Best of the States

AP months ahead of New York state in identifying undercount of nursing home deaths

When AP reported exclusively last August that New York state was undercounting its COVID nursing home death toll by thousands, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ripped the story as part of a politically motivated “blame game.”

But the state’s own investigation, announced last week, reached a nearly identical conclusion, affirming AP’s reporting.

AP’s 2020 investigation had seized on the fact that New York counts just residents who died at nursing homes, not those who were transported to hospitals and died there. AP’s analysis of federal data indicated that the state’s official toll was undercounted by 65%, or well over 4,000 deaths. 

For sharp reporting that led the media pack, withstood criticism from the governor and months later was vindicated, this week’s Best of the States award goes to Bernard Condon, Matt Sedensky and Meghan Hoyer (now data director at The Washington Post).

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Jan. 15, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Source work breaks news of attorney general nominee

had been asking around for weeks about President-elect Joe Biden’s choice for attorney general. They pressed their sources inside the transition once it became clear that the decision came down to just a few names.Finally, Tucker scored — a transition source gave AP the entire slate of nominees for the department, and not just the stunning choice of Merrick Garland, the former candidate for the Supreme Court who had been spurned by Republicans during the Obama administration. Also included were names for the second in command and leaders of top offices at the Department of Justice.Tucker had prepped for this and gathered his material while Balsamo checked in with another source and came back with confirmation. They swiftly filed a news alert and story, beating major news outlets by a solid half-hour. This all came two hours before the Capitol siege. The pair’s story was still picked up 580 times with some 200,000 pageviews — especially strong considering the U.S. Capitol was ransacked by rioters the same day. https://bit.ly/2XCjOOe

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Dec. 18, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

All-formats team tells wrenching stories from Paris hospital

broke through administrative barriers to produce powerful character-driven storytelling as the staff of one of France’s largest hospitals coped with the relentless tide of COVID cases and deaths. Since March, repeated AP efforts to gain access to Paris hospitals inundated with virus cases had been met by “Non” — or silence. So Leicester found workarounds. He interviewed staff, including a top surgeon, outside Bichat Hospital as well as on Zoom and by phone. His reporting eventually put AP on the map for senior administrators and doctors, winning access to the 900-bed hospital. Over the course of two days the team reported in all formats on the last hours of a patient who died of COVID complications, and from inside an operating room as surgeons performed procedures after months of COVID delays. The team’s harrowing stories drew praise the hospital and from rival publications. “Beautiful and heart-wrenching,” said a New York Times staffer. An editor at New York Magazine called it “tender, beautiful, and bitter,” while the hospital’s surgical ICU chief called it “a brilliant display of the daily reality in ICU.” https://bit.ly/2WmxHQ0https://bit.ly/3r5uRgchttps://bit.ly/3ahdpPThttps://bit.ly/2IVF7Xp

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Dec. 11, 2020

Best of the Week

In exclusive AP interview, AG Barr says no evidence of widespread election fraud, undermining Trump

Justice Department reporter Mike Balsamo has spent months cultivating sources at the Department of Justice, earning a reputation as an objective journalist who reports fairly and accurately. 

His relationships paid off with an exclusive interview of U.S. Attorney General William Barr, in which Barr said the DOJ could find no evidence of widespread voting fraud, dramatically undercutting President Donald Trump’s insistence to the contrary.

“I knew ... he had made probably the biggest news he has in his tenure as AG,” said Balsamo. His story topped the news cycle and resonated for days. No other news outlet could match it and AP was widely cited for the scoop.

For persistent, evenhanded reporting on the Justice Department beat resulting in the interview that netted one of AP’s most consequential news coups of the year, Balsamo wins AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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Dec. 11, 2020

Best of the States

True West: Enterprise reporting reveals lurid story that led to Idaho cold case arrest

An arrest in a decades-old Idaho cold case started Boise correspondent Rebecca Boone digging, aiming to tell a broader story about the victim, the suspect and the colorful — and at times shady — pro rodeo and gambling circuit. 

Forty years ago, Dan Woolley was shot in the parking lot of a small-town bar in the Idaho mountains. The shooter crossed the street to the only other bar in town, ordered a drink and declared, “I just killed a man.” Then he disappeared. But late last year an 87-year-old man was arrested in Texas for the slaying — a former pro rodeo rider.

Boone spent months building trust with Woolley’s son and other sources, talking to long-time central Idaho residents and historians. All while juggling her state coverage of breaking news, the pandemic and the 2020 election.

The result of her efforts, an engaging 1,900-word Saturday piece, was among AP’s top stories for the weekend. For an absorbing read that is a textbook example of a general assignment reporter chipping away at a challenging enterprise piece, Boone earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 11, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Sources: Trump liaison banned from Justice Department

delivered a widely read scoop after working their sources to confirm a curious rumor: An official serving as President Donald Trump’s eyes and ears at the Department of Justice was banned from the building after pressuring Justice Department staffers to reveal insider information about ongoing cases and the department’s work on election fraud.Heidi Stirrup, an ally of top Trump adviser Stephen Miller, had also extended job offers to political allies for positions at some of the highest levels of the DOJ without consulting senior department officials or the White House counsel’s office, and also attempted to interfere in the hiring process for career staffers, a violation of the government’s human resources policies, a source told the AP. https://bit.ly/374EDaH

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Dec. 04, 2020

Best of the Week

AP coverage of refugees in Sudan opens a window into Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict

The thousands of refugees spilling over the border into Sudan from Ethiopia’s Tigray region are some of the only firsthand witnesses to a worsening conflict that remains out of reach for most of the world’s media. Crossing a remote desert area, they recount ethnic-targeted killings, many fleeing at a moment’s notice and leaving loved ones behind amid an offensive by the Ethiopian government against Tigray separatists. 

Video journalist Fay Abuelgasim and photographer Nariman el-Mofty have put individual faces on the complex story since arriving at the Sudan-Ethiopia border area nearly two weeks ago. Along with reporters Sam Magdy in Cairo and Cara Anna in Nairobi, their work has revealed the human toll of a conflict to which access remains tightly restricted, even as the United Nations warns of possible war crimes. AP clients have recognized the work with strong play.

For their determined, resourceful and revealing work to document the individual struggles of an escalating refugee crisis, Abuelgasim, el-Mofty, Anna and Magdy earn AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Nov. 20, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP breaks news on Justice Department election investigations

both delivered scoops on the U.S. Department of Justice and election investigations.Balsamo kept hearing rumors of the DOJ looking into election cases, but he knew there were rules prohibiting such investigations during an ongoing election. He kept asking until a source revealed a memo Attorney General William Barr had sent to prosecutors nationwide authorizing federal prosecutors across the U.S. to pursue any “substantial allegations” of voting irregularities before the election is certified, despite the fact there was no evidence of widespread fraud giving prosecutors the ability to go around the longstanding policy. The scoop reverberated nationwide, especially as concerns grew over Trump’s ability to use the levers of government to hang on to power. The story was widely used, with Politico, Axios and NBC citing AP in their coverage of Barr’s memo. AP’s alert and a full story were on the wire more than 40 minutes before other major news organizations obtained a copy of the memo.Meanwhile, Las Vegas reporter Michelle Price was digging into how the DOJ was pursuing allegations from the Trump campaign that voters may have cast improper ballots in Nevada. Price and Balsamo teamed up with voting reporter Anthony Izaguirre to report out two ongoing investigations, and how they may not hold up to scrutiny. Price used her contacts to get exclusive first-person accounts from U.S. military members who thought they’d been wrongly accused of fraud for voting by mail from out of state by Nevada authorities and DOJ officials.https://bit.ly/2Kqu09ehttps://bit.ly/3lOlxKR

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Nov. 13, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Dogged reporting, spycraft expose Texas attorney general scandal

used source work, non-public documents and a technique borrowed from spycraft to connect recent criminal allegations against the Texas attorney general to the conservative Republican’s previously unreported extramarital affair.In late September, Attorney General Ken Paxton’s top deputies accused him of criminally abusing his office to help a wealthy donor. Bleiberg spent weeks building sources in his aggressive pursuit of answers to what was behind these explosive, but unspecified, allegations.Those efforts paid off last week when Bleiberg was able to obtain a private transcript of real estate developer Nate Paul acknowledging that the attorney general recommended he hire a woman whom Paxton was rumored to have had an affair with. The sensitive document was picked up at a “dead drop” – a prearranged drop spot – by Austin reporter Paul Weber.Bleiberg then worked sources he’d developed while breaking earlier stories to identify people whom the attorney general may have told about his affair. His relentless outreach ultimately turned up two people with firsthand accounts of Paxton acknowledging the affair in 2018.The reporting allowed AP to draw back the curtain on one of America’s most prominent conservative legal crusaders and break major news on a highly competitive story. It revealed a relationship that’s almost certainly at the center of an ongoing federal public corruption probe. https://bit.ly/2UnuZc1

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Oct. 16, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP finds diversity of US attorneys declining under Trump

used years of data on U.S. attorneys to reveal how any diversity gains made under previous administrations have faltered under President Donald Trump. AP’s analysis found the 85% of Trump’s Senate-confirmed U.S. attorneys are white men, significantly more than the three previous administrations going back to 1993. But the numbers were just part of the story. The AP team reported on why it mattered in this moment of national reckoning over racial inequality and the fairness of the criminal justice system. The story articulated how Black and brown people are disproportionately imprisoned but underrepresented in the system that puts them there. The piece included an impressive photo combo of all the attorneys, showing row after row – predominantly of white men – and video interviews on the value of diversity in the U.S. attorney ranks.https://bit.ly/3drn6e6https://bit.ly/318gc8J

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Oct. 02, 2020

Best of the States

Planning, teamwork, fast filing lead to all-formats wins on Breonna Taylor story

With weeks to prepare, the Louisville, Kentucky, news staff and all-formats reinforcements from other AP bureaus were well positioned for the closely watched grand jury decision in the Breonna Taylor case. 

When the announcement finally came – no officers charged with Taylor’s death – the breaking news was expedited to the wire, cutting through confusion over the decision. Video and photo coverage excelled with fast edits and filing from the protests that followed, capturing the anguish and despair expressed by many in Louisville and keeping the AP well ahead of other agencies.

For their fast, in-depth work on a sensitive, highly competitive story, the team of Lovan, Schreiner, Blackburn, Galofaro, Minchillo, Cummings, Morrison and Householder wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 02, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP pauses to get story of ‘discarded’ Trump ballots right

resisted competitive pressure, holding off on a Department of Justice press release on an investigation into “discarded” military ballots for President Donald Trump, instead taking the time to do a more deeply reported story.Most media rushed to publish when a U.S. attorney in the battleground state of Pennsylvania took the unusual step of announcing the ongoing investigation, saying nine mail-in ballots for the president had been “cast aside” in a county elections office. The county manager later blamed the incident on confusion over the appearance of the envelopes, but conservative social media quickly seized on the initial announcement while the Trump campaign blamed Democrats for “trying to steal the election.”The original press release, however, was short on details and no one, federal or local, was talking. Pennsylvania news editor Christina Paciolla brought the story to the attention of AP’s voting team, and a deeper examination began.The AP drew on expertise across the organization to produce a far more well-informed story the following day, providing essential context and new information, including the U.S. attorney defending his announcement of the votes for Trump, and that Attorney General William Barr had previously briefed the president on the case. https://bit.ly/3if2LJZ

July 02, 2020

Best of the States

AP scoops everyone on dramatic ouster of federal prosecutor

After a heads-up tip to Justice Department reporter Michael Balsamo, what unfolded on that Friday night was strange: The top Manhattan federal prosecutor – the one investigating President Donald Trump’s allies – was said to be resigning his job. 

The AP was out with the story for at least a half hour before the competition. But that was just the beginning, as U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman reported for work the next day, only to step down amid conflicting statements from the White House and Justice Department. Balsamo and Neumeister were out front again, making sense of the shifting story with well-sourced detail and context.

For work that put the AP way ahead with both the breaking news and the meaning of the maneuvering, Balsamo and Neumeister share this week’s Best of the States honors.

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June 12, 2020

Best of the States

AP Analysis: After previous police killings, states slow to reform use-of-force

Calls for police reforms after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis have echoed the calls to action after a wave of killings of young black men by police in 2014. 

So what happened after those killings? 

Ohio statehouse reporter Julie Carr Smyth, working with AP colleagues around the country, found that while nearly half the states have since enacted some type of reform, only a third passed legislation limiting use of force. The reporting revealed that contributions from politically influential police unions were a key factor in stalling legislation, while a separate analysis by the data team showed that Minneapolis police disproportionately used force against blacks when compared with other racial groups. 

The day Smyth’s story moved, a number of states made proposals to limit the use of deadly force.

For quickly reporting out and leading a national look at what reforms have taken place in the last six years, Smyth wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 22, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP interview: Mom threatened by crowd leaned on faith

gave AP the first national interview with a black woman who faced down an armed all-white group – led by a sheriff’s deputy – that tried to force its way into her home. The woman, Monica Shepard, had talked to two local television stations but was avoiding further media contact. Foreman, however, felt there was a deeper story to be told.

He eventually reached Shepard and her son through their attorney, arranging for an online interview to capture video. “I was vulnerable. They had the crowd. They had the weapons. I had nothing,” Shepard told Foreman. “I was standing before a crowd, but I had the faith.” Foreman’s compelling story gave AP the beat on other media that were trying to interview the family, and was used even by outlets that had previously covered the incident.https://bit.ly/2Xfxtdnhttps://bit.ly/2zl3sB5

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May 08, 2020

Best of the States

Sourcing, records yield scoop: Texas AG helped donor fight Colorado lockout

When Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced he’d sent a letter leaning on Gunnison County, Colorado, to end an order expelling non-residents during the pandemic, AP’s Paul Weber immediately wondered: Why was the top law enforcement official in Texas picking a fight with a remote county two states away in the middle of the crisis? And did Paxton have donors there? 

Weber and colleague Jake Bleiberg started combing campaign finance and property records, quickly finding that some of Paxton’s biggest donors have homes in the wealthy mountain resort town of Crested Butte, Colorado. 

Persistent reporting and extensive public records work revealed that Paxton’s push against the Gunnison health order stood to benefit an exclusive group of Texans, including campaign donors who gave the attorney general a total of nearly $2 million. AP Texas members jumped on the story, using it in print and online.

For alertly connecting the dots between a puzzling press release and a conflict of interest in the attorney general's office, Weber and Bleiberg earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 24, 2020

Best of the Week

AP gets ‘blockbuster’ scoop on China’s delay in warning of the coronavirus

What and when did authorities in China know about the coronavirus’ initial spread and did they react fast enough? Those have become burning questions as COVID-19 tears a deadly and destructive path across the globe.

Among the toughest to answer, too. 

The Associated Press cracked open China’s lockdown on information with an exclusive story – based on internal documents and expert testimony – revealing that top officials in Beijing knew about a likely pandemic, but held off on warning the public for at least six days – while tens of thousands attended a banquet in Wuhan and millions more travelled for Lunar New Year festivities.

The story’s byline – “By The Associated Press” – testified to the risks run by the reporter who secured and developed the major scoop.

For breaking through China’s tightly policed walls of information control about the critical first days of the pandemic, with a scoop secured in one of the world’s toughest media environments, the unnamed but not unsung AP reporter is this week’s Best of the Week laureate.

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April 03, 2020

Best of the States

Surviving the coronavirus upheaval may depend on your paycheck – a tale of 2 families

California's Bay Area is full of extremes: poverty and wealth; homelessness and opulence; high-end industry and the service workers who support it. Those extremes matter when it comes to weathering the shutdown in response to the coronavirus.

 Jocelyn Gecker and Olga Rodriguez set out to show how that divide plays out, telling the stories of Rebecca Biernat, a San Francisco attorney, and Sonia Bautista, a hotel worker, and their families. With photographer Jeff Chiu they developed an intimate portrait of the two families – what they have in common and the differences in how they are adjusting to the shutdown.

 For doggedly seeking out the right subjects, overcoming distancing restrictions and expertly weaving together two tales to tell a deeper story about inequality amid turmoil, Gecker, Rodriguez and Chiu earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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March 27, 2020

Best of the States

Fast, definitive work on US price gouging complaints amid coronavirus crisis

When reporters Justin Pritchard and Reese Dunklin were asked to look into price gouging and profiteering off the coronavirus crisis, they  sought to go deeper by employing a key part of their investigative reporting toolkit: a systematic reporting strategy.

The pair quickly executed a plan to question attorneys general in all 50 states, resulting in the most comprehensive look yet at the problem across the nation. In just two days of reporting, Pritchard and Dunklin uncovered more than 5,000 reports of everything from price gouging on toilet paper and masks, to scams offering tests and even cures for the illness. 

Their brightly written story won strong play on a busy day of coronavirus news, hitting the wire hours before Attorney General William Barr announced new actions against such crimes.

For fast, aggressive work that tapped into a topic on the public’s mind, AP recognizes Pritchard and Dunklin with this week’s Best of the States award.

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