Nov. 01, 2019

Best of the Week

AP investigation: Ukraine’s Zelenskiy pressured by Trump months before call

Desmond Butler and Michael Biesecker, global investigations reporters in Washington, wanted to fill out the timeline of the diplomatic scandal at the heart of House impeachment inquiry. While Biesecker worked sources in Washington, Butler traveled to Ukraine to meet with associates of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and with other sources developed over years of investigating wrongdoing in the former Soviet Union.

What they learned moved the needle on a complex narrative — associates of the Ukrainian leader said that pressure from the Trump White House started much earlier than was known previously, dating from shortly after Zelenskiy’s election in April, and before he took office as president. 

The scoop was the latest in a series of breaking stories and exclusives by the pair that have defined coverage of the impeachment investigation and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s role in it.

For meticulous work that led to a major scoop and widened the horizons of the ongoing Ukraine-Trump story, Butler and Biesecker share AP’s Best of the Week award. 

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Sept. 20, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Virtually no regulation of contaminated sludge used as crop fertilizer

for an all-formats package that holds state and federal regulators accountable for doing little or nothing to address rising concerns that sewage sludge, used as cheap farm fertilizer, is contaminating food with potentially harmful chemicals. The team interviewed numerous experts and officials about PFAS, a group of chemicals used in a wide variety of household products and industrial processes. They found concern that certain of these chemicals associated with increased risk of cancer and organ damage could wind up in the food chain fertilized by contaminated sludge. But they also found that the federal government and most states had done little if anything to assess or regulate the amount of PFAS in the sludge being spread on farm fields across America.https://bit.ly/2kRjDiihttps://bit.ly/2mmYxc2https://bit.ly/2lXGo4f

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July 26, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Trump’s harsh words on ‘squad’ reinforce dark posts online

for an impactful look at the connection between President Donald Trump’s words and the misinformation as well as sexist and racist content that circulates online. The collaboration between the fact check and White House teams showed how Trump has elevated incendiary rhetoric against four freshman Democratic congresswomen, playing into a conspiratorial feedback loop that has reared its head repeatedly during his campaign and presidency. https://bit.ly/2OjmMWa

July 12, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Trump Facebook ads use models instead of actual supporters

for following up on a relatively obscure blog entry that mentioned the use of stock video footage by President Donald Trump’s campaign. Condon reported that the campaign was using stock video models to portray actual supporters in Facebook ads, and the models were not even in the United States but in France, Turkey and Brazil. Condon's story was one of AP’s most widely read of the past week.

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March 29, 2019

Best of the Week

Planning, execution and teamwork deliver outstanding coverage of Mueller report

For weeks, journalists in Washington had been chasing tips that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 race for the White House was winding down. Knowing that appetite for the story was huge, our Washington team created a comprehensive coverage plan for the day the report would be delivered to Attorney General William Barr.

Eric Tucker, Justice Department reporter, and Chad Day, Trump investigations reporter, kicked off the coverage with “Mueller in Plain Sight,” a sweeping narrative of everything that had already been revealed by Mueller in his public indictments.

As speculation intensified, Tucker and law enforcement reporter Mike Balsamo alternated shifts at the Justice Department, while AP photographers and videojournalists staked out Mueller and Barr. Photographer Andrew Harnik scored with images of Mueller arriving at the Justice Department, the first image of Mueller by a news photographer in more than a year.

Word finally came on Friday, March 22 that Mueller’s work had ended. Within minutes of moving an alert, the AP sent a series of richly reported stories by the team that led AP’s coverage for months: Tucker, Day, Balsamo and Congress reporter Mary Clare Jalonick.

And on Sunday morning AP scored another visual scoop when freelance photographer Cliff Owen learned that Mueller was at church. Owen’s photos of Mueller exiting St. John’s church ricocheted around the internet.

Later Sunday, when a Justice Department official handed reporters copies of Barr’s summary, Tucker calmly read the highlights over an open phone line to the bureau while Balsamo sent full quotes. AP’s first alert, that Mueller had not exonerated Trump on obstruction of justice, moved a full 10 minutes before the Washington Post and five minutes before the New York Times.

The video team also provided unmatched live coverage from a wide range of locations in Washington, at Mar-a-Lago in Florida and in New York throughout the weekend.

For exceptional planning, teamwork and execution, Eric Tucker, Chad Day, Mike Balsamo, Mary Clare Jalonick, Andrew Harnik and Cliff Owen win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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March 08, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

APNewsBreak: Threat of pre-election lawsuit led to big Iowa payout

for breaking news on the unusual circumstances around $4.15 million in settlements for alleged victims of sexual harrassment by a former close ally of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. From a comprehensive records request and interviews, Foley learned that a lawyer for the women had sent a detailed “demand letter” threatening a lawsuit days before the election and a promise to dig into the governor’s association with the now-fired director of the Iowa Finance Authority. The state, Foley reported, agreed to settle immediately after receiving the letter. https://bit.ly/2EoXmxR

Dec. 21, 2018

Best of the States

Sourcework pays off with scoop on Julian Castro presidential bid

Getting a source to give AP a major scoop over competitors can take weeks or months of building credibility and trust. Sometimes that payoff takes years – as Austin, Texas, newsman Paul Weber discovered while breaking the news that former Obama Cabinet member Julian Castro was becoming the first Democrat in the 2020 field to launch an exploratory committee for president.

Weber’s relationship with Castro goes back nearly a decade. Weber moved to AP’s San Antonio bureau in 2009, covering the 34-year-old mayor as a national political figure, including regular source meetings and face time with his family.

When Castro returned to Texas after two years as the nation’s housing secretary, Weber ran into him, stumping for other Democrats on the 2018 campaign trail. Months later Weber received a call from the number he had plugged into his phone eight years earlier: It was Castro calling to say he was “likely” to run for president.

The APNewsBreak immediately trended as a top story on social media and put AP hours ahead of major competitors, including The New York Times, which cited AP and quoted from Weber’s exclusive all-formats interview.

For exceptional source development and for negotiating an AP exclusive, Weber wins this week’s Best of the States.

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Oct. 05, 2018

Best of the States

Oklahoma Republicans targeted by GOP colleague, dark money

Oklahomans widely assumed that 12 Republican state lawmakers who lost their bids for re-election came up short at the polls because of their opposition to raising pay for the state’s public school teachers.

While opposition to education funding may have been one factor in incumbent losses in the GOP primaries, Oklahoma City-based reporter Sean Murphy began hearing scuttlebutt about an organized effort from within the Republican Party to kick out incumbents from their own party.

Using campaign finance reports and solid sourcing at the Capitol, Murphy was alone in showing that the rumors were true.

Public records showed a top state House GOP leader had given money to opponents of two of his own colleagues, and the opponents unseated the incumbents. Murphy also leveraged a relationship developed over years of reporting to get the lawmaker to talk. He acknowledged a plan to punish fellow Republicans for taking hardline stances that forced a compromise with Democrats on a plan to raise taxes to pay for teacher raises.

For combining shoe-leather reporting with smart document work, Murphy wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 28, 2018

Best of the States

How 65 women came to Kavanaugh's defense in a matter of hours

Within hours of their high school friend being accused publicly of sexual assault against a young woman 36 years ago, 65 women stepped forward to sign a letter supporting Brett Kavanaugh, whose nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court was now at risk.

Many in newsrooms asked themselves, how was it possible that 65 people could be marshalled so quickly to attest to someone’s moral character, including people who may not have seen Kavanaugh in decades. Reporters in four states, Jennifer Peltz in New York, Michael Kunzelman in Baltimore, Alanna Durkin Richer in Boston and Dan Sewell in Ohio, set out to reach every single one.

They learned that the campaign had started with phone calls among several high-school friends of Kavanaugh, and organizers used social media to expand their search.

The story, demonstrating AP's ability to marshal staffers across state lines on a tight timeline, was the top non-spot story of the week.

For their efforts, Shafner, Peltz, Kunzelman, Richer and Sewell share this week's Best of the States award.

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Sept. 28, 2018

Best of the Week

AP dominates multiformat coverage of attack on Iran military parade

A Sept. 22 assault on a military parade in Iran was the country’s deadliest terror attack in nearly a decade. AP's entire team of journalists in Tehran drew on its vast expertise to convey key details and the broader context of the shootings that killed at least 25 people and wounded 60 others.

Staffers swung into action soon after gunmen disguised as soldiers suddenly opened fire on the annual military celebration in Ahvaz, in southwestern Iran. The attack sent parade viewers fleeing in panic, the scenes of chaos and fear broadcast live across the country.

For their dominating work in covering the breaking news, the Tehran-based team of Nasser Karimi, Ami Vahdat, Vahid Salemi, Ebrahim Noroozi, Mehdi Fattahi, Mohammad Nasiri, Mohsen Ganji, Saeed Sarmadi share the Best of the Week award.

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Aug. 31, 2018

Best of the States

Tibbetts murder suspect lived, worked on land linked to GOP fundraiser

Within hours of the news that the man charged with killing Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts was a Mexican citizen believed to be in the United States illegally, Republican leaders from President Donald Trump to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds injected the case into the political debate, blaming lax immigration policies for allowing the man into the community.

Amid such comments, Iowa City correspondent Ryan J. Foley got a tip from two longtime Republican Party sources: The suspect lived on land partly owned by Nicole Schlinger, one of the party’s most prolific national fundraisers, the sources said.

Foley was determined to discover whether that was true. He obtained property records showing Schlinger and her husband owned the farm trailer where Rivera had lived, and her husband was president of the farm. Foley then got confirmation from Schlinger, who had avoided his questions for days.

Further, Schlinger’s fundraising client list included anti-illegal-immigration hard-liners, including Reynolds, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and even the Stop Sanctuary Cities PAC.

The story was used extensively by Iowa newspapers and was a big online hit, with hundreds of postings and 40,000 Facebook interactions.

For scooping local and national competitors on a high-interest topic even as he reported on spot developments, Ryan Foley wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 31, 2018

Best of the Week

AP Exclusives: National Enquirer’s secret safe, Cohen subpoenaed on Trump Foundation

“What’s in the safe?”

The headline on the cover of the New York Post editions on Aug. 23 spoke volumes about the impact, power and reach of AP reporting on the legal chaos surrounding President Donald Trump.

Washington investigative reporter Jeff Horwitz exclusively reported that the National Enquirer kept a safe containing documents on hush money payments and other damaging stories it killed as part of its cozy relationship with Trump leading up to the 2016 presidential election. Horwitz's story quickly went to No. 1 on AP Mobile and led websites around the world.

It was one of two AP exclusives touching on Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen that seized the nation’s attention last week. In addition to Horwitz, Albany statehouse reporter David Klepper was first to report that New York state investigators subpoenaed Cohen as part of their probe into the Trump Foundation. Klepper reported that Cohen is a potentially significant source for state investigators looking into whether Trump or his charity broke state law or lied about their tax liability.

For their exclusives, Horwitz and Klepper win the Beat of the Week.

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Aug. 16, 2018

Best of the Week

Reporters overcome fears to expose faith crackdown in China

The assignment always promised to be a challenge: talk with Christians in China about a state crackdown on their faith when many are afraid to speak out for fear of government retribution.

When reporter Yanan Wang, photographer Han Guan Ng and video journalist Emily Wang visited cities in China’s Christian heartland, they discovered the government’s campaign to “Sinicize” Christianity was far more aggressive than previously known. Hundreds of informal churches in private homes were shuttered. Gatherings were raided. Bibles were seized. Authorities ordered posters of Jesus replaced with portraits of President Xi Jinping.

For careful, persistent reporting to expose what experts and activists described as the most severe systematic repression of Christianity since religious freedom was written into the Chinese constitution in 1982, the three win this week’s Beat of the Week.

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June 29, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Kobach sought pardon for VP of a corporate donor

Topeka correspondent John Hanna had been hearing hints for weeks that there might be something in Kris Kobach’s record that could cause trouble for the Kansas secretary of state and candidate for governor.

At first, it was just that: hints. The suggestions were so vague that Hanna set off to review the nationally known Republican’s statements, but Hanna, whose reporting sense is informed by 30 years of statehouse reporting, found nothing.

So he kept digging. Eventually a source suggested there might be something to do with a pardon, and Hanna filed a records request.

The governor’s office released a copy of its file on a pardon request for Ryan Bader, the vice president of TriStar Arms, a firearms importer. Bader had faced an aggravated robbery charge over a 2009 incident but agreed to a plea bargain and received a light sentence. Now he wanted a pardon so that he could buy a gun again and get the licenses needed to take over the family business.

Bader’s attorney for the pardon request? Kobach. The records showed Kobach did not provide a key police affidavit that was later released by the office of GOP Gov. Jeff Colyer – whom Kobach is challenging. But there was more. Campaign finance records showed that TriStar had donated at least $7,000 to Kobach’s campaigns for secretary of state and governor. The company also helped sponsor a fundraiser with Donald Trump Jr.

Hanna’s APNewsBreak was well used, including a post on the homepage of a member that is usually hesitant to showcase work done outside its newsroom. It also became a topic of a gubernatorial debate, with Kobach defending the pardon request.

For smart digging and use of public records that helped drive the news agenda and political conversation, Hanna wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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