Jan. 11, 2021

Best of the Week

AP traces child labor from Southeast Asia’s palm oil fields to major brands, Girl Scout cookies

For the third installment of their groundbreaking investigation into labor abuse in Asia’s palm oil industry, reporters Robin McDowell and Margie Mason linked child labor to the supply chains of the makers of popular cereals, candies and ice creams, including KitKats, Oreos and Cap’n Crunch. They also traced the oil to that most American treat: Girl Scout cookies. 

Joined by photographers Binsar Bakkara and Mark Humphrey, and video journalist Allen Breed, their reporting found that some tens of thousands of children toil in the palm fields, some kept from school and forced to work for free or for little pay. Some are trafficked.

The framing of the story — through the eyes of a young girl in the fields in Indonesia and a Tennessee Girl Scout campaigning to have palm oil removed from the cookies — resonated with readers; reaction on social media led the Girl Scouts to address the issue with their suppliers.

For shedding unprecedented light on the children toiling in Southeast Asia’s palm oil fields, and connecting the abusive practice to major consumer brands, McDowell, Mason, Bakkara, Breed and Humphrey share AP’s Best of the Week honors for the week of Dec. 28.

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Dec. 18, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals sexual misconduct charges against FBI leadership

used interviews, public records requests and court papers to exclusively confirm at least six sexual misconduct allegations against senior FBI officials over the past five years, and that each avoided discipline. Several were quietly transferred or retired with full benefits, even when probes substantiated the claims.Starting with a single tip from a longtime FBI source, Mustian chipped away for months to reveal the previously undisclosed names of most of those senior officials as well as the details of the allegations against them. He used a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain inspector general reports, one of which confirmed the identity of an assistant FBI director who had been credibly accused of of drunkenly groping a female subordinate in a stairwell. The assistant director left the bureau without discipline.Mustian also found a civil rights lawyer in Washington who was preparing two lawsuits by women accusing senior officials. Mustian negotiated both for an exclusive interview with one of the plaintiffs, and to be the first reporter to write about those cases, including one woman’s claim of being blackmailed into sexual encounters for years.Mustian’s story received heavy play and elicited a strong reaction from readers, particularly those inside the FBI. Several women emailed Mustian to say his count was just the beginning; that they too were victims of senior agents while at the FBI. A California congresswoman says she is considering hearings into the FBI’s handling of sexual misconduct. https://bit.ly/3h15d7R

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Dec. 11, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP wins first Rome interview after acquittal of Cardinal Pell

landed the first interview with Cardinal George Pell after his return to the Vatican following acquittal in Australia on sex abuse charges. Winfield worked for months to win the access, triangulating with Pell’s publisher, his secretary and the former Australian ambassador to the Holy See to give AP the edge.Pell’s comments to AP about a swirling Vatican corruption investigation made headlines, since he had tried to root out financial corruption when he was Vatican treasurer but was forced to abandon the efforts when he had to return to Australia to face trial.https://bit.ly/37KclRQhttps://bit.ly/3m3gzJx

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Nov. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP connects palm oil industry, top brands to abuse of women

followed up on their initial reporting that exposed widespread labor abuse in the palm oil industry, conducting a comprehensive investigation into the brutal treatment of women in the production of the omnipresent ingredient, including rapes by plantation supervisors, serious health issues from toxic chemicals and injuries from back-breaking loads. The pair then traced the oil produced by these women to the supply chains of top Western beauty brands — including conglomerates that make billions of dollars as they market the empowerment of women.Mason and McDowell persuaded dozens of female workers to tell their searing stories, spending months getting the women to trust them and then arranging clandestine meetings in an effort to protect the workers from retaliation by plantation owners. They bypassed the stonewalling of major Western brands that refused to say whether their products contain palm oil by using company data and U.S. Customs records to link the workers’ abuse to the brands’ palm oil supply chains.The package featured striking digital display, video and evocative photos by Indonesia-based stringer Binsar Bakkara, as well as a powerful series of closeups of workers’ hands cradling familiar products containing the fruits of their labor.The story is nearing 250,000 page views on AP News. The Clorox Company, which owns Burt’s Bees Inc., said it would raise the allegations of abuses with its suppliers, calling AP’s findings “incredibly disturbing.” https://bit.ly/3liKAV3https://bit.ly/2VeVUXRhttps://bit.ly/3mlXgfd

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Oct. 30, 2020

Best of the States

AP breaks news on the opioid epidemic and Purdue Pharma, with focus on victims

AP reporters from three different teams broke distinctive, significant stories on the continuing drug overdose crisis in the U.S., which has been overshadowed this year by the coronavirus pandemic:

— A state-level report showing that overdose deaths are on pace to reach an all-time high this year, and that overdoses increased after the virus began spreading in the U.S.— An accountability story on President Donald Trump’s handling of the opioid crisis, and how the issue has been overlooked in the presidential race.— A major scoop on a settlement between the federal government and Purdue Pharma, complete with details of criminal charges and the $8 billion settlement. 

But the depth of coverage didn’t end with the major news beats. All three stories put victims at the center of the reporting. 

For revealing stories that broke news and provided a powerful reminder of an ongoing epidemic that has contributed to the deaths of more than 470,000 Americans, Mike Stobbe, Adrian Sainz, Farnoush Amiri, Geoff Mulvihill, Meghan Hoyer and Michael Balsamo win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 30, 2020

Best of the Week

AP reveals that Barrett was trustee for schools with anti-gay policies

Supreme Court nominees are scrutinized for signs of how they may vote on important issues, but Amy Coney Barrett’s jurisprudence told little about her views on gay rights.

Reporters Michelle R. Smith and Michael Biesecker knew that Barrett’s ties to People of Praise, a religious group with anti-gay views, could be an important part of her confirmation process. Through dogged reporting and source work they were able to show that Barrett was a trustee at People of Praise-run schools that had anti-gay teachings. 

Their story had an immediate impact in the run-up to her Oct. 26 Senate confirmation. For thorough and groundbreaking reporting on the tightly held views of a justice likely to sit in judgment of high-profile gay rights cases, Smith and Biesecker win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Oct. 02, 2020

Best of the Week

AP exposes palm oil labor abuses linked to the world’s top brands, major banks

While covering the Rohingya crisis, investigative reporters Robin McDowell and Margie Mason knew tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Myanmar were vulnerable to exploitation. They suspected desperate men were being tricked or sold into the massive palm oil industry that supplies some of America’s most iconic food and cosmetic brands.

Working with photographers Gemunu Amarasinghe and Binsar Bakkara, they vividly documented the horrors some workers in Malyasia and Indonesia face. Workers spoke of brutal conditions including child labor, outright slavery and allegations of rape.

Reaction was swift, with the  U.S. government saying it would block shipments from a major Malaysian producer mentioned in the story.

For exposing abuses affecting tens of thousands of workers in a global industry that manufactures a vast array of products we buy and use daily, McDowell, Mason, Amarasinghe and Bakkara win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Sept. 11, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

A year after AP report, charges against former Mississippi priest

followed up with the latest developments from his 2019 reporting that uncovered sexual assault by clergy, settled on the cheap in rural Missisippi. That reporting has now prompted sexual assault charges against a former Catholic priest.A year ago, Rezendes and AP colleagues unraveled the case of a former Franciscan friar accused of sexually assaulting three impoverished Black boys. Spurred by this reporting, Mississippi authorities convened a grand jury that handed up sexual battery charges and had the man extradited from Wisconsin. Without the original work of Rezendes, there would have been no criminal case. Said La Jarvis Love, one of the men who told his story to AP: “I’m happy that me saying something got something done.”https://bit.ly/3m7ZShhhttps://bit.ly/2FnUUMm

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Aug. 28, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

A year in the making: Exclusive AP interview with Placido Domingo

scored a coveted exclusive: an all-formats interview with Placido Domingo. Barry spent a year convincing Domingo’s team that the singer should sit down and talk to the news agency that broke the story about investigations and sexual misconduct allegations against him. When Domingo’s team finally agreed, Barry was able to negotiate access for photos and video to cover not just the interview, but the concert on the eve of the interview, which for cultural events in Italy is not always the case.Barry conducted the interview in English and Italian, keeping her composure even when her line of questioning prompted Domingo’s family to “swarm” her. The story received wide play with news outlets directly crediting the AP’s interview and previous reporting. Some non-AP customers, including the BBC, were forced to credit the AP in their stories on the interview and Domingo’s denial of abusing power.https://bit.ly/34CurW0https://bit.ly/3ltJKGG

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Aug. 28, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP investigation reveals why a SEAL unit was pulled out of Iraq

relied on strong document work and deep sourcing to report exclusively on the reason a Navy SEAL unit sent to fight ISIS was abruptly pulled out of Iraq last year without explanation. The Navy gave few details, but the monthslong investigation by LaPorta and Watson revealed that female intelligence staffers deployed with a platoon of SEAL Team 7 said they were constantly ogled and sexually harassed during their time in the country. The pair tracked down a female sailor who was deployed with the SEALs who had reported the allegations and who agreed to be quoted on the record in an exclusive interview. The reporting, which began with a Freedom of Information Act request, also uncovered a previously unknown allegation of sexual misconduct against the SEAL platoon chief. https://bit.ly/3gHgpod

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Aug. 07, 2020

Best of the States

Players open up to AP, describe coach’s abusive practices at Oregon State

National sports writer Eddie Pells was first approached in February by the mom of a player who said she had some concerns about abuses going on in the volleyball program at Oregon State. 

Over the next five months, Pells conducted dozens of interviews both in and out of the program, and checked with experts to learn if volleyball coach Mark Barnard was over the line. Several athletes spoke to Pells, including a former OSU player who described how the coach’s abusive practices contributed to a suicide attempt. 

Pells’ exclusive led to immediate calls for the coach’s firing and questions about the university officials who didn’t take action after hearing complaints. 

For months of persistent and sensitive reporting despite uncertain prospects, resulting in an impressive story with impact, Pells wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 31, 2020

Best of the Week

AP exclusive leads to release of migrant kids held in US hotels for deportation

Earmarked for deportation, the immigrant children, some mere toddlers, were parked in nondescript hotels – out of sight and, the Trump administration thought, out of mind.  But not out of reach of an Associated Press exclusive.

With an investigation based on source work, court records and witness accounts, immigration reporter Nomaan Merchant exposed how the Trump administration held children in hotels despite federal anti-trafficking laws and court rulings that mandate child-appropriate facilities.

Merchant’s exclusive sparked outrage and accusations of child abuse. Five days later, the Trump administration said it would not expel 17 people, including children, detained at one Texas hotel, and the hotels pledged to stop allowing the practice.

For his investigative story that punctured layers of secrecy and changed the fortunes of all-but-invisible immigrant children, Merchant wins AP’s Best of the Week award. 

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July 17, 2020

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: US Catholic Church lobbies, gets windfall in federal PPP funds

Based on a tip following AP’s previous reporting on the Paycheck Protection Program, AP anticipated that the Roman Catholic Church might be one of the program’s biggest winners. 

Investigative reporters Reese Dunklin and Michael Rezendes started digging, first showing how the church had successfully lobbied for special treatment under the program, then, when the federal data dropped, the full extent of the church’s windfall. An analysis on deadline revealed $1.4 billion to $3.5 billion in forgivable loans, with many millions going to dioceses that paid huge settlements or sought bankruptcy because of sexual abuse claims.

The story had an immediate impact with strong play and engagement in digital, print and broadcast outlets.

For being both first and authoritative on this highly competitive story, and for holding a remarkably powerful institution accountable, Dunklin and Rezendes share 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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March 06, 2020

Best of the Week

AP’s tour de force coverage of Weinstein verdict sweeps all formats

Coverage by an Associated Press team dominated the closely watched Harvey Weinstein verdict, delivering wins in all formats with speed, depth and exclusivity. Superior planning and preparation, and outstanding coordination on the day of the verdict, gave AP the edge.

Highlights included the breaking news story moving on the wire within a minute of the verdict, exclusive video of Weinstein leaving the courthouse by ambulance, and an enterprising behind-the-scenes photo essay on the women journalists covering the trial that earned remarkable play.

For quick, comprehensive and distinctive coverage that kept the AP ahead on one of the biggest trials of the year so far, Mary Altaffer, Michael R. Sisak, Tom Hays, David Martin, Ted Shaffrey, Robert Bumsted, John Minchillo, Craig Ruttle and Sophie Rosenbaum win AP’s Best of the Week award.

 

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March 06, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: US opera union finds Placido Domingo abused power

obtained exclusively the results of the opera union’s investigation of sexual harassment accusations against superstar Placido Domingo, revealing that 27 people told investigators that they either had been harassed or had witnessed inappropriate behavior by Domingo. AP was also the first to report Domingo’s apology. Gecker’s story moved about nine hours before the union released an extremely brief description of its findings, offering few details. As a result of her reporting, a new accuser came forward to speak to the AP on the record, and a cascade of performance cancellations began among music companies in Domingo’s native Spain, where he previously had been staunchly defended. https://bit.ly/2Io9lOEhttps://bit.ly/2Io9amIhttps://bit.ly/2Q4TER1https://apnews.com/PlacidoDomingo

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Feb. 28, 2020

Best of the States

Be Prepared: Source work, planning deliver top coverage of Scouts’ bankruptcy

David Crary heard from his legal sources that something big was coming for the Boy Scouts of America, which has been besieged by sexual abuse lawsuits: a bankruptcy filing.

Weeks before the paperwork was filed, Crary, who has been covering the organization for 20 years, set into motion plans to ensure the AP was well-covered. When the Scouts’ filing finally came out late on a holiday, his sharply written prep had the story on the wire within minutes, explaining the gravity of the filing and the reasons behind it.

AP journalists around the country pitched in, including Brady McCombs who gathered reaction from Scouts and local councils, spinning it into an engaging follow-up, and correspondent Randall Chase who attended the Scouts’ first bankruptcy hearing in a Delaware court. Their efforts were rewarded with outstanding play.

For their careful planning and flawless execution of coverage of the Scouts’ bankruptcy filing, Crary, McCombs and Chase win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 28, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Wrestler goes public with abuse charges; AP gets the interview

Kantele Franko, reporter, Columbus, Ohio; Larry Lage, sports writer, Detroit; and Thomas Peipert, reporter, Denver, for nimble coordination across three regions to secure an all-formats interview with the first athlete – Olympic wrestler Andy Hrovat – to make public accusations of sexual abuse against now-deceased Dr. Robert Anderson of the University of Michigan.https://bit.ly/2HZ8m7Ghttps://bit.ly/2PwPH7j

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Feb. 28, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Vatican envoy knew of offer to bribe abuse victim

for teaming up in a new investigation into the disgraced Legion of Christ religious order, revealing that the pope’s own envoy knew about a sex abuse settlement offer that is the subject of an obstruction of justice and extortion trial in Italy. AP scored the first-ever interview with the victim’s mother and obtained her wiretapped conversation with the Vatican cardinal running the Legion who was utterly unfazed that the order wanted to pay her son to lie to prosecutors and deny he had been abused.https://bit.ly/2TftYlihttps://bit.ly/2VpMJVI

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