Feb. 26, 2021

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Executioners sanitized official reports of federal inmates’ last moments

AP legal affairs reporter Michael Tarm witnessed 10 of the unprecedented 13 federal executions in the final months of the Trump administration, diligently taking notes on what he saw in the chamber, from the inmates’ last words to their last breaths. 

But weeks after the last execution in mid-January, something nagged at him: The executioner’s official account did not jibe with what he had observed during the execution. Tarm went back, looking through hundreds of filings and court transcripts. His reporting resulted in a stunning exclusive on how the executioners all used euphemisms like “snored” and “fell asleep” while Tarm and other witnesses saw inmates’ stomachs dramatically shuddering and jerking in the minutes after lethal injections.

The sanitized accounts, Tarm realized, raised serious questions about whether officials misled courts to ensure the executions would be completed before Joe Biden, a death penalty foe, took office. His story — the latest exclusive in AP’s coverage of the federal executions — received prominent play and reader engagement.

For backing up his own observations with rigorous reporting to hold the federal government accountable for its official accounts of the executions, Tarm earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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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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Jan. 15, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Records confirm Trump devotees fueled US Capitol riot

led an effort to dig into the backgrounds of more than 120 people who were either arrested or emerged on social media after storming the U.S. Capitol, finding they were overwhelmingly made up of longtime Trump supporters, including Republican Party officials and donors and far-right militants.AP’s fast-breaking team effort to review social media posts, voter registrations, court files and other public records was the most comprehensive look yet at those involved in the riot, giving lie to claims by right-wing pundits that the violence was perpetrated by left-wing antifa infiltrators. The detailed background work included calls, and in some cases even doorknocks, to nearly all whose names emerged from the Jan. 6 takeover.The AP found that many of the rioters were adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory as well as claims by Trump that the vote had been stolen. Several had openly threatened violence against Democrats and Republicans they considered insufficiently loyal to the president.The team’s story, accompanied by AP photos taken inside the Capitol, scored huge play and was featured prominently on major websites. It stayed among the top stories on AP News for two straight days. https://bit.ly/2Kd7Tn1

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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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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. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP analysis: Most arrested in US protests aren’t leftist radicals

set out to determine who had actually been arrested in the protests that have rocked the U.S. since the killing of George Floyd in May. They scrutinized the arrest records of every person charged in federal court with protest-related crimes, delivering an important accountability story that showed the Trump administration’s claims of leftist-incited violence during racial unrest were overblown. The trio read through thousands of pages of court documents and sifted through 286 federal cases where people were charged with federal crimes of violence. They found only one mention of antifa and very few cases of organized extremism.They also called dozens of lawyers, activists and sources to determine what was going on behind the numbers, finding an effort by the Department of Justice to pursue cases that normally would be handled in the state systems, and exaggeration by the president of the danger posed to the public. The team’s reporting undercut claims that left-wing extremists were running rampant in American cities. On a busy news day, the story received outstanding play online and in print. https://bit.ly/2HMltwl

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Oct. 09, 2020

Best of the States

AP ties Supreme Court nominee to faith group said to subjugate women

When President Donald Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, Barrett and her supporters clearly did not want to discuss the nominee’s reported ties to a religious group called People of Praise.

Enter reporters Michelle Smith and Michael Biesecker. Using on-the-record interviews and an archive of deleted web pages, the pair documented Barrett's deep ties to the charismatic Christian group and painted a detailed picture of the organization’s beliefs and practices from its early days to the present. And the reporters went on to reveal how the organization had systematically deleted all mentions of Barrett and her family from its website.

For deep, resourceful reporting that sheds new light on the current Supreme Court nominee on the cusp of her confirmation hearings, Smith and Biesecker share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 09, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Preparation, teamwork, sharp reporting on COVID-stricken Trump

leveraged preparation, source reporting and probing questions to set the standard for coverage of President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis.AP’s White House crew was already juggling news about a new Supreme Court nominee, revelations about Trump’s tax records, a chaotic presidential debate and controversy over the president’s stand on white supremacy, when word came Thursday night that top adviser Hope Hicks had tested positive for the coronavirus. The reporting team sprang into action to develop the story and explore the implications for Trump and those around him. By 12:30 a.m., they’d pushed the story as far as they could, and the White House gave no guidance on when test results for the president and first lady would be known.Colvin was still up, though, when Trump tweeted just before 1 a.m. that he and Melania had tested positive. The APNewsAlert moved at 1:02 a.m., and a full writethru packed with context – drawing heavily on AP’s preparedness for just this scenario – was out a minute later, giving newspaper editors around the country time to frantically remake the next day’s front pages. Over the next three days, through two dozen news alerts and more than 100 writethrus, the three reporters collaborated on sharp reporting and probing questions to tell the remarkable story of a president in both a health crisis and a credibility crisis of his own making. The team’s work broke news and dominated play throughout the weekend. https://bit.ly/3d6bJIqhttps://bit.ly/36GP04thttps://bit.ly/3ntDyiEhttps://bit.ly/2SyroGX

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Oct. 02, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Teamwork delivers sweeping coverage of Supreme Court nomination

coordinated their reporting to deliver smooth, comprehensive coverage – and exclusives – as the death and memorial of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg transitioned to the rollout of President Donald Trump’s nomination for the now-vacant seat: Judge Amy Coney Barrett.The AP team focused on Barrett as the front-runner for the nomination and had a robust package ready for Trump’s formal announcement. Coverage of the nomination included a revelatory biography of “Scalia’s heir,” how the nomination came about, how Barrett could be the polar opposite of Ginsburg on the court and how the GOP was investing some $10 million in a digital ad blitz to promote Barrett as the next justice on the nation’s highest court.https://bit.ly/2GgS506https://bit.ly/34e1EoMhttps://bit.ly/34gKhUChttps://bit.ly/33gm7u6

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Sept. 25, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Preparation puts AP ahead with fast, deep coverage of RBG

used their deep knowledge of the Supreme Court beat – and rigorous preparation – to put AP out front with a series of exclusives following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Sherman and Gresko anticipated the inevitable after Ginsburg disclosed that she was being treated for another bout of cancer, and they were well positioned when the death was announced on Friday night. AP moved an alert within four minutes, with a story was out barely five minutes later, ahead of most other major outlets. Sherman’s elegant and deeply reported appreciation moved shortly after. He then set to work helping the White House and Congress teams with the very real question of what happens next.Gresko, meanwhile, teed off a series of exclusive pieces about Ginsburg – her final moments, the stories she told and how her style was something more than just a fashion statement. Sherman followed up with a look at whether eight justices would be enough should the 2020 election be contested. Play was stunning for their collective work – 5 million page views and 1,500 downloads.Sherman and Gresko understand not only the court and the complex legal filings, but also the justices themselves. And they value preparation as a precursor to speed. The pair works in tandem on different but equally interesting and important stories, and their collaboration kept the Washington bureau ahead of a momentous story in a year filled with momentous stories.https://bit.ly/3mQbKVChttps://bit.ly/2FXOqo7https://bit.ly/2FPTR8N

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Aug. 14, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals investigation into Venezuelan officials’ money laundering

used deep source reporting to uncover an international investigation into how the former treasurer of Venezuela, who had once served as nurse to then-President Hugo Chávez, used a network of offshore shell companies and dodgy Swiss bankers to loot millions from Venezuela, hiding much of her unexplained wealth in gold.

Goodman’s piece provided a rare look into how former officials in Venezuela used various money laundering schemes to raid the country’s coffers of an estimated $300 billion in two decades of socialist rule. An unexpected twist was the physical transfer of heavy gold bars — previously unmentioned in court records — underscoring the lengths to which some prominent Venezuelans have gone to hide stolen wealth. https://bit.ly/2PMX2iI

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Aug. 14, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Secret court documents reveal case against Colombian ex-president

obtained, through personal contacts and sources, 1500 pages of secret court documents that detail the evidence and justification behind a decision by Colombia’s Supreme Court subjecting former president Alvaro Uribe to house arrest while he awaits formal charges for alleged witness tampering. The documents include accounts of urgent WhatsApp messages, secretly recorded meetings and intercepted phone calls that reveal a rushed search by Uribe’s team for witnesses – loyalists willing to do anything necessary to stop the case from proceeding. https://bit.ly/2XTiPtu

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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 24, 2020

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Inside the first major outbreak at an ICE detention center

The reason the warden at a large San Diego detention center gave for not wearing masks amid the pandemic was astonishing – and likely helped fuel a large outbreak.

“Well, you can’t wear the mask because we don’t want to scare the employees and we don’t want to scare the inmates and detainees,” a guard recalled being told.

That’s just the lead of the story by AP’s Elliot Spagat, who landed the first detailed interviews with employees and detainees about the situation at the Otay Mesa Detention Center. Spagat also reviewed hundreds of pages of court documents and government data to provide the most complete account yet of the first major outbreak at a U.S. immigration facility.

For giving readers a behind-the-scenes look at some of the factors that surely contributed to the virus outbreak, and for holding the warden and other officials accountable, Spagat wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 10, 2020

Best of the Week

AP Exclusive: China forces Uighurs to cut births with IUDs, abortions, sterilization

The shocking story exposed a serious human rights issue: The Chinese government has forced the use of IUDs, abortions and sterilization on members of China’s Muslim minority in an apparent effort to reduce its population. 

The piece, which ran without a byline for security reasons, established that China is imposing birth control on Uighurs and other Muslims in a far more widespread and systematic way than previously known. The exclusive reporting drew on Uighur and Kazakh sources, research by a prominent China scholar and hours-long interviews with ex-detainees, family members and even a former detention camp instructor. 

The story elicited a strong global response from government officials, news media and the public.

For uncovering another major chapter on the plight of the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in China, the unidentified AP reporter wins this week’s Best of the Week award.

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July 02, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP scoop on US ruling to free immigrant children

scored a 90-minute beat on a closely watched federal court ruling that ordered the release of children held with their parents in U.S. immigration jails during the pandemic. Merchant was tipped earlier in the day and had much of the story written ahead of the decision. He had set the stage earlier in the week with an unmatched story on families being isolated in Texas at the largest of three family detention centers run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. https://bit.ly/3iclNlv

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June 26, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP scoops celeb media on Billie Eilish hearing

was the only reporter who attended a hearing involving singer Billie Eilish, who sought a restraining order against a man who trespassed at her home. With Eilish and her family attending remotely, Dalton convinced a bailiff to let him in and was the only one in the courtroom aside from court staff. Other news outlets were forced to rely on details in his exclusive story for their own reporting. https://bit.ly/3fWVNZw

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June 19, 2020

Best of the States

AP teams deliver a deeply reported all-formats profile of George Floyd

The story of George Floyd’s death will likely endure as a pivotal moment in civil rights and police accountability, but his life – from a start in Houston public housing to his death in Minneapolis, where he hoped to start a new chapter – wasn’t lived in a spotlight. 

In a uniquely AP collaboration across states and disciplines, AP journalists turned to people who knew Floyd from his childhood through his adult years, weaving together his story in all formats, enhanced by existing video of the man. The result was a revealing, deeply reported profile, including Floyd’s brief turns as a football player, rapper and bouncer, time in prison and days spent trying to help mentor kids to avoid his mistakes. 

For persistent, collaborative and creative storytelling that goes to the heart of the tragedy that unfolded in Minneapolis, the multiformat team of Luis Andres Henao, Juan Lozano, Nomaan Merchant, Adam Geller, John Mone, David Phillip and Aaron Morrison shares this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 15, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Even Trump claims surprise after AP bombshell on Flynn case

scooped everyone with news that the Justice Department was moving for dismissal of the case against Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser who had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Balsamo, acting on a tip, worked sources and obtained exclusive access to court documents showing the case was being dropped, before they were even filed in court. Tucker, AP’s Mueller investigation expert, drafted the story, pulling together details and information from other sources on how this case could have ended in such a spectacular and unusual way.The AP exclusive forced virtually every major news outlet to use the story, including CNN. Even Trump proclaimed he didn’t know it was coming – and he’d been railing for weeks about the case, mulling whether to pardon Flynn.https://bit.ly/2ArlBNRhttps://bit.ly/2WRm8Ae

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