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. 09, 2018

Best of the States

Jobs boom favors Democratic counties over Trump strongholds; social issues motivate GOP base

President Donald Trump has long asserted that his tax cuts and other policies would accelerate job growth, which, in turn, would serve the “forgotten” men and women who had helped propel him to the White House in the 2016 election.

Washington, D.C.-based economics reporter Josh Boak wondered: Had that actually occurred so far? And how much was job growth a motivating force for Trump supporters?

Boak hit on a possible way to hold the president’s claims to a fair test. He turned to a relatively obscure report issued by the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, then merged those economic figures with the AP’s 2016 election returns, broken down by county.

The result, under multiple calculations, was clear: The bulk of U.S. hiring under Trump had so far occurred in Democratic counties.

Boak then spent three days in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, an area that had voted decisively for Trump and had lost jobs in the past 12 months. He reported that Republican voters appeared to be motivated more by social issues – opposition to gun control, for example. “Our No. 1 motivating factor,” the county Republican chairman told Boak, “is Second Amendment issues.”

For exclusively documenting how job growth under Trump has disproportionately underserved his geographic base and for illustrating that trend in a community that reflects it, Boak earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 13, 2018

Best of the States

Two stories focus on young victims impacted by US immigration policy

In two moving pieces of journalism in the last week, Associated Press journalists cast a powerful spotlight on the toll of White House immigration policies on young children.

One story started with a question posed by immigration beat team reporter Nomaan Merchant: Could we profile a single block or community where multiple immigrants had been picked up, and explore the impact of those arrests?

Merchant, joined by video journalist Manuel Valdes and photographer Greg Bull, zeroed in on a community in Kentucky that was the site of a two-day Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid last December.

Their reporting turned up examples of people who were arrested by happenstance, and with no criminal records – despite the administration’s mantra that the raids are for public safety. Perhaps the most poignant reporting and images focused on a 4-year-old boy whose father was arrested.

Meanwhile, Arizona immigration reporter Astrid Galvan was looking for ways to tell the stories of children separated from their parents at the border. She found a juvenile docket in Phoenix immigration court and camped out there for the day.

What she found was a major story that affected the national debate on immigration – a 1-year-old boy who had a court appearance with a lawyer. Galvan described in vivid detail how he nursed from his bottle, asked his care giver for “agua” and cried when the care giver retrieved his diaper bag. And she captured the money quote as a judge expressed his bafflement at having to advise a defendant of his rights when the defendant was a 1-year-old boy in diapers.

For exclusive, compelling stories that drove the narrative on a subject of prevailing interest, Galvan, Merchant, Valdes and Bull win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 19, 2018

Best of the Week

AP NewsBreak: AP scoops everyone on ICE's 7-Eleven hiring sweep, biggest raid under Trump

Associated Press reporter Elliot Spagat has spent years covering the U.S.-Mexico border, building sources within the federal agencies that enforce the nation’s immigration laws and earning the respect of senior officials.

That source work paid off when Spagat scored an exclusive ride-along as federal agents executed what officials called the largest immigration action against an employer under Donald Trump’s presidency: An early-morning sweep of nearly 100 7-Eleven stories that targeted the stores’ owners, rather than the workers.

One U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official said the operation was “a harbinger of what’s to come” for employers.

For his efforts to put AP ahead of the competition (some news organizations cited AP while their own reporters rushed to confirm the story), Spagat wins this week’s Beat of the Week prize.

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