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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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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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

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

US Muslim community adapts to Ramadan amid the pandemic

produced a rich, character-driven look at obstacles and opportunities for American Muslims observing Ramadan during the pandemic. Harnessing the power of the AP across the U.S., the team and their colleagues brought a complex subject to vivid fruition with a nuanced, intimate look at the Muslim community adjusting and improvising during a more virtual and sometimes solitary holy month.https://bit.ly/2xFRrVXhttps://bit.ly/3ft7Xtm

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March 13, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exploring hoop dreams and faith at Yeshiva University

spent hundreds of hours with the Yeshiva University basketball team as AP’s religion team looked at how Yeshiva navigates the world of college athletics while facing misperceptions of who they are as Jews – and even outright anti-Semitism, sometimes on the court. The New York-based trio delivered a deeply reported all-formats package as the Maccabees went on a historic run and won their conference championship. AP was there for the games, but also for classes, meals, family time, dorm time and a wedding. The relationship and trust built with the team became even more valuable as the team endures a new challenge: A Yeshiva student, not on the team, tested positive for the coronavirus, causing the team to be banned from a Baltimore hotel.https://bit.ly/2TMEulBhttps://bit.ly/3aOhckThttps://bit.ly/2U1DcSzhttps://bit.ly/3cVdIio

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June 14, 2019

Best of the Week

AP investigation: Top US cardinal accused of mishandling abuse allegations against deputy

Vatican correspondent Nicole Winfield’s five-month investigation revealed the stunning allegations: A high-ranking Catholic priest had a sexual relationship with a Houston woman for more than a year, counseled her husband on their marital problems, pressed for hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from the couple and continued to hear her confession.

But the cardinal overseeing the church’s handling of sexual abuse allegations in the United States approved the priest’s transfer to a church two hours away.

The fallout from Winfield’s revelations was swift: The priest was suspended and church officials reopened their inquiry into the handling of parishioner Laura Pontikes’ accusations.

To tell the sensitive story, Winfield – and a team that included Raleigh-based national writer/video journalist Allen Breed, New York global enterprise photographer Wong Maye-E and Houston correspondent Nomaan Merchant – meticulously planned coverage in each format, including on-camera interviews with Pontikes and her husband, and photos and video of the cardinal and the accused priest.

For an investigation that cast doubt on a top church official’s handling of a case involving startling allegations of abuse, Winfield, Breed, Wong and Merchant wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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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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Aug. 25, 2017

Best of the Week

Deep reporting, startling images reveal shaky faith and depths of despair in Trump Country

It’s a difficult thing, interviewing people about their desolation. But an Associated Press team went to Grays Harbor County, Washington, and came away with a deeply reported portrait of a place that had voted Democrat in every presidential election since 1932, but placed a bet on Donald Trump in November as its rescuer from addiction and economic malaise.

Sensitively and penetratingly, the team of Claire Galofaro, David Goldman and Martha Irvine used text, photos and video to tell the tale of an old logging county that “answered Donald Trump's call to the country's forgotten corners.” A half-year into the Republican’s term, they found varying degrees of faith in his ability to make a difference in their lives.

The latest installment in the AP’s Trump Country series is the Beat of the Week.

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Aug. 04, 2017

Best of the Week

'They kept us as slaves': AP Exclusive reveals abuse claims against church

"They kept us as slaves."

One man's tearful revelation to AP national investigative reporter Mitch Weiss helped unravel a horrible secret – the former congregant of the World of Faith Fellowship sect was among hundreds who'd been dispatched from the church's two Brazilian branches to the U.S., where many say they were forced to work for little or no pay and physically or verbally assaulted.

Dozens of former congregants told similar stories of abuse and exploitation in an exclusive AP multi-format story that earns Weiss, national investigative reporter Holbrook Mohr, and Peter Prengaman, news director in Rio de Janeiro, the Beat of the Week.

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March 09, 2017

Best of the Week

​Ex-sect members tell AP that prosecutors obstructed abuse cases

It’s one of the most important lessons of investigative journalism: One good story can lead to another. Don’t give up after the first round. Keep digging.

That’s what Mitch Weiss of the national investigative team did after his explosive first story on the Word of Faith Fellowship. His follow-up story earns the Beat of the Week.

It took Weiss many months to persuade 43 former members of the Fellowship to open up – on the record and identified – with stories of adults and children being slapped, punched, choked and slammed to the floor in the name of the Lord. But getting so many of the reluctant ex-congregants to talk was only the start of his journalistic journey.

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Feb. 27, 2017

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Ex-congregants reveal years of ungodly abuse

This story begins in 2014, when five members of Word of Faith Fellowship, an evangelical congregation in western North Carolina, were indicted for beating a young man because they thought he was gay. Mitch Weiss, an investigative reporter based in Charlotte, reached out to the man, Matthew Fenner, who told a harrowing tale.

For Weiss, that conversation was the beginning of a nearly two-year quest to tell the story of Word of Faith and its controlling leader, Jane Whaley, a 77-year-old petite former math teacher with a thick Southern accent. Working alongside Atlanta-based video journalist Alex Sanz, Weiss eventually pieced together a startling and comprehensive look at a religious community that promised its members peace and prosperity. What they got was violence and abuse, administered in the name of God, former followers told him.

Part one of that series, published this week, wins Best of the States, and there is more to come.

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Feb. 03, 2017

Best of the Week

AP presses for details of judge's ruling on immigration ban

At a time when the very integrity of news is under attack in some corners, it is more important than ever that The Associated Press be a key champion of accuracy. This includes not only fighting back against false claims and false reporting, but sometimes simply waiting as we push for more specificity. New York City News Editor David Caruso did exactly that over the weekend, avoiding the missteps of other news organizations by pressing for details of a federal judge's emergency order temporarily staying part of President Donald Trump's travel ban for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim nations.

Caruso demanded, and got, a copy of U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly's order so the AP could be precise about reporting on its relatively narrow effects, even as other news outlets relied on tweets from advocates who made it seem more sweeping. Caruso’s careful, painstaking work is the Beat of the Week.

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