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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Feb. 26, 2021

Best of the Week

Determined source work exposes horrific massacre in holy city of Ethiopia’s isolated Tigray region

Ethiopia’s military campaign in its defiant Tigray province has been shrouded in secrecy since the conflict started in November, but AP East Africa correspondent Cara Anna has been determined to report what happened in the virtually sealed-off region. She has chased every lead through relentless source work, building contacts and networks as she reported one exclusive after another.

For this latest exclusive, Anna had been hearing rumors of a massacre in the holy city of Axum. When phone service returned to the city recently, she was able to reach the deacon of the Axum church who described in disturbing detail the mass killings by Eritrean troops. He believes some 800 people were killed that weekend at the church and around the city, and that thousands in Axum have died in all. Anna found other survivors who corroborated the deacon’s story and offered additional details.

Her reporting scooped all other media and even human rights groups who had been investigating Axum. It also drew rare and surprisingly quick responses from the governments of both Eritrea and Ethiopia.

For determined and resourceful reporting to break through the secrecy surrounding the Tigray conflict and expose the atrocity at Axum, Anna wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 26, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP investigation reveals nonexistent mask shortage

acted on a tip from a former federal official to reveal that hospitals were continuing to ration medical masks for their workers even when they had months of supply in store. The team’s investigation found a logistical breakdown at the heart of the perceived mask shortage, rooted in federal failures to coordinate supply chains and provide hospitals with clear rules about how to manage their medical equipment.The initial tip came from a source inside the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who shared pages of emails asking why U.S. manufacturers weren’t able to sell their products. In a series of interviews, the reporters surveyed hospital procurement officers representing more than 300 hospitals around the country and learned that all had two to 12 months supply of N95 masks in storage, but almost all were limiting workers to one mask per day, or even one per week. Meanwhile, at least one manufacturer had so many masks warehoused that it recently got government approval to export them.The story was used widely, and Dearen was interviewed live on CBS News. https://bit.ly/3pOAhub

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Feb. 19, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: COVID job cuts widen economic inequality

crunched federal economic data for his exclusive report that Americans as a whole are now earning the same amount in wages and salaries that they did before the viral pandemic struck — even with nearly 9 million fewer people working.The main reason? The job cuts of the past 11 months have fallen overwhelmingly on lower-income workers across the economy’s service sector — from restaurants and hotels to retail stores and entertainment venues. By contrast, tens of millions of higher-income Americans, most of whom have been able to work from home, have managed to keep or acquire jobs and to continue to receive pay increases.Rugaber independently verified the story’s premise by comparing multiple federal data sets, then interviewed a number of economists to gain deeper insights into the trend. “Pretty remarkable” is how one economist described the findings. The exclusive work provided stark evidence of the nation’s widening economic inequality. https://bit.ly/3atLOed

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Feb. 19, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exclusives reveal recent stumbles on immigration policy

teamed up to produce a pair of exclusives that capture the confusion and signs of problems at both the U.S.-Mexico border and inside federal immigration agencies in the early days of the Biden administration. Merchant used source work and reporting to find and tell the story of a Cuban migrant who was held in a short-term detention facility with her newborn son twice as long as federal rules generally allow. He worked with advocates and the Border Patrol to uncover information about the woman’s case and interviewed her exclusively after her release. The story illustrated how a recent increase in families and children crossing the border has maxed out holding facilities.In a second exclusive Merchant paired with Weber after a tweet from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, breaking a story on the near-release by Immigration and Customs Enforcement of three men with convictions for sexually abusing children.https://bit.ly/3dr8NZ9https://bit.ly/3dji3i1

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Feb. 12, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Catholic Church, sitting on billions, amassed PPP aid

investigated the Catholic Church’s receipt of billions in federal aid during the pandemic, breaking news and bringing accountability to both a massive government program and one of the world’s most powerful institutions. The investigative reporters conducted an exclusive and exhaustive analysis showing that while Catholic entities were sitting on at least $10 billion in cash, the nation’s nearly 200 dioceses and other Catholic institutions received at least $3 billion from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, making the Roman Catholic Church perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the program, according to AP’s review.The reporting required was formidable, including joining a federal lawsuit to get the full PPP data. Dunklin and Rezendes then led a blitz by colleagues to hand check tens of thousands of data points. That work tracked the apparently disproportionate aid to Catholic recipients compared to other faith groups and national charities.The package reverberated through a busy news day and was covered in outlets as diverse as Slate and the Catholic News Agency.https://bit.ly/371q7QGhttps://bit.ly/3aPLVzOhttps://bit.ly/3qfXeI4

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Feb. 12, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP exposes likely superspreader at federal executions

have covered the spread of COVID-19 in prisons, as well as every federal execution of the last year. That reporting and insight led them to the stunning realization that the Trump administration’s unprecedented string of executions likely became a superspreader event at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.Tarm first learned about the case spread when he heard that he had been exposed — although the Bureau of Prisons did not notify him or others attending the executions. Through rigorous, painstaking reporting, the three Michaels discovered that fully 70% of death row inmates had COVID during the 13 executions in six months, but the Bureau of Prisons felt it wasn’t their responsibility to ensure that everyone was told about the spread or whether their employees were following protocols.The trio’s riveting story detailed how cases spread rapidly through the federal prison complex and likely helped spread infections around the country during a critical time in the pandemic as deaths were skyrocketing. The Friday evening scoop lit up social media and was a top news story well into the weekend. https://bit.ly/3qmh0Sh

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Feb. 05, 2021

Best of the States

AP months ahead of New York state in identifying undercount of nursing home deaths

When AP reported exclusively last August that New York state was undercounting its COVID nursing home death toll by thousands, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ripped the story as part of a politically motivated “blame game.”

But the state’s own investigation, announced last week, reached a nearly identical conclusion, affirming AP’s reporting.

AP’s 2020 investigation had seized on the fact that New York counts just residents who died at nursing homes, not those who were transported to hospitals and died there. AP’s analysis of federal data indicated that the state’s official toll was undercounted by 65%, or well over 4,000 deaths. 

For sharp reporting that led the media pack, withstood criticism from the governor and months later was vindicated, this week’s Best of the States award goes to Bernard Condon, Matt Sedensky and Meghan Hoyer (now data director at The Washington Post).

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Jan. 22, 2021

Best of the States

AP investigation: Capitol rioters included highly trained ex-military, law enforcement

AP reporters Michael Biesecker Jake Bleiberg and James LaPorta joined with colleagues across the country to reveal the influence of current and former members of the military or law enforcement on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

The AP team surveyed public records, social media posts and videos, and the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies, finding at least 22 current or former members of the U.S. military or law enforcement have been identified as part of Capitol riot, with more under investigation. The story gave specific examples of how such training played out in rioters’ tactics and equipment during the attack.

The all-formats package received prominent play from AP customers and was the top offering on the AP News app on a busy news day. 

For timely and insightful reporting that sheds light on the backgrounds and capabilities of Capitol Hill rioters, Biesecker, Bleiberg and LaPorta win AP’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 22, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Determined reporting exposes severe hunger in Tigray region

revealed for the first time the full extent of severe, widespread hunger and the threat of starvation in Ethiopia’s defiant Tigray region, which has been under attack by government forces for more than two months.With Tigray virtually cut off from the rest of the world and our local journalist under extreme pressure from the Ethiopian government, Anna, AP’s East Africa correspondent, set out to report from Nairobi. She reached out to the few aid organizations able to operate in Tigray and to refugees who had fled the conflict to neighboring Sudan; they described acute malnutrition bordering on famine. Building on these contacts, Anna obtained minutes of Ethiopian government meetings in which the government’s own officials warned of imminent, widespread starvation threatening hundreds of thousands of civilians. She also sourced satellite images that showed aid warehouses in the region destroyed during the conflict.Her fact-based, compelling description of the desperate situation in Tigray was the first comprehensive reporting by any news organization to pull all these elements together. The story won prominent play in major news outlets and was hailed as an important exposé by international agencies and authorities, including the United Nations.https://bit.ly/39KJ4HD

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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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Jan. 11, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Unmatched all-formats coverage of Croatia earthquake

teamed up for fast all-formats coverage after a magnitude 6.4 earthquake quake hit Croatia at midday of Dec. 29. Belgrade reporter Dusan Stojanovic filed the first alert via London within seconds of feeling the quake. He was some 25 minutes ahead of AP’s major competitors, and text leads followed throughout the day.Meanwhile, regional news director Amer Cohadzic quickly sourced live video via a partner agency. With all internet, phones and electricity disabled in the towns of Petrinja and Sisak, this live feed on AP Direct was unmatched by other outlets. Hours later AP’s own live unit arrived on scene providing restriction-free coverage. Video edits included rescue teams arriving at the scene and user-generated footage of government buildings as the temblor struck.Coverage continued overnight and into the next day with fresh photos, video and text updates. AP’s cameras captured people being pulled from the rubble, aid being handed out to people suddenly homeless and a visits by Croatia’s president and prime minister.https://bit.ly/3ogTZ1Qhttps://bit.ly/2LbIRoBhttps://bit.ly/2LC6O8mhttps://bit.ly/3i2BKLd

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Jan. 01, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP finds homeless persons the 2020 census missed

followed a straightforward path to reveal flaws in the U.S. Census Bureau’s homeless count: They found the uncounted themselves.Price literally looked beneath the glitter of Las Vegas, in the tunnels beneath the city, to find people who hadn't been counted in a city where an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 people are without homes. And Schneider, AP's expert on all things census, leaned on his unmatched national network of sources to show that the problems were widespread. He bolstered the story with reporting on a federal report about flaws in the count — yet another government operation disrupted by the coronavirus — and spoke to an expert who said the problems could make Black and Latinos more likely to be missed in the 2020 count. https://bit.ly/35hmnJF

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Dec. 18, 2020

Best of the Week

AP analysis and reporting: Millions of hungry Americans turn to food banks for 1st time

Long lines of people and traffic seemed to indicate that dependency on food banks was on the rise in the U.S. as the COVID-19 pandemic hit home. But a team of AP journalists set out to know the facts and tell the stories of those relying on handouts — many accepting the aid for the first time.

Merging exclusive data analysis with in-depth personal reporting, the team delivered an accurate, powerful picture of food insecurity and economic distress in the U.S. AP’s analysis found a significant increase in food bank distribution during the pandemic, while all-formats AP journalists across the country reported from food lines and the homes of those relying on food aid.

For telling data analysis and on-the-ground coverage that harnessed AP’s national footprint to reveal the consequences of the pandemic economy, this AP team wins Best of the Week honors.

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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. 18, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Breaking news on US ramp-up of federal executions

have broken exclusives on this year’s resumption of federal executions following a 17-year hiatus, and the accelerated pace of executions during President Donald Trump’s lame-duck period. They have also witnessed every federal execution.Their stories have revealed that the Justice Department considered using firing squads or borrowing electric chairs due to a possible shortage of drugs used for lethal injection, and that the execution team at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, where the executions are carried out, was sickened with COVID-19, even as they planned more deaths.But above all, the AP witnesses have risked their own health to enter the federal prison in Terre Haute to attend every execution. The team has been unstoppable, delivering fast, accurate reporting that has made AP the definitive source for news on this topic.https://bit.ly/3nlUxTHhttps://bit.ly/2ITQTkShttps://bit.ly/3ahw91Lhttps://bit.ly/3h13Shl

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Dec. 11, 2020

Best of the Week

In exclusive AP interview, AG Barr says no evidence of widespread election fraud, undermining Trump

Justice Department reporter Mike Balsamo has spent months cultivating sources at the Department of Justice, earning a reputation as an objective journalist who reports fairly and accurately. 

His relationships paid off with an exclusive interview of U.S. Attorney General William Barr, in which Barr said the DOJ could find no evidence of widespread voting fraud, dramatically undercutting President Donald Trump’s insistence to the contrary.

“I knew ... he had made probably the biggest news he has in his tenure as AG,” said Balsamo. His story topped the news cycle and resonated for days. No other news outlet could match it and AP was widely cited for the scoop.

For persistent, evenhanded reporting on the Justice Department beat resulting in the interview that netted one of AP’s most consequential news coups of the year, Balsamo wins AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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Dec. 11, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP profiles some of the US jobless facing cutoff of aid

teamed up, giving voice to some of the millions of Americans whose unemployment benefits will run out by year’s end unless Congress reverses course and decides to act. The joint effort between Business News and AP’s Report for America state government reporters combined sensitive field reporting and expert handling of the most relevant data, producing a people-focused all-formats piece that highlights the human cost of government inaction as the virus surges anew amid a faltering job market.https://bit.ly/37OBcnzhttps://bit.ly/2LrfwXj

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Dec. 04, 2020

Best of the Week

AP coverage of refugees in Sudan opens a window into Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict

The thousands of refugees spilling over the border into Sudan from Ethiopia’s Tigray region are some of the only firsthand witnesses to a worsening conflict that remains out of reach for most of the world’s media. Crossing a remote desert area, they recount ethnic-targeted killings, many fleeing at a moment’s notice and leaving loved ones behind amid an offensive by the Ethiopian government against Tigray separatists. 

Video journalist Fay Abuelgasim and photographer Nariman el-Mofty have put individual faces on the complex story since arriving at the Sudan-Ethiopia border area nearly two weeks ago. Along with reporters Sam Magdy in Cairo and Cara Anna in Nairobi, their work has revealed the human toll of a conflict to which access remains tightly restricted, even as the United Nations warns of possible war crimes. AP clients have recognized the work with strong play.

For their determined, resourceful and revealing work to document the individual struggles of an escalating refugee crisis, Abuelgasim, el-Mofty, Anna and Magdy earn AP’s Best of the Week award.

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