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)

Investigation: China, others spread theory that US created COVID

collaborated on a nine-month investigation of the AP’s investigative and fact-checking teams, in a joint effort with the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Lab. They found that China, Russia, and Iran — drawing on one another’s online disinformation — amplified false theories that the COVID-19 virus was a U.S. bioweapon created in a military lab or was designed by Washington to infect their countries. The resulting in-depth investigation, bolstered by an immersive digital presentation and an explanatory video, provided a comprehensive look at the online battle between Washington, Moscow, Tehran and Beijing to control the narrative about the origins of the pandemic.The package of stories was widely used by news organizations around the world, including by the South China Morning News and Germany’s DW News.https://bit.ly/37L711shttps://bit.ly/2O2N1Awhttps://bit.ly/2MpNQ5S

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Feb. 26, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP’s Texas staff steps up for coverage of historic storm

pushed through last week’s winter storm coverage with top-notch storytelling even as many suffered hardship of their own.When deadly subfreezing temperatures, snow and ice smacked much of the southern U.S., it knocked out the power grid in Texas, the nation’s energy capital — and that was only the beginning. The bursting pipes, boil water advisories and accusations of price gouging that followed would only exacerbate the suffering for millions left shivering while nearly 80 people died.AP reporters showed in spot and enterprise stories that everything came down to a failure of government, particularly in Texas and neighboring Deep South states where infrastructure breakdowns revealed how unprepared much of the nation is for extreme weather.All this happened as many Texas staffers suffered along with their neighbors, with no power, heat or water. But they got creative and kept up the effort for a fully multiformat report, writing stories on phones when WiFi didn’t work, calling in feeds or charging electronics at colleagues’ homes. One Dallas reporter relocated to the home of an AP retiree when her own power was knocked out.https://bit.ly/2ZMQANFhttps://bit.ly/3dIKS7Dhttps://bit.ly/3r4YEWhhttps://bit.ly/3bAFQHBhttps://bit.ly/3bFHasKhttps://bit.ly/3uuAarl

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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)

Sourcing, analysis expose allegations against Lincoln Project

used a network of sources and financial records to break news on sexual harassment accusations and questionable financial practices inside the Lincoln Project, a high-powered anti-Trump organization founded by prominent Republican consultants and known for its slick, sophisticated ads attacking Trump.Relying on deep sourcing, political reporter Peoples learned that one of the Lincoln Project’s co-founders, Jeff Weaver, faced a far more expansive range of sexual harassment accusations than previously known, with some of the accusations coming from staff inside the Lincoln Project who informed senior leaders the allegations. Yet the leaders did nothing.On a separate track, Washington-based congressional reporter Slodysko dug into financial records that suggested there was a reason the Lincoln Project leadership didn’t want to shake things up: They were making a ton of money. By sifting through dozens of documents, Slodysko learned that of the $90 million the group raised, $50 million went to firms controlled by Lincoln Project leaders. The pair’s story had immediate impact. By the end of the day, the Lincoln Project announced it would hire an outside firm to review the allegations and encouraged potential victims of sexual harassment to reach out to the organization. https://bit.ly/2OIYFk9

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Feb. 12, 2021

Best of the Week

AP delivers powerful multiformat coverage of fast-moving Myanmar coup

Early in the morning of Feb. 1, AP’s Yangon bureau alerted colleagues in the Bangkok regional hub of rumors that lawmakers and other elected political leaders had been arrested. With communication lines down in the capital Naypyitaw, confusion gripped other parts of the country, but an alert went out to say there were reports of a coup underway. 

Photos, video footage and detailed descriptions of the situation on the ground in Myanmar quickly followed, and were crucial in fleshing out the text story being written in Bangkok. 

That initial work under difficult conditions set the stage for strong, competitive coverage of a challenging and rapidly evolving story that continues through today. And it is that outstanding work that AP honors with the Best of the Week award.

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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. 05, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Indian farmers storm Red Fort; AP visuals stand out

braved tear gas and sword-wielding Sikh protesters to capture dramatic live video and stunning images of angry and defiant farmers storming the iconic Red Fort as India celebrated its Republic Day. Farmers have been protesting for months over new agriculture laws, and AP reacted quickly when a group of farmers on tractors deviated from an orderly parade, breaking through barricades to storm the city’s emblematic 17th century landmark.Amid aggressive threats by protesters, the photographers and video journalists recorded the dramatic breach of the fort, a profoundly symbolic challenge to the Hindu-nationalist government. AP was live with video at key points and captured the extraordinary turn of events as protesters scaled the walls and hoisted a Sikh religious flag from the fort ramparts. In a sudden escalation, Ganguly was roughed up by an unruly mob, his camera cards snatched as outnumbered police watched. With the situation spiraling out of control the team was pulled out to ensure their safety.Despite the enormous challenges, AP had better competitive coverage thanks to preparation, smart coordination and decision making on the fly. We offered outstanding visuals, including faster video edits to our customers, and updates showing police trying to clear protesters from the fort.https://bit.ly/2YJx5Fphttps://bit.ly/36LpgU2https://bit.ly/3cH0Z5lhttps://bit.ly/2YIdm8U

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Jan. 29, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reporting prompts release of California virus data

wanted to know the reasoning behind California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s sudden and unexpected lifting of the stay-at-home order for a 13-county region amid a surge in the pandemic. That the state wouldn't make the data available after days of inquiries struck the pair as the latest example of Newsom not delivering on a promise of transparency during the pandemic.The preporters, based in Sacramento, proceeded to deliver a story with experts criticizing the secrecy, from public health authorities to government accountability advocates. Their story received enormous attention and was widely cited, intensifying criticism and pressure on the state.Three days after the story ran, Newsom held a news conference to announce the stay-at-home order was being lifted for the rest of the state’s regions. Under questioning from Ronayne, the state’s health director promised some of the relevant data would be released; later in the day the specific regional projection numbers were revealed to the public for the first time.https://bit.ly/3qMydnmhttps://bit.ly/3ccMHZF

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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

Best of the States

AP reporting reveals some front-line health care workers balking at COVID vaccine

The AP team of Bernard Condon, Matt Sedensky and Carla K. Johnson assembled the most detailed national look yet at one of the most vexing snags in the coronavirus vaccine rollout: Surprising numbers of health care workers — who have seen firsthand the misery inflicted by COVID-19 — are refusing the shots.

The deep reporting, with contributions from colleagues across the country, found the paradox occurring in nursing homes and hospitals, with some individual facilities seeing a refusal rate as high as 80%. The story, one of AP’s most-read on an extremely busy news week, quoted both health workers expressing fears of vaccine side effects and frustrated facility administrators.

For bringing to light an important part of the stumbling early rollout of the much-anticipated vaccine, Condon, Sedensky and Johnson win this week’s Best of the States award.

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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

Best of the States

He’s a ‘Soul Man’: AP profiles Steve Cropper, a low-key musical legend

Correspondent Adrian Sainz drew on his deep knowledge of Memphis’ musical history to tell the fascinating but sometimes overlooked story of Steve Cropper, the 79-year-old guitarist who worked at Stax Records alongside Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave and others, leaving an indelible imprint on the American songbook.

Complemented by Kristin Hall’s engaging video and Mark Humphrey’s striking portraits, Sainz lays Cropper's story out in rich detail, from the birth of Redding’s “(Sittin On) The Dock of the Bay” to his work with the Blues Brothers and current projects.

For an illuminating, unexpected holiday offering that reveals the low-key man whose music everyone celebrates, Sainz earns AP’s Best of the States award for the week of Dec. 28.

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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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Jan. 11, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP documents China’s clampdown on hunt for virus source

investigated why, for almost a year, little information has come out of China on the source of the coronavirus pandemic.The Associated Press learned what was behind the lack of transparency. In a rare leak of thousands of pages of government documents, Beijing correspondent Kang found that President Xi Jinping issued orders to clamp down on any research that put China in an unfavorable light. The country also denied entry to international scientists.Through dozens of interviews and a review of documents and emails both public and private, Kang and London reporter Cheng reported on the hidden hunt for the virus — and where that work had been shut down. This kind of narrative is especially difficult to report from China, given the difficult access and the constant threat of reprisals.In a key element of the story, Beijing video journalist McNeil and photographer Ng experienced firsthand the kind of obstruction AP was writing about — the pair was tailed by multiple cars, chased and ordered to leave as they tried to visit the bat caves of Yunnan province. Despite the intense pressure, they managed to get into a bat cave, adding some critical color to the story.Taken together with AP’s earlier stories, the riveting story completed the picture of how China’s culture of secrecy and top-down management had allowed the virus to spread faster.https://bit.ly/3nmzcIOhttps://bit.ly/2XuCJKR

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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

Best of the States

AP finds hurricane-battered Louisiana residents struggling, enduring months later

Ever since Hurricane Laura hit southwest Louisiana in August, correspondent Rebecca Santana and photographer Gerald Herbert wanted to follow up with the region’s residents. But in a busy hurricane season, it wasn’t until December that plans finally came together. 

Santana researched for weeks, finding subjects and learning about recovery efforts. The pair then spent two days in the Lake Charles area where they saw the devastation firsthand and met storm victims, including a couple whose postponed wedding was finally happening. Herbert, who also shot the video for the stories, went back to Lake Charles eight times, even sleeping in a gutted house on Christmas Eve.

The result was two print stories, three video packages and a photo essay, all of which received prominent play. For uncovering the compelling stories of hurricane victims months after the storms faded from the headlines, Santana and Herbert earn AP’s Best of the States award for the week of Dec. 21.

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