July 02, 2020

Best of the States

AP scoops everyone on dramatic ouster of federal prosecutor

After a heads-up tip to Justice Department reporter Michael Balsamo, what unfolded on that Friday night was strange: The top Manhattan federal prosecutor – the one investigating President Donald Trump’s allies – was said to be resigning his job. 

The AP was out with the story for at least a half hour before the competition. But that was just the beginning, as U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman reported for work the next day, only to step down amid conflicting statements from the White House and Justice Department. Balsamo and Neumeister were out front again, making sense of the shifting story with well-sourced detail and context.

For work that put the AP way ahead with both the breaking news and the meaning of the maneuvering, Balsamo and Neumeister share this week’s Best of the States honors.

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June 19, 2020

Best of the Week

Race and Ethnicity team explores question: ‘What is a black life worth?’

In the course of covering protests and a memorial service for George Floyd in Minneapolis, AP race and ethnicity writer Aaron Morrison started thinking about other cases that began over minor offenses and ended with a black person dying. Morrison visited the scene where Floyd took his last breaths, talked to members of Floyd’s family and interviewed protesters with this question in mind: 

What is a black life worth? 

AP video journalist Noreen Nasir, also in the Twin Cities, was picking up on the same theme in her own reporting. Joined by New York-based photographer Bebeto Matthews, the team took a deep and unflinching look the at the circumstances behind Floyd’s death, and what many see as a pivotal moment in the struggle against institutional racism. Their story led the AP News site, was featured at the launch of the Facebook’s News Feed and was widely used by AP members. 

For sharp reporting and analysis that cast George Floyd’s killing in light of systemic issues of race inequality, Morrison, Nasir and Matthews win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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June 12, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Source work breaks story: Iran releases US veteran

broke the news that a U.S. Navy veteran detained in Iran for two years, Michael White, had been released from custody as part of a deal that resolved a Justice Department case against an American-Iranian doctor in the United States. The AP was far ahead of competitors with the breaking story and key details of the deal, the result of months of reporting by Lee and Tucker, including constant checks with sources in government and elsewhere. https://bit.ly/3cQC3or

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May 29, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals efforts to bring IS to justice for slave trade

spotlighted efforts by international investigators to bring the Islamic State to justice for the slavery and sex trafficking of Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority. The story, which took nearly a year, built on investigators’ documents and El Deeb’s reporting in Iraq and Syria to track down former slaves, owners and those who witnessed the enslavement, all complemented by powerful photos and video of women who had been trafficked.https://bit.ly/2TN6bu9https://bit.ly/2X9imUg

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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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May 15, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Resourceful, innovative coverage of virtual Supreme Court

broke new ground for AP, creating popular new features for the court’s first-ever arguments by telephone with live audio. The pair revived the AP SCOTUS Twitter account @AP_COURTSIDE to live-tweet trivia, analysis and details during the arguments, they worked with the AP broadcast team to get AP pool access to the live audio, and they came up with a brand-new wire feature they also called “Courtside” – a more live-blog style of breaking news to help the public understand what they were hearing (including that weird toilet flush sound during one argument). That approach could become a model for covering future live news events.The features introduced by Sherman and Gresko attracted readers and followers, and complemented AP’s comprehensive stories on the court sessions.https://bit.ly/2WWadB9https://bit.ly/2YYAf9lhttps://bit.ly/2Wuubnk

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March 27, 2020

Best of the States

Fast, definitive work on US price gouging complaints amid coronavirus crisis

When reporters Justin Pritchard and Reese Dunklin were asked to look into price gouging and profiteering off the coronavirus crisis, they  sought to go deeper by employing a key part of their investigative reporting toolkit: a systematic reporting strategy.

The pair quickly executed a plan to question attorneys general in all 50 states, resulting in the most comprehensive look yet at the problem across the nation. In just two days of reporting, Pritchard and Dunklin uncovered more than 5,000 reports of everything from price gouging on toilet paper and masks, to scams offering tests and even cures for the illness. 

Their brightly written story won strong play on a busy day of coronavirus news, hitting the wire hours before Attorney General William Barr announced new actions against such crimes.

For fast, aggressive work that tapped into a topic on the public’s mind, AP recognizes Pritchard and Dunklin with this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 28, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Vatican envoy knew of offer to bribe abuse victim

for teaming up in a new investigation into the disgraced Legion of Christ religious order, revealing that the pope’s own envoy knew about a sex abuse settlement offer that is the subject of an obstruction of justice and extortion trial in Italy. AP scored the first-ever interview with the victim’s mother and obtained her wiretapped conversation with the Vatican cardinal running the Legion who was utterly unfazed that the order wanted to pay her son to lie to prosecutors and deny he had been abused.https://bit.ly/2TftYlihttps://bit.ly/2VpMJVI

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Feb. 07, 2020

Best of the States

AP investigates a teen’s life sentence – and the role of Amy Klobuchar

On the campaign trail, presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar has often cited a case – a life sentence given to black teen for killing a young girl – as proof of her tough-on-crime bona fides as a former prosecutor. 

Over the course of a year, Minnesota-based investigative reporter Robin McDowell examined the case against Myon Burrell, who was 16 when he was sentenced to life in prison for the 2002 death of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards. 

McDowell found major irregularities, including inconsistent evidence and questionable police tactics. The resulting package had impact, forcing new scrutiny of the case and Klobuchar’s handling of it. 

For dogged reported that shed new light and focused attention on the case against a man who has long said he was wrongfully convicted, McDowell wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 30, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Breaking news of top US prison official’s ouster after Epstein death

for breaking the news that the head of the long-troubled federal prison system was being removed in the wake of Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide. Balsamo had been pressing sources at the Justice Department about the fate of Hugh Hurwitz, the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons. Two guards and the warden had been disciplined, but nothing was said about the senior leadership. Balsamo worked up prep in case Hurwitz resigned or was fired.

Nine days after Epstein’s death, Balsamo heard from a source who had just met with Attorney General William Barr: Barr was going to remove Hurwitz. The decision was extremely sensitive; even Hurwitz didn't know yet. Balsamo had just a brief window to break the news before it became public, but because he had the prep in place, he was able to move quickly. AP had a 650-word story before any other outlet had even sent an alert. Hurwitz’s removal quickly became one of the top stories of the day, with Balsamo’s story receiving wide play, even by some news organizations with their own Justice Department reporters. https://bit.ly/2NBYC7k

Aug. 29, 2019

Best of the States

Early Epstein accuser: Police could have stopped him in 1997

It’s exceedingly rare to get any details from a police report in California and even rarer to get a glimpse inside a detective’s notebook. But Jennifer Peltz and Katie Campione did just that. Peltz and Campione convinced police to finally explain how they handled one of the earliest known sex crime accusations against Jeffrey Epstein, a 1997 case that the accuser has called a massive missed opportunity to bring the financier to justice years before he was accused of sexually abusing dozens of girls and young women.

Their story turned out to be one of the most popular stories of the week on the AP News mobile site and was also one of the most engaging with readers. Even the Los Angeles Times had no choice but to put the AP story on its website front page.

For going the extra mile to get an explanation for a case that could have stopped Epstein from the start, Katie Campione and Jennifer Peltz win this week's Best of the States.

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June 21, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

‘How is this OK?’: US military struggles with reforms on kids’ abuse

for revealing that despite mandated reforms, the Pentagon still struggles to provide justice when the children of service members sexually assault each other. Acting on a tip to Dunklin, their story describes the case of a 13-year-old boy accused of molesting at least 10 younger children on a U.S. Air Force base in Japan. The girls’ mothers say Air Force officials showed little urgency to offer counseling or investigate. “How is this OK?” asked a mother who locked her kids indoors. https://bit.ly/2XZXbSf

May 24, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Military prosecutors sent tracking software to defense team, reporter

Los Angeles courts reporter Brian Melley was enjoying a Sunday afternoon when a longtime legal source reached out with a remarkable tip in the case of Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL facing a court martial on charges he murdered a teenage Islamic State fighter in Iraq in 2017.

The source told Melley that military prosecutors, frustrated by leaks in the case, planted tracking software in emails sent to defense lawyers and a reporter. The unsophisticated software was quickly discovered by the recipients.

Melley worked up the story, including an interview with a military law expert who thought the tactic was ethically, legally and intellectually dubious. His story hit the wire the next morning, quickly gaining traction online. AP was widely credited everywhere it appeared and no major media outlet matched it.

For giving AP an exclusive on an important military justice story, Melley wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 17, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Schedules reveal West Virginia governor largely absent from work

Anthony Izaguirre began hearing the chatter about West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice as soon as he started work as the AP’s statehouse correspondent in Charleston, West Virginia, in late February. Sources told him Justice – a billionaire who owns mines, farms and a swanky resort – wasn’t fully engaged and hadn’t even been in the capital, Charleston, much since taking office in 2017.

Izaguirre's initial request for the governor’s schedules was declined, but he pressed with the help of AP’s legal department, finally getting the records. Armed with those calendars and his own resourceful reporting, he cobbled together a record of the governor’s activities, confirming what many suspected: Justice appeared to have better things to do than govern.

West Virginia media pounced on the exclusive story, which also played well outside the state.

For his resolute work to obtain public records and his thorough reporting to fill out a story no one else in the state could land, Izaguirre wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 17, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Loophole preventing federal charges against minors in terrorism cases

for discovering that a 2018 Supreme Court case had impeded the Justice Department’s ability to charge minors with supporting terrorist groups. Bleiberg was curious why an FBI investigation of a teen plotting an Islamic State-inspired shooting was prosecuted by local Texas officials. He and Balsamo exposed the loophole created by a SCOTUS ruling in a non-terrorism case that could prevent minors from facing federal charges for supporting international terrorism. https://bit.ly/2JlSqiw

April 26, 2019

Best of the Week

AP dominates all-formats coverage of historic release of Mueller report

The AP bulletin rocketed around the world just minutes after the release of the much-anticipated report by special counsel Robert Mueller:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mueller’s report reveals Trump's efforts to seize control of Russia probe and force the special counsel’s removal.

That set the tone for a day of dominant AP coverage in every format on the historic findings in the Mueller report.

The success was the result of planning and deep knowledge of the subject matter by AP’s Russia team – Eric Tucker, Mike Balsamo, Chad Day and Mary Clare Jalonick – along with lightning-fast speed and precision execution by White House news editor Nancy Benac and the entire Washington bureau.

As soon as they were allowed to open the report, Tucker and Balsamo called the Washington bureau and kept two open lines to the newsroom, where they fed material Day and Jalonick, while Benac began crafting the story that hit the wire right after the report was posted online.

By then, the AP was off and running with outstanding all-formats coverage, including sharp handling of photos and live video. Our speed was so impressive that clients were able to get a complete set of critical and comprehensive edits by mid-afternoon. Our interactive had unheard-of play for a non-election story, while the Trump Investigation hub on APNews more than doubled its previous high pageviews. The standout coverage also ran on front pages of newspapers around the country.

“While we were sending bulletins saying that Trump had tried to stop the investigation, everyone else was still saying, ‘We have the report, we’re reading it, we’ll get back to you,’” Executive Editor Sally Buzbee said.

For their efforts, Balsamo, Tucker, Day, Jalonick and Benac win AP’s Best of the Week.

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March 29, 2019

Best of the Week

Planning, execution and teamwork deliver outstanding coverage of Mueller report

For weeks, journalists in Washington had been chasing tips that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 race for the White House was winding down. Knowing that appetite for the story was huge, our Washington team created a comprehensive coverage plan for the day the report would be delivered to Attorney General William Barr.

Eric Tucker, Justice Department reporter, and Chad Day, Trump investigations reporter, kicked off the coverage with “Mueller in Plain Sight,” a sweeping narrative of everything that had already been revealed by Mueller in his public indictments.

As speculation intensified, Tucker and law enforcement reporter Mike Balsamo alternated shifts at the Justice Department, while AP photographers and videojournalists staked out Mueller and Barr. Photographer Andrew Harnik scored with images of Mueller arriving at the Justice Department, the first image of Mueller by a news photographer in more than a year.

Word finally came on Friday, March 22 that Mueller’s work had ended. Within minutes of moving an alert, the AP sent a series of richly reported stories by the team that led AP’s coverage for months: Tucker, Day, Balsamo and Congress reporter Mary Clare Jalonick.

And on Sunday morning AP scored another visual scoop when freelance photographer Cliff Owen learned that Mueller was at church. Owen’s photos of Mueller exiting St. John’s church ricocheted around the internet.

Later Sunday, when a Justice Department official handed reporters copies of Barr’s summary, Tucker calmly read the highlights over an open phone line to the bureau while Balsamo sent full quotes. AP’s first alert, that Mueller had not exonerated Trump on obstruction of justice, moved a full 10 minutes before the Washington Post and five minutes before the New York Times.

The video team also provided unmatched live coverage from a wide range of locations in Washington, at Mar-a-Lago in Florida and in New York throughout the weekend.

For exceptional planning, teamwork and execution, Eric Tucker, Chad Day, Mike Balsamo, Mary Clare Jalonick, Andrew Harnik and Cliff Owen win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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