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. 12, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Tip leads to scoop on end of family separation policy

broke the news that the Biden-era Justice Department was about to undo the infamous “zero tolerance policy” that led to family separations.When national security reporter Tucker received a tip on the policy change from a longtime source, he quickly relayed the information to DOJ reporter Balsamo. Working with Colleen Long, who covered Homeland Security and zero tolerance extensively, they pieced together an analytical story that broke the news and added crucial context about the challenge Biden faces to undo Donald Trump’s policies on immigration. https://bit.ly/3jDWny1

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Jan. 15, 2021

Best of the Week

Riot in America: Compelling and courageous coverage of the insurrection at the US Capitol

The AP team arriving on Capitol Hill expected to cover history on Jan. 6: an unprecedented challenge from Republicans lawmakers to the outcome of the election. Within hours, however, those staffers found themselves covering an insurrectionist mob storming the U.S. Capitol.

As angry supporters of President Donald Trump descended on Capitol Hill, confronting police, breaking down barricades and smashing through windows, AP journalists working in all formats documented the chaotic scenes inside and outside the Capitol.

Despite orders to evacuate, trashed equipment and a vicious attack on one of our staffers, the team on the ground kept words and images moving throughout the day, highlighted by stunning visuals. The work continued into the early hours of the next morning, when Congress finally the certified election results.

For their riveting real-time coverage as U.S. history unfolded, the courageous and dedicated staff on Capitol Hill earns AP’s Best of the Week award.

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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. 11, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Fact-check team dissects Trump’s Georgia phone call

teamed up to fact-check President Donald Trump’s hour-long call to Georgia officials, producing an annotated transcript of the conversation. The goal was to ensure that we weren’t just putting out disinformation and unfounded claims; we wanted all of the president’s statements to be bracketed with factual information.Washington reporter Hope Yen led the fact-checking effort, with colleagues Eric Tucker, Mike Balsamo, Jeff Amy and Mark Sherman contributing reporting. Atlanta’s Sophia Tulp took on the herculean task of compiling the transcript for publication while visual journalist Francois Duckett set off on building the template for the annotated transcript, a format the AP hasn’t often used.The 24-hour effort paid off: By Monday afternoon, the team had produced a fully annotated version of the transcript, in addition to a separate fact-check story that offered readers clear and concise facts about the U.S. election.https://bit.ly/3hO3LGohttps://bit.ly/3s5AvQfhttps://bit.ly/397SmgJ

Fact Check

Jan. 01, 2021

Best of the Week

Fast response, resourceful work breaks news on Nashville’s Christmas Day bombing

When a bomb exploded in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, early on Christmas morning, AP’s local staff upended their holiday plans and sprang into action. They were soon joined by colleagues, many working remotely, who jumped in to help coordinate coverage and piece together what had happened. 

The team overcame severely limited access and communications to quickly deliver photos and break stories over several days, including the news that human tissue had been found at the explosion site, and the bomber’s chilling prediction of fame. 

The outstanding work attracted heavy play and readership. 

For mobilizing quickly and resourcefully over the Christmas holiday, Kimberlee Kruesi, Mark Humphrey, Eric Tucker, Mike Balsamo, Denise Lavoie and Mike Kunzelman share AP’s Best of the Week honors for the last full week of 2020.

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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 States

All-formats team tells the shared story of rural Missouri churches, immigrants, adversity and faith

It’s a story of two churches in rural Missouri, only 30 miles apart — and worlds apart. 

One congregation is mostly white, while the other offers services in five languages with members from around the world. The pandemic has united them, with pastors meeting to support each other, share ideas and figure out how to continue ministering to this region hit disproportionately by the coronavirus.

The team of national writer David Crary, youth and religion reporter Luis Andres Henao and video journalist Jessie Wardarski earned the trust of residents to produce an intimate all-formats story, revealing diverse Midwestern communities that aren't famous but are integral to the nation’s identity.

For compelling coverage of communities united in adversity and navigating with faith, the team of Crary, Henao and Wardarski wins this week’s Best of the States award. 

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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)

Sources: Trump liaison banned from Justice Department

delivered a widely read scoop after working their sources to confirm a curious rumor: An official serving as President Donald Trump’s eyes and ears at the Department of Justice was banned from the building after pressuring Justice Department staffers to reveal insider information about ongoing cases and the department’s work on election fraud.Heidi Stirrup, an ally of top Trump adviser Stephen Miller, had also extended job offers to political allies for positions at some of the highest levels of the DOJ without consulting senior department officials or the White House counsel’s office, and also attempted to interfere in the hiring process for career staffers, a violation of the government’s human resources policies, a source told the AP. https://bit.ly/374EDaH

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Nov. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP breaks news on Trump involvement in Michigan certification

delivered two jarring scoops as President Donald Trump shifted to a new tactic in his effort to upend the results of the 2020 presidential election.When the two Republicans on the Wayne County, Michigan, canvass board tried to rescind their vote to certify local results, White House Reporter Zeke Miller wondered if Trump was behind their move and started connecting the dots. Working with Washington colleague Colleen Long and others on the law enforcement team, Miller called around to sources he had developed around the country and uncovered major news: The president had made personal calls to the two canvass board members before they tried to rescind their votes. It showed that Trump’s game had shifted from the courtrooms, where his team was constantly losing, to personally trying to intervene. Miller’s scoop went viral — used by hundreds of websites and tweeted by every major election watcher in the country as a shocking example of the lengths Trump would go to in order to subvert the election. Lansing correspondent David Eggert, working with Miller and Long, followed up with a scoop of his own, reporting that state lawmakers had been summoned to Washington to meet with Trump. The trio’s stories on the drama in Michigan were stocked with news but also wove in critical context on the baseless and extraordinary claims that Trump was making and the damage he was doing to confidence in democratic traditions. Their stories were clear, authoritative, and comprehensive, including important fact check material. https://bit.ly/3lc8IJ6https://bit.ly/36huruX

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Nov. 20, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP breaks news on Justice Department election investigations

both delivered scoops on the U.S. Department of Justice and election investigations.Balsamo kept hearing rumors of the DOJ looking into election cases, but he knew there were rules prohibiting such investigations during an ongoing election. He kept asking until a source revealed a memo Attorney General William Barr had sent to prosecutors nationwide authorizing federal prosecutors across the U.S. to pursue any “substantial allegations” of voting irregularities before the election is certified, despite the fact there was no evidence of widespread fraud giving prosecutors the ability to go around the longstanding policy. The scoop reverberated nationwide, especially as concerns grew over Trump’s ability to use the levers of government to hang on to power. The story was widely used, with Politico, Axios and NBC citing AP in their coverage of Barr’s memo. AP’s alert and a full story were on the wire more than 40 minutes before other major news organizations obtained a copy of the memo.Meanwhile, Las Vegas reporter Michelle Price was digging into how the DOJ was pursuing allegations from the Trump campaign that voters may have cast improper ballots in Nevada. Price and Balsamo teamed up with voting reporter Anthony Izaguirre to report out two ongoing investigations, and how they may not hold up to scrutiny. Price used her contacts to get exclusive first-person accounts from U.S. military members who thought they’d been wrongly accused of fraud for voting by mail from out of state by Nevada authorities and DOJ officials.https://bit.ly/2Kqu09ehttps://bit.ly/3lOlxKR

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Nov. 13, 2020

Best of the States

Tenacious source work leads to national newsbreak on census fraud

The on-the-record accounts from two census workers were stunning: Under pressure from supervisors amid the Trump administration’s push to bring the census to an end, they were encouraged to falsify records in the 2020 headcount.

Whom did they reveal this to? Not surprisingly, they spoke to Mike Schneider, AP’s authority on the census, who leveraged months of source development and reporting to break the story. Posted just an hour before the presidential race was called for former Vice President Joe Biden, the story still broke through with strong play and reader engagement.

For keeping the AP ahead in a critical coverage area with a terrific scoop, Schneider wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 06, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

In the time of coronavirus, AP finds a racial divide — and love

vividly reported one couple’s story of what love looks like in the time of coronavirus. But in a twist, they also looked at divisions of race, and how white and black residents in Mississippi see the virus quite differently. Sensitively told with intimate attention to detail, the story humanized the trauma caused by the virus with the universal and age-old appeal of a love story. But it also skillfully wove in the numbers about race and the virus in Mississippi – showing how the coronavirus disproportionately impacted the Black community, and how that community has largely been more focused on prevention than their white neighbors.The story engaged readers and viewers, and it received more than 1,100 retweets, from a New York Times editor to the Montgomery Advertiser to Mike Barnicle, the famously crusty Boston newspaperman and NBC correspondent.https://bit.ly/32ggrPFhttps://bit.ly/366xQvqhttps://bit.ly/38fWZ9w

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Oct. 30, 2020

Best of the States

AP breaks news on the opioid epidemic and Purdue Pharma, with focus on victims

AP reporters from three different teams broke distinctive, significant stories on the continuing drug overdose crisis in the U.S., which has been overshadowed this year by the coronavirus pandemic:

— A state-level report showing that overdose deaths are on pace to reach an all-time high this year, and that overdoses increased after the virus began spreading in the U.S.— An accountability story on President Donald Trump’s handling of the opioid crisis, and how the issue has been overlooked in the presidential race.— A major scoop on a settlement between the federal government and Purdue Pharma, complete with details of criminal charges and the $8 billion settlement. 

But the depth of coverage didn’t end with the major news beats. All three stories put victims at the center of the reporting. 

For revealing stories that broke news and provided a powerful reminder of an ongoing epidemic that has contributed to the deaths of more than 470,000 Americans, Mike Stobbe, Adrian Sainz, Farnoush Amiri, Geoff Mulvihill, Meghan Hoyer and Michael Balsamo win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

As US census abruptly ends, AP reveals where it fell short

has led the way nationally on just about every aspect of the 2020 U.S. Census, from the many legal fights over who would be counted and when the massive effort would end, to confusion among census workers themselves about the task before them and the impact of the global pandemic on door-knocking efforts nationwide.When the count wrapped up, Schneider leaned on his wealth of sources to report the ultimate explainer story, spelling out in relatable terms where the count fell short in terms of both geography and demographics and its meaning for those left out. An AP senior editor called it “the best story I've seen about what went down, and what's at stake.”https://bit.ly/2HM3INw

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Oct. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP analysis: Most arrested in US protests aren’t leftist radicals

set out to determine who had actually been arrested in the protests that have rocked the U.S. since the killing of George Floyd in May. They scrutinized the arrest records of every person charged in federal court with protest-related crimes, delivering an important accountability story that showed the Trump administration’s claims of leftist-incited violence during racial unrest were overblown. The trio read through thousands of pages of court documents and sifted through 286 federal cases where people were charged with federal crimes of violence. They found only one mention of antifa and very few cases of organized extremism.They also called dozens of lawyers, activists and sources to determine what was going on behind the numbers, finding an effort by the Department of Justice to pursue cases that normally would be handled in the state systems, and exaggeration by the president of the danger posed to the public. The team’s reporting undercut claims that left-wing extremists were running rampant in American cities. On a busy news day, the story received outstanding play online and in print. https://bit.ly/2HMltwl

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Oct. 09, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Tip, source work reveal Pence immigration order to CDC

worked sources and turned a tip into an exclusive story detailing how Vice President Mike Pence ordered the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to use the pandemic as justification to halt immigration into the U.S., over the objections of the agency's scientists who twice refused to take the action.

Burke notified Dearen, who started working CDC sources. After a couple of fruitless weeks, he succeeded in identifying a person close to the events who agreed to talk, and a former Pence aide who confirmed the story on the record.

Meanwhile Burke moved the story beyond politics to bring home the order’s human toll. She gathered data that showed nearly 150,000 people, including 8,800 migrant children, already had been expelled under the order, and she interviewed the father of a 16-year-old Honduran boy who had been held in government custody under the order.

Even on a weekend dominated by news of Trump’s hospitalization, the piece was the top story on AP News and was widely used and cited by local and national news outlets. https://bit.ly/2SvTB14

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Oct. 02, 2020

Best of the States

Planning, teamwork, fast filing lead to all-formats wins on Breonna Taylor story

With weeks to prepare, the Louisville, Kentucky, news staff and all-formats reinforcements from other AP bureaus were well positioned for the closely watched grand jury decision in the Breonna Taylor case. 

When the announcement finally came – no officers charged with Taylor’s death – the breaking news was expedited to the wire, cutting through confusion over the decision. Video and photo coverage excelled with fast edits and filing from the protests that followed, capturing the anguish and despair expressed by many in Louisville and keeping the AP well ahead of other agencies.

For their fast, in-depth work on a sensitive, highly competitive story, the team of Lovan, Schreiner, Blackburn, Galofaro, Minchillo, Cummings, Morrison and Householder wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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