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

Best of the States

AP analysis: In the US, a centuries-old race war continues to rage against people of color

As AP race and ethnicity writer Aaron Morrison covered the protests that grew out of the 2020 killings of George Floyd and others, he also saw President Donald Trump on TV, trying to undermine the racial reckoning at every turn.

Fast forward to Jan. 6, when a mob of mostly white rioters, upset that Trump wasn't reelected, violently breached the U.S. Capitol. Morrison connected the dots of what he described as a war of white aggression. “A war rages on in America,” Morrison wrote in this analysis piece, “It started with slavery and never ended ...” 

With powerful video by Noreen Nasir, portraits by Chris Carlson and presentation by Alyssa Goodman, the package received prominent play and sparked discussion both online and within the AP.

For a timely, compelling package that looks at the state of race relations with historical context and thoughtful analysis, the team of Morrison, Nasir, Carlson and Goodman earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 12, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Source work reveals push for diversity in climate fight

worked sources on Stafford’s newly expanded beat to land an exclusive on the launch of a climate justice campaign.The effort by the group Donors of Color Network would shift millions in funding toward environmental and justice groups led by Black Americans, other people of color and Indigenous people and came on the heels of President Joe Biden pledging to make environmental justice central to the fight against climate change. Stafford, AP investigative race writer, brought the story to life by taking readers on a tour of neighborhoods in Detroit’s 48217 ZIP code, where residents live against the backdrop of heavy industrial sites that have long been a major concern in the nation’s largest Black-majority city. Baltimore-based photographer Julio Cortez’s photos of Donors of Color co-founder Ashindi Maxton, the story’s lead character, rounded out the package. https://bit.ly/3d4zfaP

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Feb. 05, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Data analysis exposes racial inequity in vaccinations

collaborated on a piece that exposed racial disparities in the early rollout of the vaccine, with African Americans lagging behind the rest of the country in getting shots. The team was initially stymied by a lack of comprehensive national data and scattered figures from state to state and city to city. But they were able to piece together data from 17 states and two cities to make a powerful, data-driven statement on the issue.The story showed that Black Americans were getting shots at rates dramatically below their share of the population, a disturbing development considering how much of a role race has played in disproportionately affecting people of color in the pandemic. The analysis put the AP out front on a critical issue, two days before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out its own analysis of the issue. https://bit.ly/39OwuIQ

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Feb. 05, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Vaccination help wanted, logistics a plus

delivered a widely played national story about a pandemic phenomenon no other news outlet had reported: People with strong logistics skills, including fast food managers, concert promoters and even wedding planners, were being sought and pressed into service to help with COVID-19 testing and vaccination programs.Kole, AP’s New England editor, was intrigued after learning that the Boston Marathon race director had been hired to run mass vaccination sites at Gillette Stadium and Fenway Park, and set out to find what other fields were being tapped to fight the pandemic. His story on the demand for operations and event experience was tweeted and retweeted several thousand times and played prominently across the U.S. https://bit.ly/3cFgb2I

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Jan. 29, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Intrepid work reveals boats built for migrant smuggling

spent a week on assignment in Western Sahara, gaining exclusive access to a little-seen but vital piece of the migrant smuggling chain — boats that are built to order, then spirited from the remote desert sand to carry migrants to the Canary Islands. A European Union agency calls it “the most dangerous migratory route in the world.”El Shamy, North Africa photographer based in Rabat, Morocco, was closely monitored by security agents in the disputed territory, but was able to slip into the desert in company with locals. There, he was introduced to a senior member of a smuggling network and was able to convince the smugglers that he would protect their anonymity while photographing them at work. His initiative and courage were rewarded with striking images and detailed reporting on the thriving trade of supplying boats for the perilous Atlantic migrant route.https://bit.ly/3t1Wc43https://bit.ly/3cmUZyo

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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. 15, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP explores racial double standard in Capitol attack

explored the apparent disparity between the response to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and last year’s racial justice protests.New York-based race and ethnicity writer Aaron Morrison had watched President Donald Trump’s supporters storm the Capitol and reasoned that the protesters who called out racial injustice over the summer wouldn’t have been allowed to get close enough to the Capitol to breach it. Morrison and the AP team set out to examine the circumstances.Sources gave Morrisons interviews or statements saying that Black people who protest systemic racism are often met by police or National Guard troops equipped with assault rifles and tear gas. However, they pointed out, the mostly white mob that attacked the Capitol was met by an underwhelming law enforcement presence.Urban affairs reporter Gillian Flaccus contributed to Morrison’s reporting from Portland, Oregon, where Black Lives Matter advocates quickly noted the discrepancy between Trump’s response to racial justice protests in the Pacific Northwest city and his encouragement of the violence in the halls of Congress.Washington-based broadcast producer Padmananda Rama interviewed newly sworn-in St. Louis Rep. Cori Bush, who said the race of the Capitol rioters played a big part in their ability to breach the building; her video was packaged with the text piece. And Top Stories Hub photo editor Alyssa Goodman pulled together several images contrasting how the last week’s insurrection was handled as opposed to the racial justice protests.The violent breaching of the halls of power on Capitol Hill represented “one of the plainest displays of a racial double standard in both modern and recent history,” Morrison wrote.https://bit.ly/3bCEcqvhttps://bit.ly/38HK0x2

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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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Dec. 18, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP breaks news of USOPC change on athlete protests

used his longstanding contacts in the leadership of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee to break the news that the organization was ready to heed the calls of its stars and won’t sanction athletes for raising their fists or kneeling on the medals stand at next year’s Tokyo Games and beyond.The USOPC knew Pells was monitoring the issue — they offered him advance interviews along with copies of their recommendations so the AP could have the story ready to publish before the official news release. Other news outlets used Pells’ story or had to scramble to match it. https://bit.ly/3gQSW5M

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Dec. 11, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exclusive: ‘Mercenary’ donor sold political influence

reported exclusively on Imaad Zuberi, a shadowy, elite political fundraiser whose reach included private meetings with then-Vice President Joe Biden and VIP access at Donald Trump’s inauguration. Zuberi funded political campaigns in the U.S. and sold the resulting political influence to the highest-bidding foreign government overseas.Suderman Mustian reviewed thousands of documents and interviewed more than 100 law enforcement officials, diplomats and businessmen on three continents who dealt with Zuberi during his globe-trotting years of political fundraising. Critically, Suderman persuaded his sources to turn over a trove of private emails that painted an unprecedented picture of Zuberi’s modus operandi.The reporting revealed vulnerabilities in the U.S. campaign finance system and uncovered the names of politicians who had benefited from Zuberi’s largess, prompting calls for reform. https://bit.ly/3okr64k

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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. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Persistence pays off with story of bureaucrat blocking transition

wanted to know more about Emily Murphy, the little-known federal official who stalled the formal presidential transition by waiting more than two weeks to “ascertain” that Joe Biden was the apparent winner of the presidential race.Madhani reached out to every recent administrator of Muphy’s agency — the General Services Administration — as well as some lawmakers Murphy had worked for, but he wasn’t having any luck. His 10th call, a fortuitous cold call to Dave Barram, who ran the GSA during the Bush-Gore standoff in 2000, proved to be the jackpot. Madhani found Barram’s number in an online database.Barram revealed that he’d spoken with Murphy before the election to talk through how to handle ascertainment. He laid out his advice to her: “If you do the right thing, then all you have to do is live with the consequences of it.’”The call with Barram didn’t occur until late in the day, but Madhani instantly knew he had a story. He worked late to turn it around for AP’s most reader-engaged story of the day. https://bit.ly/32YG5ZQ

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Nov. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP catches Georgia presidential certification announcement error

alertly caught a discrepancy in an official news release announcing that the Georgia secretary of state had certified the state’s election results, naming Joe Biden as the winner. As other news organizations rushed to publish, Brumback sought confirmation and learned that the release had been sent in error — Georgia hadn’t certified its results yet. AP quickly reported the mix-up and others had to update their stories; one major publication needed 90 minutes to correct its reporting.Catching the mistaken announcement was just the latest example of Brumback’s outstanding coverage of Georgia’s closely contested election. She relied on her deep understanding of Georgia’s voting system and a strong source network built over years. https://bit.ly/39keohM

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Nov. 20, 2020

Best of the States

Using voters’ voices and hard data, AP analyzes Black support in Biden’s win

While there is little dispute that Black voters pushed Joe Biden into the presidential winner's column, AP wanted to know: How big of a factor were they?

Race and ethnicity writers Kat Stafford and Aaron Morrison began reporting on what Black voters said they wanted Biden to deliver once in office. Using the voices they collected as the foundation of the story, Stafford and Morrison teamed with data journalist Angeliki Kastanis and polling journalist Hannah Fingerhut, who infused the piece with data and voter survey findings that bolstered the anecdotes with hard numbers. 

Their collaboration put the AP days ahead of other news organizations’ pieces on Black voters’ support of Biden. For resourceful and insightful reporting and analysis on a major factor in the 2020 election, the team of Stafford, Morrison, Kastanis and Fingerhut wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 20, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Dedicated, resourceful reporting sheds light on Ethiopia conflict

has applied relentless drive, journalistic smarts and competitive spirit in her coverage of the conflict between Ethiopia’s federal government and its rebellious Tigray region. A year after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has vowed a “final and crucial” military offensive against Tigray.The story is largely opaque: It has few facts, no death tolls reported, no troop numbers and only hazy social media suggestions of massacres perpetrated in places not found on Google. There is, however, a sea of propaganda and angry words of recrimination from both sides. Through tireless reporting from Kenya, making hundreds of calls to officials, diplomats, aid agencies, diaspora and analysts, through astutely monitoring videos, talking to stringers and parsing through hours of propaganda, Anna has built up a picture of the conflict that, while still a work in progress, is the sharpest and clearest picture available anywhere.https://bit.ly/38RO3HQhttps://bit.ly/3kI89q9https://bit.ly/2IPU11g

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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. 13, 2020

Best of the Week

Count every vote, call the winners and report fast, accurate election news: There’s an AP for that

Coverage of U.S. elections is one of the AP’s most crucial missions, carried out in a sprawling but hyper-meticulous operation that stretches company-wide and brings order and clarity to the nation’s patchwork voting system.

In this year’s election cycle, upended by partisan feuding, a steady stream of disinformation and a global pandemic, the AP built on 172 years of election experience to deliver stories, photos, videos and graphics in innovative ways that didn’t just tell the story of who won, but why as well. Among the highlights was a new feature called Explainer that offered contextual looks at the reasons behind race calls for each state, bringing greater transparency to AP’s decisions when it has never mattered more.

Success on a story this massive can happen only with months, even years, of diligent planning, strong execution and the dedication of hundreds of AP journalists and support staff. For coverage that distinguished the AP in a momentous election year, the collective work of AP’s staff earns this week’s Best of the Week honors.

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Nov. 13, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Courageous AP duo delivers Nagorno-Karabakh coverage

continued their exceptional coverage of the toll that conflict has taken on residents and combatants in Nagorno-Karabakh, as Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war over the separatist region. Highlights of their work have included vivid storytelling from inside a hospital overwhelmed by both the war and the pandemic, desperate residents fleeing the fighting and an intimate ritual of young Armenian recruits being baptized before deployment to the battlefield.Reporting from the heart of the region, video journalist Chernov and photographer Lovetsky have worked resourcefully without the assistance of fixers or translators, braving many nights during which the regional capital Stepanakert came under a barrage of Azerbaijani shelling and missile strikes. Their coverage provided the AP, its clients and readers with unique insight into life in Nagorno-Karabakh during the six weeks of the biggest escalation of a decades-old conflict between the two ex-Soviet nations.Since last week’s coverage, Armenia and Azerbaijan have announced an agreement to halt fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh under a pact signed with Russia that calls for deployment of nearly 2,000 Russian peacekeepers and territorial concessions that triggered protests in Armenia.https://bit.ly/2IlNQlshttps://bit.ly/2GSRdiZ

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Nov. 13, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP journalists shadow George Floyd’s brother on Election Day

spent a chunk of Election Day documenting George Floyd’s brother in New York.With racial justice a central issue in the election, race and ethnicity reporter Morrison thought it fitting to tell a story through the lens of someone who lost a loved one to police violence. He had met Terrence Floyd, the younger sibling of George Floyd, in Minneapolis over the summer at the spot where a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes. Terrence, who lives in New York, agreed to let Morrison shadow him exclusively as he rode around the city in an SUV calling on a loudspeaker for people to vote, and later while waiting for election results at a watch party. At one point Terrence chanted “Don't forget to vote!” in rhythm with musicians outside a Brooklyn museum, a moment captured by Morrison, photographer Franklin and video journalist Shaffrey.https://bit.ly/38FgXe2https://bit.ly/3kqmQyb

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