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 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

Best of the States

AP team finds diversity of politics and religion among West Virginia evangelicals

A tweet was the seed for this illuminating story. “Most people in my rural, Appalachian hometown are being radicalized at church by their pastor, which is the person they trust the most,” it read. AP’s Global Religion team ran with it.

Reporter Luis Andres Henao and visual journalist Jessie Wardarski visited the parishioners of three churches in Bluefield, West Virginia, including one pastor who had attended the Jan. 6 Washington rally that degenerated into a riot. The AP pair spent weeks convincing him to sit down for an interview. The result was an all-formats package of diverse congregations seeking common ground, even as they are divided on the role of evangelical Christianity in American politics. 

For applying gentle persuasion and balanced reporting to produce a nuanced look at religion and politics in one West Virginia town, Henao and Wardarski win this week’s Best of the States award. 

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Feb. 19, 2021

Best of the Week

Latest on New York COVID policy: State sent over 9,000 virus patients to nursing homes

For nine months, AP has led all media on the story of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s controversial directive to return recovering coronavirus patients from hospitals to nursing homes during the pandemic.

Last week, reporters Bernard Condon and Jennifer Peltz added to that record. Using data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, they reported exclusively that more than 9,000 patients in New York were released under the state’s policy, amid criticism that it accelerated nursing home outbreaks. The latest AP scoop has helped put Cuomo and his administration on the defensive at home and nationally.

For keeping AP at the forefront of this accountability story for the better part of a year — including their latest break documenting the release of COVID patients into nursing homes — Condon and Peltz earn AP’s Best of the Week award.

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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. 19, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Tragedies frame high school for Parkland seniors

has stayed in regular contact with students and parents from the 2018 Parkland, Florida, school shooting, a connection that helped her produce a poignant account of this year’s graduating class which endured the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting as freshmen and who are now living through the pandemic as seniors. Theirs is a story of a high school career disrupted and bookended by two separate traumas. In one of the most moving tales, Miami reporter Kennedy highlighted the life of one senior who lost her best friend in the shooting and moved to another state and school only to face difficulty connecting with new friends because of the pandemic. https://bit.ly/37q89Hx

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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

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. 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. 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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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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Feb. 05, 2021

Best of the Week

With sourcing, preparedness, AP breaks news on death of pioneering actress Cicely Tyson

AP national writer Hillel Italie took a call Thursday evening from a longtime source with an unexpected tip: Groundbreaking actress Cicely Tyson, known for her roles playing strong, fiercely dignified Black women, was dead. 

Italie set off to get the news on the wire quickly, while also alerting colleagues. That included entertainment writer Mark Kennedy who had met Tyson years earlier. Kennedy had decided that when the time came, the AP obituary would have to capture the breadth and achievement of her life and career. And he had prepared just that.

The AP story moved at least 15 minutes before other outlets, earning more than 265,000 page views and front page headlines.

Celebrity obituaries are intensely competitive; Italie and Kennedy kept AP well in front, through source work, commitment and solid preparation. For that, they win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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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 reveals details of Eritrean atrocities in Tigray region

reported the first detailed account of crimes being committed by Eritrean military forces within Ethiopia’s isolated Tigray region. Journalists following the crisis in the defiant region have struggled to find credible eyewitness accounts of the Eritreans’ presence. But the relentless work by Anna, AP’s East African correspondent based in Kenya, finally paid off: A source put her in touch with a woman, normally a resident of Colorado, who, while on a trip to Ethiopia, witnessed Eritrean troops and their crimes firsthand in the remote village where her mother lives. Anna was able to draw out shocking details of the killing of children, mass graves and the looting of homes.The story, widely used by AP clients, was hailed as the first to document Eritrean activity in Tigray. Anna followed up with a second scoop in which the U.S. State Department called for all Eritrean forces to leave Tigray immediately, citing “credible reports” of atrocities.https://bit.ly/3rqiyuehttps://bit.ly/3cOrDsKhttps://bit.ly/3jeRRpK

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Feb. 05, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Source work, teamwork net scoop on Biden-Putin call

teamed up to break news on one of the most highly anticipated moments early in President Joe Biden's term: the president’s first conversation with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Their scoop came together through a combination of collaboration and source work. It started with a tip to diplomatic writer Lee that the call between Biden and Putin would be coming soon. White House reporter Lemire confirmed the tip with other sources in the administration, then secured an exclusive interview with a senior administration official previewing the call and arranged to receive the first readout once it concluded. Within minutes of the call ending, AP was on the wire ahead of all U.S. competitors but also ahead of the Kremlin and Russian news services. https://bit.ly/3tqAgj7

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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

Best of the States

AP team finds exhausted chaplains comforting families, COVID patients in their final moments

Eugene Garcia, just two weeks into his job as the AP’s newest full-time video journalist, and photographer Jae Hong joined forces to tell the deeply touching and heartbreaking story of often unseen and unsung heroes of the pandemic — the clergy.

The pair approached the story with sensitivity and care, maintaining distance to give the families, patients and chaplains space, but close enough to bring the story to life even as their subjects drew their last breaths. The package, complemented by John Rogers’ moving text, shed light on exhausted and emotionally drained chaplains working in situations they had never experienced before. As one put it, “We weren’t trained for this.”

For an arresting package that explores the compassionate yet crushing work of front-line chaplains, Garcia, Hong and Rogers earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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