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)

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. 26, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Agency exclusive video of Ted Cruz in Cancun

collaborated to give the AP an agency exclusive with video of Sen. Ted Cruz at Cancun’s airport as he was returning to the U.S. amid the backlash over leaving Texas during the deadly winter storm.Triboulard, senior producer in Mexico City, had alerted Rojas about the potential scandal brewing in the U.S. and Rojas, freelance Cancun video journalist, immediately began reaching out to local contacts after images started circulating on Twitter purporting to show Cruz en route to Cancun with his family. After hearing the senator was booked on a return flight early that afternoon, she rushed to the airport and was there when he showed up to check in. Rojas followed the visibly annoyed Cruz through the terminal to the security checkpoint, getting not just video but also eliciting comment from the senator, who said that he was headed home to work on helping Texans. Cruz’s comments were immediately included in the AP’s text story. A competitive agency had to obtain video of Cruz from its Mexican partner, Telemundo, moving it more than an hour after AP’s fast file. https://bit.ly/2ZSVsRf

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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. 19, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exclusives reveal recent stumbles on immigration policy

teamed up to produce a pair of exclusives that capture the confusion and signs of problems at both the U.S.-Mexico border and inside federal immigration agencies in the early days of the Biden administration. Merchant used source work and reporting to find and tell the story of a Cuban migrant who was held in a short-term detention facility with her newborn son twice as long as federal rules generally allow. He worked with advocates and the Border Patrol to uncover information about the woman’s case and interviewed her exclusively after her release. The story illustrated how a recent increase in families and children crossing the border has maxed out holding facilities.In a second exclusive Merchant paired with Weber after a tweet from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, breaking a story on the near-release by Immigration and Customs Enforcement of three men with convictions for sexually abusing children.https://bit.ly/3dr8NZ9https://bit.ly/3dji3i1

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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)

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. 12, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Dolly Parton tells AP she’s waiting to get her vaccination

scored an exclusive interview with Dolly Parton who announced her new Super Bowl commercial.During the interview, Fekadu asked if she had gotten her Covid-19 vaccine, and Parton, who donated $1 million to coronavirus research, said she was waiting to get her vaccination shot because she didn’t want to seem like she was “jumping the line,” a story that was picked up by the “Today” show, WebMD, People magazine, Yahoo! and many more. She rocked the commercial too. https://bit.ly/3d3E6Jk

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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)

AP duo tracks WHO investigators in Wuhan

teamed up with their Beijing colleagues, fast-filing all-formats content to keep AP ahead on the challenging, high-profile story of the World Health Organization mission to Wuhan to investigate the origins of the deadly COVID-19 virus. Video performance was consistently strong and notably outdid AP’s major competition on at least two days.Wang and Guan scrambled all week to follow the movements of the WHO delegation arriving and departing hotels and hospitals. Wang managed multiple live shots and Guan found angles to grab photos of the team; he also revealed some of their luggage: yoga mats and musical instruments.Meanwhile, the Beijing bureau was producing video edits from the live shots and expediting text based on the reports coming from the AP pair in Wuhan. On one day, Feb. 1, AP delivered five video edits, including a brief but rare comment from a WHO team member speaking from his car window, while a competitive agency had just two edits.https://bit.ly/2O6sVoWhttps://bit.ly/2MWrUishttps://bit.ly/3cHwbRRhttps://bit.ly/3jh6lVW

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Feb. 05, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Highlighting the work of unsung ICU cleaning crews

highlighted the critical and underappreciated work of cleaning crews maintaining COVID-19 intensive care units. The idea for the story came to Becatoros AP’s Southeast Europe bureau chief based in Athens, Greece, as she watched workers in full protective gear making beds in the hospital across the street from her home. She and chief photographer Stavrakis then spent months navigating the health care and governmental bureaucracy to get access to a hospital where AP had shot photos early in the pandemic. Stavrakis was eventually granted access to photograph cleaners in five of the hospital’s ICUs, and Becatoros was allowed up to the door from where the ICU was clearly visible. All the cleaners they spoke to were eager to tell their story, giving voice to a group of laborers who have remained out of the public eye despite taking similar risks as doctors and nurses while preventing the spread of the virus inside hospitals. https://bit.ly/3cIm6Eehttps://bit.ly/3rtb3Db

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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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Jan. 29, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Up close, personal reporting on the US political divide

wanted to explore how people on different sides of the political gulf in the U.S. view the election and transfer of power.They found two Maryland residents who represent polar political opposites: one a Trump Republican who has two TVs tuned to conservative media; the other a staunch Democrat eager for the inauguration of Joe Biden. Both are members of a program designed to bridge the nation’s extraordinary political divide.The AP team followed as the pair navigated the turbulent transition between administrations, careful to report fairly while not making their divergent positions equivalent — the journalists made it clear that the facts establish Biden’s win and do not support claims of a stolen election. The all-formats package attracted attention and yes, sparked heated discussion online. https://bit.ly/3ckElj2https://bit.ly/2Yn9r19

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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)

AP goes live from Navalny’s flight back to Moscow

gave AP unprecedented access to Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s return to Moscow, ensuring AP was the only news agency broadcasting live the moment Alexey Navalny stepped onto a plane in Berlin for the flight returning him to Moscow, where he would be arrested.

The moment Navalny announced his decision to go home, AP senior producer Tatiana Titova had arranged a ticket to put Berlin-based video journalist Chernov on the same flight. On Sunday, Chernov was ready, transmitting live from his phone as soon as he stepped inside the plane cabin.

When Navalny showed up alongside his wife, lawyer and associates, AP clients worldwide got their first glimpse of a remarkable journey taken by the man who was poisoned for challenging President Vladimir Putin’s rule. Chernov also shot still images that were well used, including the front page of Monday’s New York Times.https://bit.ly/39PcTGXhttps://bit.ly/3qEAFMD

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