Donald Trump's public comments about women have been a familiar theme in the tumultuous presidential campaign. But what had he said behind the scenes on "The Apprentice," the TV show that made him a household name?
That's the question AP’s Garance Burke set out to answer. Combining shoe-leather reporting with an adept use of social media, the San Francisco-based national investigative reporter tracked down more than 20 people willing to talk about the Republican nominee's language on the set. They recalled Trump making demeaning, crude and sexist comments toward and about female cast and crew members, and that he discussed which contestants he would like to have sex with.
By itself, the story was explosive, but it had another effect, leading to one of the biggest bombshells of the 2016 presidential race, and it earns the Beat of the Week.
Once made public by the Washington Post and NBC, that tape sparked waves of outrage, prompting some top Republicans to pull their support for Trump while others urged that he withdraw.
After reading Burke's story, "Access Hollywood" said it dug into its archive, uncovering a 2005 tape in which Trump made lewd remarks about being sexually aggressive toward women. Once made public by the Washington Post and NBC, that tape sparked waves of outrage, prompting some top Republicans to pull their support for Trump while others urged that he withdraw.
The AP’s own story began with discussions between national investigative editor Rick Pienciak, who is Burke's editor, and Washington investigative editor Ted Bridis, who is overseeing all AP candidate vetting. Trump's behavior during many seasons on "The Apprentice" had been on a long list of possible topics to pursue. Initial interest had been prompted, in part, by a gossip item regarding an inappropriate, sexually tinged statement attributed to Trump about an "Apprentice" contestant. That comment was never substantiated, but Burke discovered many other unsettling remarks.
Seeking out interview prospects, Burke checked several industry sites that list the cast and crew for "The Apprentice" and "The Celebrity Apprentice." These proved to be out-of-date, incomplete or both.
Burke quickly discovered there would be other obstacles: "Apprentice" alumni had significant reasons to fear speaking with the AP because they'd signed non-disclosure agreements and were concerned about jeopardizing their careers or retaliation from Trump.
But she persisted, with repeated calls or emails to reach some sources, then multiple conversations to persuade them to speak. Some people had unlisted phone numbers, so social media accounts proved critical. There were a few people Burke considered crucial to her quest, so when she had exhausted all other options, she made home visits on the East and West coasts. In the end, many of those quoted agreed to be identified by name.
She got other key material from people suggested by other cast and crew. For example, she got the volatile Trump quote, "You'd f... her, wouldn't you? I'd f... her," because others referred that person to Burke.
The story took more than two months to report, write, shoot and edit. Considerable time went to trying to get comments from the Trump campaign, Mark Burnett's production company, MGM and NBC.
The story ran with photos and a video featuring two former Apprentice contestants and a former producer. http://apne.ws/2el8BxB
Play was phenomenal: Chartbeat showed the story was No. 1 for engagement on AP’s Big Story site, with an average `engaged time' of just over 1 minute, versus an average of 20 seconds. And interest didn't wane. Readers spent a cumulative 1,550 hours on the story by Monday night. The story garnered 111,000 views on AP Mobile. It ranked No. 1 for the day.
On-air and online use included Good Morning America, PBS NewsHour and other network programs as well as the New York Times, the Huffington Post and Variety. The story provided material for a comedic riff by Stephen Colbert on The Late Show.
Burke discussed the story on CNN's Reliable Sources, http://cnn.it/2e8NzT6 . And she appeared on MSNBC, NPR's Morning Edition, among other shows.
For dogged pursuit of a story that has had an impact in the 2016 presidential race, Burke earns this week's $500 prize.