When major news breaks – such as President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey – journalism 101 dictates: Find the principals. We knew where the president was. Locating Comey, on the other hand, was more difficult.
The determined, diligent sleuthing efforts of news researcher Monika Mathur tracked Comey, allowing The Associated Press to get exclusive and widely used photos of him. Those efforts earn the Beat of the Week.
As soon as the firing was reported, the search for Comey was on. He was scheduled to be in Los Angeles at an FBI recruitment event, and this was soon confirmed by TV aerial footage of his motorcade moving through heavy traffic making its way back to LAX. Back in Washington, AP’s best chance of getting the fired director was to catch him at his home for his early morning return.
Using our usual source for locating home addresses, AP dispatched a photographer to two possible locations in the Washington suburb of McLean, Virginia. Both turned out to be wrong. However, we were the in the ballpark as the photographer heard the motorcade in the distance pass him by in the wee hours of the morning.
In the Washington bureau, it became quickly apparent that the location of the former FBI director’s residence was scrubbed from the public record.
Using several databases, Mathur cross-referenced information on homes owned by corporations. She hit on a home that didn’t seem to have an easily discoverable owner.
Enter Monika Mathur, who started digging. Using several different databases, the Washington-based researcher cross-referenced information between homes owned by corporations and the corporations' ownerships. In McLean, which is the community right next to the CIA, there are a lot of them. She hit on a home owned by a corporation that didn’t seem to have any owners easily discoverable.
The ah-ha moment came when a search of Google Street View came up with a giant blur where the home should be.
Visual teams were immediately dispatched, and freelance photographer Sait Serkan Gurbuz arrived just in time to make exclusive images of Comey walking behind his security gate. Describing what the photos captured, TMZ said: “If former FBI director James Comey is upset about joining the ranks of the unemployed ... he's hiding it behind a sly grin. Comey looked pretty carefree Wednesday as he walked around his driveway in Virginia.”
As soon as the pictures moved, the phones blew up in the Washington bureau with other news organizations calling to see if AP would reveal the address. The bureau didn’t – and was still getting inquiries five days later.
For her skills and determination that led to an exclusive on a highly competitive story, Mathur wins this week’s $500 prize.