Jan. 11, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Sourcing lands exclusive on pardoned Blackwater contractor

scored an exclusive interview with one of the four former Blackwater security contractors pardoned by President Donald Trump for a shooting rampage in Iraq that killed more than a dozen civilians. The interview, the only one granted by any of the contractors, was the result of years of ongoing source work with the contractors’ legal team, who knew that Tucker would be fair and accurate, and that he was intimately familiar with the case from having covered it extensively.

Evan Liberty revealed he was not remorseful for his actions, believed that he had “acted correctly,” and shared details about the moment he learned he had received a pardon, including the three personal items he took with him when he left prison. Tucker made clear the pardons inspired broad condemnation in the U.S. and Middle East and included the perspective of the prosecutors who charged him, the jury who convicted himand the judge who sentenced him. https://bit.ly/3okz4et

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Aug. 07, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals Russian efforts on coronavirus disinformation

used months of source work to put AP ahead of other news outlets with the news that Russian intelligence officers were using English-language websites to spread disinformation on the coronavirus. The story was significant in revealing the specific websites that U.S. officials said were disseminating false narratives to Western audiences, and because it disclosed the identities of military intelligence officials believed to be behind the effort. https://bit.ly/2EZb6DH

Sept. 22, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

Cuba mystery deepens: AP first with details of 'health attacks' against US diplomats

When news first broke in early August about mysterious incidents involving U.S. diplomats in Cuba, the AP was all over the story, beating the competition to several key early details. These included talk among officials about a possible “sonic attack” and suspicions that ranged from Cuban culpability to possible intervention by an outside culprit like Russia.

But so many questions were left unanswered. And with the FBI deep into one of the most perplexing investigations in modern diplomatic history, U.S. officials in the State Department, White House and elsewhere were saying as little as possible about what they were learning.

That’s when the Washington bureau put together a multi-beat team of reporters to try to put the pieces together. Their comprehensive work wins Beat of the Week.

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July 19, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

One face of immigration policy: 9-year-old in Texas still separated from Guatemalan family

Houston-based immigration reporter Nomaan Merchant uncovered a heartbreaking tale in his coverage of the lingering toll of President Donald Trump’s family separation policy: a 9-year-old boy, Byron Xol, who is still separated from his parents. The boy eventually landed in the home of a Texas family who took custody of the child, while his parents were deported to Guatemala.

Merchant had been looking for an opportunity to write a detailed narrative that would illustrate the stress that separations have on families. When he learned on short notice of Byron’s upcoming birthday, he decided it was the perfect time to tell the tale.

Merchant and his Houston colleagues – video journalist John Mone and photographer David Phillip – went to the boy’s current foster home outside Austin. Meanwhile, photographer Santiago Billy, reporter Sonny Figueroa and video stringer Sergio Alfaro went to the Guatemalan village of the Xol family. Together they captured the emotion of the day and the sharp contrast between the two worlds, as the dad phoned Byron on his birthday.

The story they produced was gripping, used by more than 400 AP members in the U.S. It was just one of a series of strong pieces that have put names, faces and personal narratives to the immigration story, keeping AP’s coverage ahead.

For recognizing the moment and mobilizing quickly across formats and borders, Alfaro, Billy, Figueroa, Merchant, Mone and Phillip share AP’s Best of the Week.

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March 26, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exclusive: Why compensation denied for tortured US veteran

broke the news that a former Iran detainee, Amir Hekmati, a U.S. citizen, Marine and Iraq war veteran whose 2016 release had been widely lauded during the Obama administration, had been denied compensation as a result of suspicions he had gone to Iran to sell secrets, not to visit his grandmother.The exclusive solved the mystery of why the Justice Department had refused to pay Hekmati $20 million in compensation for years of imprisonment that included brutal torture. National security writer Tucker read through hundreds of pages of documents filed in the obscure Court of Federal Claims to piece together the narrative, accompanied by photos and a video from Washington video journalist Nathan Ellgren, which had roughly 2,000 views on YouTube.https://bit.ly/3lJ91wQhttps://bit.ly/3rfjaT6

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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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March 01, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Despite denials, US shares terror watchlist with private sector

For years, the federal government has denied widely sharing its terrorist watchlist with the private sector. But American Muslims have long had suspicions to the contrary, as those mistakenly placed on the list faced everyday difficulties ranging from making electronic bank transfers to boarding airplanes.

Source building and careful document review by Northern Virginia correspondent Matthew Barakat finally revealed that the federal government shares its terrorist watchlist with more than 1,400 private entities, including hospitals and universities. The government’s acknowledgement of the practice, buried in a civil lawsuit, was significant because officials have repeatedly denied that the list was given to private groups. Barakat’s sources and his thorough coverage of the 2-year-old case had him ready to jump on the filing as soon as it became public.

His APNewsBreak on Feb. 19 earned wide attention, including hundreds of members using the story. Others scrambled to catch up, with The Washington Post crediting AP for breaking the story when it ran its own version in the paper.

Over the next two days Barakat was also first to report on a call for a congressional probe, and he was the only reporter in court when a federal judge berated government lawyers, ordering them to disclose the private sector entities to the lawsuit’s plaintiffs.

For his methodical document work and source-building that helped hold the federal government accountable, Barakat wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 11, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals how major terrorism prosecution almost fell apart

delivered an exclusive, deeply reported account of how the Department of Justice’s biggest terrorism prosecution in years almost didn't happen. The case involves two alleged Islamic State militants dubbed “The Beatles,” British citizens blamed for the jailing, torture and murder of Western hostages in Syria.Tucker spoke to roughly a dozen current and former U.S. and British officials — many of whom rarely, if ever, grant interviews — as well as relatives of slain hostages. The story broke news in several areas, revealing for the first time how grieving families reached a gradual consensus to take the death penalty off the table, a major sticking point. Tucker also reported the behind-the-scenes involvement of current and former FBI officials who encouraged the families to prod the administration into action, and never-before-seen email correspondence from a senior Justice Department official to one of the victims’ relatives.https://bit.ly/3m1IcCOhttps://bit.ly/37Std99

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May 06, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

Flawless source work, preparation deliver all-formats scoop on US-Russia prisoner swap

In a textbook display of outstanding source work and planning, Eric Tucker and Matthew Lee acted on a tip to score a massive scoop on a stunning U.S.-Russia prisoner exchange that happened despite heightened tensions between the countries.

In the process, the pair showed the rewards of careful, long-term source-building, a model of how to prepare in all formats to put the AP ahead of the competition the moment the news broke, and examples of how to build on a big story with smart sidebars in-cycle and a compelling follow-up story that offered new, behind-the-scenes details.

Their efforts paid off handsomely on Wednesday when Lee got the green light that the exchange had taken place, allowing AP to push out an alert and full story accompanied by photos and video, well before any Western media competitors were even aware the swap had happened.

For their exhaustive, comprehensive work that scooped everyone on the surprising swap, Tucker and Lee share AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner honors.

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May 08, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exclusive: SEALs tried to locate US captive in Afghanistan

conducted an exclusive investigation into an attempt by Navy SEALs to locate Mark Frerichs, an American contractor kidnapped in Afghanistan by a Taliban-linked militant network. The story, based on conversations with multiple U.S. officials, included sensitive details of the military operation, and revealed the growing exasperation of Frerichs’ family with the U.S. government for not including him in a recent peace deal with the Taliban. https://bit.ly/3do2Wkg

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July 26, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP hours ahead as Trump moves to end nearly all asylum at southern border

Washington-based homeland security reporter Colleen Long earned a key scoop – one that set the news agenda for days and left the competition scrabbling to catch up – when a source alerted her to a change in rules for those seeking asylum at the southern border: The rule would effectively end asylum for people coming from Central American countries and change decades of U.S. policy.

Following the tip, she also knew that she had a window of opportunity to drive her advantage home before the law was announced early the next morning. Long’s story caught other news organizations completely off guard and left major outlets to cite the AP for hours as they struggled to catch up.

For her deep knowledge of immigration policy, diligent reporting and outstanding speed of delivery on a story of vital interest, Colleen Long earns AP’s Best of the Week.

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