Jan. 05, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP NewsBreak: US soldier fought to the end after ambush in Niger

The horror tales from Niger – as reported by some of the world’s most reputable media – were gruesome: Sgt. La David Johnson, one of four Americans who died on a mysterious U.S. Army Special Forces mission in early October, had been captured alive, tortured, killed execution-style at close range and his remains had been mutilated.

The details were all erroneous, it turned out.

It took the AP’s Pentagon reporter Lita Baldor to set the record straight with a stunning scoop on an otherwise quiet Washington Sunday in December, revealing the findings of a still confidential Pentagon report.

For an unmatched story that revealed the heroism of an American soldier who died in the line of duty, Baldor wins this week’s Beat of the Week.

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Dec. 16, 2016

Best of the Week — First Winner

Ransomed: The freeing of 226 Christians from Islamic State

What AP’s Lori Hinnant knew, from a conversation with Beirut bureau chief Zeina Karam early this year, amounted to a fascinating mystery: A series of Syrian villages had been emptied and many of their people taken hostage by the Islamic State group, but now most appeared to be free. It was clear that ransoms were paid, but no one would talk about how it happened.

The hostages were more than 200 Assyrian Christians who were rescued through a fundraising effort among the vanishing people’s global diaspora that brought in millions of dollars. These were the broad outlines of the story that Hinnant’s months of reporting confirmed, but even better were the exclusive details she unearthed _ including IS sending one villager with a ransom note to his bishop, the church dinners and concerts held around the world for donations, and the decision, fraught with ethical qualms and legal risks, to pay a ransom.

Hinnant’s resulting “thriller,” as one admirer called it, is the Beat of the Week.

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Aug. 23, 2019

Best of the States

Foresight, persistence, sources put AP ahead on green card restrictions for legal immigrants

Few reporters were paying attention to a draft rule barring legal immigrants from getting green cards if they received benefits like Medicaid or food stamps – but AP’s Colleen Long was.

Long, AP’s Washington-based Homeland Security reporter, had spent months asking U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services when the final rules would be published, making them official. With a heads-up from sources, she was eventually able to get an advance briefing and interview, writing the story just before heading off on vacation. Then, as soon as the rule appeared, she alerted the Washington desk to move the story, giving AP a major beat over other news organizations. By the time the White House and Homeland Security held briefings, Long already had all the key details on the wire.

For her skilled source-building, persistence and meticulous reporting, Long wins this week’s Best of the States honors.

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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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April 16, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals details of Trump bid to release hostages in Syria

combined source work and on-the-record reporting to reveal details of a secret trip to Syria taken by two Trump administration officials in a last-ditch effort to secure the release of kidnapped journalist Austin Tice and other U.S. hostages before the U.S. presidential election. Homeland security reporter Fox used years of source development to land the first on-the-record interview with one of the officials who made the risky trip to Damascus, while Tucker and Lee, national security and diplomatic reporters respectively, used their own sourcing to corroborate key details with current and former U.S. officials.The story was the most definitive account to date of the secretive meeting and revealed how the talks were stymied by significant Syrian demands and by the lack of information the Syrians offered about Tice’s fate or whereabouts. It also revealed how the U.S. government, in an effort to build goodwill, had an ally in the region offer assistance for the cancer treatment of the wife of Syrian President Bashar Assad. https://bit.ly/3gikAKK

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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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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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April 26, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals politics of immigration policy shifts

for two stories on how the Trump administration is dealing with the surge of migrant families at the border and a claimed lack of detention space. Merchant spotted a solicitation for contractors to build tents near the U.S.-Mexico border to temporarily detain immigrant families, and he followed up with an accountability story revealing that thousands of beds for detained families are empty at a time when President Trump was calling the country “full,” and threatening to send migrants to sanctuary cities as political retribution.https://bit.ly/2GuBJxmhttps://bit.ly/2L4OQuG

March 15, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Sourcework puts AP ahead as McSally reveals she was raped in Air Force

for putting AP ahead of all other news organizations by jumping on a tip from a source, reporting U.S. Sen. Martha McSally’s shocking revelation that she had been sexually assaulted while in the Air Force. When McSally told a Senate subcommittee she had been raped, Long messaged the desk to file the alert, catching other media on Capitol Hill flat-footed. https://bit.ly/2tSq4Cr

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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Feb. 28, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Greyhound reverses bus policy after AP story

for reporting that Greyhound will stop allowing Border Patrol agents without a warrant to board its buses for routine immigration checks. The announcement by the nations’s largest bus company came a week after the Johnson reported on a leaked Border Patrol memo confirming that agents can’t board private buses without the consent of the bus company. Greyhound had previously insisted that even though it didn’t like the immigration checks, it had no choice under federal law but to allow them. https://bit.ly/2VDpTKH

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