Oct. 23, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exclusive: DEA recruits describe agency racism, ‘monkey noises’

reported exclusively on a string of recent discrimination complaints by minority recruits at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s training academy, including one allegation that black trainees were taunted with “monkey noises.”Getting trainees to talk about such incidents was the real reporting feat of this story. After Mustian’s June piece about the chronic struggles the agency has had recruiting minorities, several people both inside and outside of the DEA contacted him with accounts of discrimination, saying racism permeated their time at the academy from their first day of basic training, alleging exceptions were routinely made for underperforming white trainees while Blacks were held to an appreciably higher standard.

In the most glaring case, a recruit told Mustian that a firearms instructor called a Black trainee a “monkey” to his face and subjected a group of Black trainees to monkey sounds over a loudspeaker. The DEA did not deny the incident and the instructor retired before he could be disciplined. Mustian’s story played heavily, but most significantly it prompted several more people to contact him with new accounts of discrimination within the DEA.

https://bit.ly/31rasHc

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June 28, 2019

Best of the States

AP Analysis: EPA data says US air quality is slipping; EPA regulation could make it worse

Washington science writer Seth Borenstein knew the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was not going to notify anyone when it posted new data on the nation’s air quality for 2018, but he knew where it would be posted. He also knew that the Trump administration was poised to replace an Obama-era clean-air rule with a new regulation that was friendlier to coal-fired power plants, so he kept checking for the agency’s data.

When the data finally showed up, Borenstein teamed with New York-based Health and Science data journalist Nicky Forster to evaluate the data, put it in context and run it by scientists. Forster even pointed out errors that the EPA was forced to correct.

Their persistence made AP the first to report that the annual number of days of poor air quality in the U.S. had increased for the second year in a row, after decades of improvement. The story ran on the eve of the EPA’s announcement of its loosened regulation, undermining the rationale for the new standards with the government’s own numbers. Trump’s new rule, experts told the AP, could turn what is so far a modest backslide into a deadly trend.

For diligent reporting and sophisticated analysis to hold a federal agency accountable for its data and regulatory policy, Borenstein and Forster earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 04, 2020

Best of the States

AP investigation: Thousands of environmental waivers granted amid pandemic

When the Trump administration waived enforcement of environmental protections because of the pandemic, a former EPA administrator called it a “license to pollute,” while public health officials told AP that it would be difficult to determine the impact.

At that, five AP reporters around the country embarked on a two-month, brute force effort to wrest loose state data on the suspended regulations.

They found more than 3,000 instances of environmental waivers to oil and gas companies, government facilities and other operations, with nationwide implications for public health. 

For deep reporting and painstaking analysis to document the potential consequences of relaxed environmental regulation, the team of Knickmeyer, Bussewitz, Flesher, Brown and Casey wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 30, 2018

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Acting AG Whitaker erroneously says NY-area bomber had help

for being first to report that acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker made a glaring error when he told an audience of law enforcement officials that a terrorist who set off bombs in New York City and New Jersey had two co-conspirators overseas and that one was in custody. They checked it out and found none of it was true. The Justice Department was forced to issue a correction and the reference to Rahimi having co-conspirators was taken out of a transcript posted on the Justice Department website. https://bit.ly/2DS1k3r

Sept. 20, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Virtually no regulation of contaminated sludge used as crop fertilizer

for an all-formats package that holds state and federal regulators accountable for doing little or nothing to address rising concerns that sewage sludge, used as cheap farm fertilizer, is contaminating food with potentially harmful chemicals. The team interviewed numerous experts and officials about PFAS, a group of chemicals used in a wide variety of household products and industrial processes. They found concern that certain of these chemicals associated with increased risk of cancer and organ damage could wind up in the food chain fertilized by contaminated sludge. But they also found that the federal government and most states had done little if anything to assess or regulate the amount of PFAS in the sludge being spread on farm fields across America.https://bit.ly/2kRjDiihttps://bit.ly/2mmYxc2https://bit.ly/2lXGo4f

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July 08, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: FBI investigating abuse by New Orleans clergy

reported exclusively that the FBI has opened a sweeping probe into sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in New Orleans, marking a rare federal foray into such a case, looking specifically at whether priests took children across state lines to molest them.Mustian’s scoop, based on law enforcement authorities and others familiar with the probe, marked a major shift in strategy for federal authorities, who have rarely opened investigations into the Catholic clergy abuse scandals, particularly cases built around the Mann Act, a century-old, anti-sex trafficking law that prohibits taking anyone across state lines for illicit sex.Mustian’s detailed reporting found that many of the cases the FBI is probing in New Orleans allege abuse by clergy during out-of-state trips, including to Mississippi camps or amusement parks in Texas and Florida.Read more

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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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Oct. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP analysis: Most arrested in US protests aren’t leftist radicals

set out to determine who had actually been arrested in the protests that have rocked the U.S. since the killing of George Floyd in May. They scrutinized the arrest records of every person charged in federal court with protest-related crimes, delivering an important accountability story that showed the Trump administration’s claims of leftist-incited violence during racial unrest were overblown. The trio read through thousands of pages of court documents and sifted through 286 federal cases where people were charged with federal crimes of violence. They found only one mention of antifa and very few cases of organized extremism.They also called dozens of lawyers, activists and sources to determine what was going on behind the numbers, finding an effort by the Department of Justice to pursue cases that normally would be handled in the state systems, and exaggeration by the president of the danger posed to the public. The team’s reporting undercut claims that left-wing extremists were running rampant in American cities. On a busy news day, the story received outstanding play online and in print. https://bit.ly/2HMltwl

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