April 13, 2018

Best of the States

AP tracks record number of women running for US House seats

The Women’s March shortly after Donald Trump’s inauguration energized its backers with a message to get politically engaged. The emergence of the #MeToo movement later that year provided even more momentum. But would women follow through? At the start of 2018, a midterm election year, the state government and data teams decided to find out.

The goal was ambitious: Track every woman running for Congress, statewide office and state legislature in the country, get historical numbers for comparison and follow their electoral fates through Election Day to see if the movements had led to real change. That effort, which will be ongoing throughout the year, produced its first scoop last week when AP declared a record number of women running for the U.S. House of Representatives.

For breaking significant news on one of the most dominant political trends of the year, state government team reporters Christina Cassidy and Geoff Mulvihill, and data team visual journalist Maureen Linke share this week’s Best of the States.

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July 20, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

APNewsBreak reveals renewed investigation into Emmett Till killing

The killing of black teenager Emmett Till remains one of the most notorious crimes in American history, unresolved more than 60 years later. The 14-year-old boy was lynched after being accused of whistling at a white woman in Mississippi in 1955, a case that shocked the nation and helped inspire the civil rights movement. Alabama correspondent Jay Reeves has doggedly pursued any developments in the case over the years, and last week came away with a bombshell: the investigation was being reopened.

For that exclusive, Reeves wins the Beat of the Week.

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July 06, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

An AP blockbuster: Algeria forces 13,000 migrants into the desert, some to their deaths

“Here in the desert, Algeria has abandoned more than 13,000 people in the past 14 months, including pregnant women and children, stranding them without food or water and forcing them to walk, sometimes at gunpoint, under temperatures of up to 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit).”

With that chilling declaration, the AP opened a new chapter in the ongoing, global saga of migrant suffering. Reporter Lori Hinnant and visual journalists Jerome Delay and Bram Janssen revealed the Algerian government’s complicity in a horror that had gone unreported – and had led to the deaths of an unknown number of migrants. Their exclusive story is the Beat of the Week.

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June 29, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Immigration: Back-to-back scoops by investigative teams, Washington reporters

The disturbing stories of more than 2,000 kids caught up in the U.S. immigration system – including babies and toddlers forcibly separated from their parents – dominated headlines and led newscasts around the world.

AP reporters, working across the country, in Washington, D.C., Latin America and along the U.S.-Mexican border led the coverage of the impact of the zero tolerance immigration policy. Their work produced a series of scoops that set the agenda, alerting Capitol Hill leaders to a major White House order, leaving an MSNBC anchor in tears and generating action by politicians.

For their work, the Beat of the Week is shared by investigative reporters Garance Burke, Martha Mendoza, Michael Biesecker and Jake Pearson, and Washington reporters Jill Colvin and Colleen Long. The award also recognizes an outstanding company-wide effort that included reporting from numerous locations and across formats, putting the AP repeatedly in front of a major global story.

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June 29, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Kobach sought pardon for VP of a corporate donor

Topeka correspondent John Hanna had been hearing hints for weeks that there might be something in Kris Kobach’s record that could cause trouble for the Kansas secretary of state and candidate for governor.

At first, it was just that: hints. The suggestions were so vague that Hanna set off to review the nationally known Republican’s statements, but Hanna, whose reporting sense is informed by 30 years of statehouse reporting, found nothing.

So he kept digging. Eventually a source suggested there might be something to do with a pardon, and Hanna filed a records request.

The governor’s office released a copy of its file on a pardon request for Ryan Bader, the vice president of TriStar Arms, a firearms importer. Bader had faced an aggravated robbery charge over a 2009 incident but agreed to a plea bargain and received a light sentence. Now he wanted a pardon so that he could buy a gun again and get the licenses needed to take over the family business.

Bader’s attorney for the pardon request? Kobach. The records showed Kobach did not provide a key police affidavit that was later released by the office of GOP Gov. Jeff Colyer – whom Kobach is challenging. But there was more. Campaign finance records showed that TriStar had donated at least $7,000 to Kobach’s campaigns for secretary of state and governor. The company also helped sponsor a fundraiser with Donald Trump Jr.

Hanna’s APNewsBreak was well used, including a post on the homepage of a member that is usually hesitant to showcase work done outside its newsroom. It also became a topic of a gubernatorial debate, with Kobach defending the pardon request.

For smart digging and use of public records that helped drive the news agenda and political conversation, Hanna wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 31, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Mind-blowing exclusive: Security troops on US nuclear base took LSD

After five years exposing the struggles of the U.S. Air Force’s nuclear missile corps – security lapses, leadership and training failures, morale problems – Bob Burns uncovered an exclusive that was mind-blowing in every sense of the word: Airmen guarding a base in Wyoming had bought, distributed and used LSD.

Burns, a Washington-based national security writer, knew from his previous reporting on the missile corps that illegal drug use was a recurring problem and that the Air Force was reluctant to discuss it.

When the court martial proceedings began in 2016 he started filing FOIA requests for the transcripts and supporting legal documents. It took the Air Force well over a year to finish responding to Burns’ requests, but by January 2018 he had the bulk of the records he needed to piece together the story, including trial transcripts and related documents, with descriptions of drug experiences of airmen, ranging from panic to euphoria.

For his extraordinary revelation that some of the nation’s most deadly weapons were in the hands of hallucinating airmen, Burns takes this week's Beat of the Week award.

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May 24, 2018

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Interview with judge facing recall over Stanford sex assault sentence

When a California judge chose the most lenient sentence for a Stanford swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on campus, the outrage made national headlines for weeks. Anger at the judge turned into a recall effort on the June 5 primary ballot and more widespread media coverage.

Despite the glare, Judge Aaron Persky has been mostly silent for nearly two years. San Francisco reporter Paul Elias has spent nearly that entire time asking for an interview, over and over.

Those efforts paid off with an exclusive, three-hour all formats interview at the judge’s home. The judge said he had no regrets, even though the sentence may cost him his judgeship. The resulting story was featured prominently in local and national media.

For his persistence in getting AP a fascinating interview on a competitive story, Elias wins this week's Best of the States award.

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May 24, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP offers rare glimpse into world of China's political indoctrination camps

Last year, when Beijing correspondent Gerry Shih was working on a series of stories about the Uighurs in China, he learned that a number of citizens from Kazakhstan had been ensnared in a crackdown in the Xinjiang region where Muslims were being indoctrinated in a network of internment camps.

When one of them, Omir Bekali, decided to speak out about his eight-month ordeal in detention and in a so-called re-education center where hundreds of thousands of Muslims are being indoctrinated to disavow their religion, Shih, video journalist Dake Kang and China chief photographer Ng Han Guan traveled 2,000 miles to Almaty to interview him.

Their in-depth, all-formats report on the physical and psychological torment Bekali endured earns the Beat of the Week.

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May 17, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Russian hackers posed as Islamic State to harass US military wives

The threat over her phone to Army wife Angela Ricketts was terrifying. “Dear Angela!” it said. “Bloody Valentine’s Day!”

“We know everything about you, your husband and your children,” it continued, claiming that Islamic State militants had penetrated her computer. “We’re much closer than you can even imagine.”

More than three years after Ricketts and four other military wives received this and other alarming messages, AP London-based cybersecurity reporter Raphael Satter unraveled the secret behind it all. Satter drew on a massive hit list of Russian hacking targets, focusing on a group of five women whose names were clustered together on the list. All reported having received death threats from a mysterious group calling itself CyberCaliphate back in 2015.

The threats were not from Middle Eastern terrorists at all, but hackers from the Russian group widely dubbed Fancy Bear – the same gang who later broke into the Democratic Party’s emails and interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

For revealing the latest wrinkle in the Russian hacking story, Satter earns the Beat of the Week.

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May 11, 2018

Best of the States

Illinois coroner to poor: Pay $1000 or county keeps remains

The tip that led to an exclusive by Chicago reporter Sara Burnett seemed outlandish: When poor people couldn't afford to bury their loved ones, a western Illinois coroner was cremating the bodies and keeping the ashes until the family paid $1,000. He’s continued the policy even though the state has resumed a program to pay for the funerals.

Burnett reported on a woman whose ex-husband and father of their three children died. They were both on disability and she couldn’t come up with the money, leaving the family to hold a memorial service with just a photograph and an empty container. Wendy Smith said she felt the policy was unfair. "I just think they pick on the people that are poor."

The coroner told Burnett that the policy started after the state, which for years has faced billion-dollar deficits, announced it was too broke to pay for indigent funerals and burials – shifting the cost to funeral homes and county coroners. Further, the coroner claimed only one woman was unhappy. But Burnett tracked down other families, and had a back-and-forth with the state about how much money was appropriated for the burial program

Within days, the state comptroller, citing The Associated Press story, weighed in that the coroner's practice was "disgusting behavior" and called for a ramped-up campaign to alert local officials that state-funded burial is again available.

For illuminating a questionable practice and how the state’s budget crisis continues to cause pain for the poor and vulnerable, Burnett earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 26, 2018

Best of the States

​Krupa makes exclusive photos of Tom Brady's unbandaged hand injury

As he geared up to cover Sunday’s AFC championship between the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots, Boston photographer Charlie Krupa knew the biggest national sports story of the week had been the mysterious practice injury to the throwing hand of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

Krupa and every other photographer at the game made photos showing the bandaged hand as Brady warmed up, played, and celebrated yet another AFC championship on stage at midfield afterwards.

But after covering countless high-profile sporting events around the globe during his AP career, Krupa knew there was one more picture he needed to make.

When Brady took the podium for the post-game news conference, Krupa watched through the lens for that fleeting moment of Brady’s unbandaged hand. His exclusive pictures, published on ESPN and Boston Globe websites, among others, confirmed Brady had sustained a cut at the base of his right thumb that required several stitches.

For journalistic tenacity and photographic skill that gave AP an exclusive beat, Krupa receives this week’s Best of the States prize.

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March 30, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP analysis: At least 19,000 in Iraq detained for terrorism, thousands sentenced to death

Prisons in Iraq held thousands of Islamic State group militants, but few outside the government knew exactly how many. Baghdad-based reporter Qassim Abdul-Zahra set out to find out – and he wasn’t going to take a rough estimate for an answer.

With Baghdad correspondent Susannah George and Mideast enterprise editor Lee Keath, Abdul-Zahara analyzed documents he obtained from a Justice Ministry official, finding that the government was holding at least 19,000 people accused of ISIS connections or other terror-related offenses and that more than 3,000 of them had been sentenced to death.

For intrepid source work and analysis to establish the facts around the imprisonment of thousands of Islamic State group militants in Iraq, Abdul-Zahra, George and Keath win Beat of the Week.

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March 22, 2018

Best of the States

Sex assaults among children on US military bases routinely ignored

Last May, as Reese Dunklin and Justin Pritchard sifted through readers' email responses to AP's 2017 investigation into schoolhouse sex assault, both reporters flagged the same messages for follow-up: The tips described problems with the handling of sex assaults reported on U.S. military bases among the children and teens of service members.

Through dozens of FOIA requests and interviews, they found that reports of sexual assaults and rapes among military kids were getting lost in a dead zone of justice, with neither victim nor offender receiving help. Cases often died on the desks of prosecutors, even when an attacker confessed. And criminal investigators shelved other cases, despite requirements they be pursued, the reporters found.

Using government records and data released by the Pentagon’s military branches and school system, Dunklin and Pritchard catalogued nearly 600 cases of sex assaults among children on military bases, often after protracted FOIA negotiations. Though an acknowledged undercount, it was the first such quantification – something neither the Pentagon nor its global school system had previously done.

For shedding light on a problem too long ignored, and localizing it for AP members in their states, Dunklin and Pritchard share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 23, 2018

Best of the States

AP collaboration exposes unequal lending practices across the country

When editors with Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting approached AP with a story on unfair lending practices, data editor Meghan Hoyer and data journalist Angel Kastanis saw an opportunity to use AP’s reach to expand the story and generate real impact.

Starting with 31 million records, representing nearly every mortgage loan application submitted in the U.S. in 2015 and 2016, they found that 50 years after the federal Fair Housing Act, people of color are still denied conventional mortgage loans at rates far higher than their white counterparts. The analysis found a pattern of denials across the country, including in major metropolitan areas.

While Reveal took the lead on the national story, Kastanis and Hoyer took the story deeper. The data distribution they prepared and shared with AP reporters and members showed 61 metro areas where applicants of color were more likely to be denied a conventional home purchase mortgage, even controlling for factors such as income, loan amount and neighborhood.

For taking the story to the next level in a way only AP can, Kastanis and Hoyer receive this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.

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Feb. 16, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP staffers on three continents scramble to fact-check the pope on Chile abuse

Vatican correspondent Nicole Winfield sensed a potentially explosive development in Chile's long-running sex abuse and cover-up scandal when she noticed a cryptic tweet from a former member of the Pope Francis' abuse advisory board.

Board member Marie Collins had tweeted that Francis was well aware that victims of Chile's most infamous predator priest had placed Bishop Juan Barros at the scene of their abuse. Collins herself had been involved in relaying those concerns to him.

Intrigued and sensing an important twist in a story that AP has already dominated, Winfield and Santiago correspondent Eva Vergara kicked off an extraordinary effort that would culminate in a three-day, multinational, cross-format papal fact-check, prompting calls for the pope to come clean about a scandal that now threatens his legacy.

Over the course of one frantic weekend the enterprise involved a Paris airport stakeout by senior TV producer Jeff Schaeffer, a missed Super Bowl party hosted by Philadelphia-based TV producer Yvonne Lee and a surreal TV interview conducted by AP reporters on three continents.

For teamwork that spanned the globe, in service of a story of immense global interest, Winfield, Vergara, Schaeffer and Lee are recognized with Beat of the Week.

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Feb. 02, 2018

Best of the States

AP uncovers NJ utility lobbying for a bailout, and blackout of financial records

In the weeks before New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie left office, a measure quickly advanced through the Legislature that would give PSEG, the state’s largest utility, a $300 million bailout for its nuclear power plants.

That got the curiosity of statehouse reporter Michael Catalini, who started digging.

A records request turned up more than a dozen emails showing that the company had lobbied for the bailout and wrote in a clause itself to prevent the public release of financial information proving it needed the money.

The bill introduced in the Legislature included language to shield the company’s books from the public, but failed to get to Christie’s desk during December’s lame-duck session. It re-emerged after Democrat Phil Murphy took office.

Catalini’s story revealing the lobbying effort was published a day before a committee hearing on the bill. Lawmakers rewrote the measure after the story appeared to clarify that PSEG would be required to submit “any financial information” to the state utility regulator.

For holding the utility and state lawmakers accountable, Catalani receives this week's Best of the States award.

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Feb. 02, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Investigation: Secret report linked Honduran national police chief to cartel coke delivery

Reporters Christopher Sherman, Martha Mendoza and Garance Burke were weeks into a deep look at police misconduct in Honduras, where public mistrust of law enforcement is among the highest in the world. So when they heard a new national police chief had been appointed, they immediately shifted gears and began asking questions about him.

What they found was explosive – a confidential government security document that detailed a troubling allegation regarding the force. It said the newly named National Police Chief Jose David Aguilar Moran had once helped a drug cartel leader pull off the delivery of nearly a ton of cocaine. The clandestine haul, worth at least $20 million on U.S. streets, was packed inside a tanker truck that, the report said, was escorted by corrupt police officers to the home of Wilter Blanco, a drug trafficker recently convicted in Florida and now serving a 20-year sentence.

For their dogged reporting, Sherman, Mendoza and Burke share the Beat of the Week.

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Jan. 26, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Pope responds, in person, after AP scoop on papal letter about Chilean bishop

Holding prominent officials accountable is one of the main missions of journalism, even if it is uncomfortable at times. AP’s Nicole Winfield did just that, politely but firmly pressing Pope Francis on his knowledge of a sexual abuse scandal that has clouded his appointment of a Chilean bishop in 2015 and cast doubt about his commitment to fighting the problem.

AP Santiago correspondent Eva Vergara got the first part of the scoop for AP. She knew a letter she had spent months tracking down was toxic to Francis, to his upcoming trip to Chile, and to the Chilean bishop appointed by Francis and accused of covering up for the country's most notorious pedophile priest.

The letter showed that Francis knew that Bishop Juan Barros was accused of complicity in covering up the sexual abuse by Rev. Fernando Karadima, but appointed Barros bishop anyway. The scandal and Francis' subsequent accusations of slander against abuse victims dominated coverage. It led to Francis trying to explain himself under tough questioning by Winfield on an extraordinary in-flight press conference on his way home.

For Winfield's unflinching questioning of the pope, and Vergara's determined efforts to surface the letter that launched the story, the pair wins Beat of the Week.

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