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 18, 2021

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Secret panel investigating Louisiana State Police unit’s treatment of Black motorists

From the very beginning of Jim Mustian’s stellar reporting on the death of Black motorist Ronald Greene, he has been driven by two main questions: What really happened to Greene on the night of his 2019 arrest? And was this a pattern of how Louisiana state troopers treated Black motorists?

Mustian answered the first last month when he obtained body camera video showing troopers stunning, choking, punching and dragging the unarmed Greene as he apologized and begged for mercy. 

And he began answering the second this past week when he exclusively reported that the Louisiana State Police has convened a secret panel to investigate whether Troop F — the same unit involved in Greene’s arrest  — was systematically targeting other Black motorists. Mustian’s detailed reporting and solid sourcing turned up new cases and new video, and he landed the first-ever interview with one of the victims. 

His scoop scored with heavy play and strong engagement. For dogged reporting to keep the AP ahead on a searing case of racial injustice and its continuing fallout, Mustian earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 14, 2021

Best of the States

Nimble AP reporting reveals Alabama trooper charged in child rape hid alleged misconduct at FBI

In a classic case of keeping an open mind during reporting, AP’s Jim Mustian and Kim Chandler started out reporting one story, but found themselves reporting exclusively that an Alabama state trooper, arrested on charges he raped an 11-year-old girl, had used a forged letter and lied on his application to get hired after being removed from the FBI — also on serious allegations of sexual misconduct.

To federal law enforcement reporter Mustian, this initially appeared as yet another case of the FBI allowing an accused agent to quietly move on with his career. But just as he was about to publish, the FBI said the bureau letter Christopher Bauer submitted to Alabama authorities when he was hired was “not legitimate.” Meanwhile, Chandler, Montgomery statehouse reporter, tracked down Bauer’s application for the trooper job, in which he said he was still employed by the FBI and had never been forced to resign because of disciplinary action.

This had become the story of a former agent, and perhaps others, falsifying his record. The piece was among the week’s top stories on AP News, with nearly 200,000 pageviews.

For deep reporting that followed the story wherever it took them, Mustian and Chandler earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 23, 2021

Best of the States

Teamwork, enterprise deliver deep coverage on fatal police shooting of Chicago teen

When Chicago police released the body camera video of an officer fatally shooting a 13-year-old boy in an alley, AP staffers in Chicago and across the AP sprang into action with aggressive reporting, sharp enterprise follow-ups and thoughtful standards discussions about how to responsibly portray the gruesome incident for photo and video clients.

The end result was three days of distinctive spot and enterprise coverage on a story that resonated with audiences around the world, especially with renewed focus on police violence in the midst of the Derek Chauvin murder trial.

For comprehensive coverage providing depth, detail and context on the shooting, the all-formats team of Michael Tarm, Don Babwin, Sara Burnett, Kat Stafford, Dave Bauder, Shafkat Anowar, Robert Bumsted and Derek Karikari shares this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 26, 2021

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Executioners sanitized official reports of federal inmates’ last moments

AP legal affairs reporter Michael Tarm witnessed 10 of the unprecedented 13 federal executions in the final months of the Trump administration, diligently taking notes on what he saw in the chamber, from the inmates’ last words to their last breaths. 

But weeks after the last execution in mid-January, something nagged at him: The executioner’s official account did not jibe with what he had observed during the execution. Tarm went back, looking through hundreds of filings and court transcripts. His reporting resulted in a stunning exclusive on how the executioners all used euphemisms like “snored” and “fell asleep” while Tarm and other witnesses saw inmates’ stomachs dramatically shuddering and jerking in the minutes after lethal injections.

The sanitized accounts, Tarm realized, raised serious questions about whether officials misled courts to ensure the executions would be completed before Joe Biden, a death penalty foe, took office. His story — the latest exclusive in AP’s coverage of the federal executions — received prominent play and reader engagement.

For backing up his own observations with rigorous reporting to hold the federal government accountable for its official accounts of the executions, Tarm earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 18, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals sexual misconduct charges against FBI leadership

used interviews, public records requests and court papers to exclusively confirm at least six sexual misconduct allegations against senior FBI officials over the past five years, and that each avoided discipline. Several were quietly transferred or retired with full benefits, even when probes substantiated the claims.Starting with a single tip from a longtime FBI source, Mustian chipped away for months to reveal the previously undisclosed names of most of those senior officials as well as the details of the allegations against them. He used a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain inspector general reports, one of which confirmed the identity of an assistant FBI director who had been credibly accused of of drunkenly groping a female subordinate in a stairwell. The assistant director left the bureau without discipline.Mustian also found a civil rights lawyer in Washington who was preparing two lawsuits by women accusing senior officials. Mustian negotiated both for an exclusive interview with one of the plaintiffs, and to be the first reporter to write about those cases, including one woman’s claim of being blackmailed into sexual encounters for years.Mustian’s story received heavy play and elicited a strong reaction from readers, particularly those inside the FBI. Several women emailed Mustian to say his count was just the beginning; that they too were victims of senior agents while at the FBI. A California congresswoman says she is considering hearings into the FBI’s handling of sexual misconduct. https://bit.ly/3h15d7R

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Dec. 11, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

In exclusive AP interview, AG Barr says no evidence of widespread election fraud, undermining Trump

Justice Department reporter Mike Balsamo has spent months cultivating sources at the Department of Justice, earning a reputation as an objective journalist who reports fairly and accurately. 

His relationships paid off with an exclusive interview of U.S. Attorney General William Barr, in which Barr said the DOJ could find no evidence of widespread voting fraud, dramatically undercutting President Donald Trump’s insistence to the contrary.

“I knew ... he had made probably the biggest news he has in his tenure as AG,” said Balsamo. His story topped the news cycle and resonated for days. No other news outlet could match it and AP was widely cited for the scoop.

For persistent, evenhanded reporting on the Justice Department beat resulting in the interview that netted one of AP’s most consequential news coups of the year, Balsamo wins AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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Nov. 20, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP breaks news on Justice Department election investigations

both delivered scoops on the U.S. Department of Justice and election investigations.Balsamo kept hearing rumors of the DOJ looking into election cases, but he knew there were rules prohibiting such investigations during an ongoing election. He kept asking until a source revealed a memo Attorney General William Barr had sent to prosecutors nationwide authorizing federal prosecutors across the U.S. to pursue any “substantial allegations” of voting irregularities before the election is certified, despite the fact there was no evidence of widespread fraud giving prosecutors the ability to go around the longstanding policy. The scoop reverberated nationwide, especially as concerns grew over Trump’s ability to use the levers of government to hang on to power. The story was widely used, with Politico, Axios and NBC citing AP in their coverage of Barr’s memo. AP’s alert and a full story were on the wire more than 40 minutes before other major news organizations obtained a copy of the memo.Meanwhile, Las Vegas reporter Michelle Price was digging into how the DOJ was pursuing allegations from the Trump campaign that voters may have cast improper ballots in Nevada. Price and Balsamo teamed up with voting reporter Anthony Izaguirre to report out two ongoing investigations, and how they may not hold up to scrutiny. Price used her contacts to get exclusive first-person accounts from U.S. military members who thought they’d been wrongly accused of fraud for voting by mail from out of state by Nevada authorities and DOJ officials.https://bit.ly/2Kqu09ehttps://bit.ly/3lOlxKR

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Nov. 06, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Use of racial slurs not ‘isolated’ at Louisiana State Police

reported exclusively on a string of racial slurs used by Louisiana State Police troopers, both in their official emails and spoken on the job, refuting the contention of the agency’s superintendent that the use of such demeaning language was just “isolated.”Mustian reviewed hundreds of police records and found at least a dozen instances over a three-year period in which employees forwarded racist emails or demeaned minority colleagues with racist nicknames. He also exclusively obtained documents of an accidental “pocket-dial” of sorts in which a white trooper sent a voice mail to a Black trooper that blurted out his name and then a vile racist slur. The state police superintendent made an abrupt retirement announcement in the midst of Mustian’s reporting, which follows weeks of his coverage on the still-unexplained death of Ronald Greene, a Black motorist taken into custody last year following a police chase. Reeves faced criticism for his secretive handling of the case, including the refusal to release body-cam video that, according to those who have seen it, shows troopers beating, choking and dragging Greene. The case is now the subject of a federal civil rights investigation. Mustian’s story on the racial slurs received strong play, including on the front page of New Orleans’ Times-Picayune/Advocate. https://bit.ly/34VHCkp

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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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Oct. 16, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP finds diversity of US attorneys declining under Trump

used years of data on U.S. attorneys to reveal how any diversity gains made under previous administrations have faltered under President Donald Trump. AP’s analysis found the 85% of Trump’s Senate-confirmed U.S. attorneys are white men, significantly more than the three previous administrations going back to 1993. But the numbers were just part of the story. The AP team reported on why it mattered in this moment of national reckoning over racial inequality and the fairness of the criminal justice system. The story articulated how Black and brown people are disproportionately imprisoned but underrepresented in the system that puts them there. The piece included an impressive photo combo of all the attorneys, showing row after row – predominantly of white men – and video interviews on the value of diversity in the U.S. attorney ranks.https://bit.ly/3drn6e6https://bit.ly/318gc8J

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Sept. 25, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Feds probing in-custody death of Black man in Louisiana

reported exclusively on the launch of a federal investigation into the death last year of Ronald Greene, a Black man in Louisiana, following what state troopers say was a struggle at the end of a traffic chase. It is a long-simmering case in which police have refused to release any body camera video or records. Mustian’s deep reporting also included confirmation of a separate FBI civil rights investigation and the publication of graphic death photos. The probe has raised questions that the Louisiana State Police has so far refused to answer.https://bit.ly/33Zvf58https://bit.ly/33Z1yBd

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Aug. 21, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP scoop on Justice Department investigation of Yale discrimination

landed a scoop on a Justice Department investigation into higher education. Balsamo got word through sources that the two-year investigation was completed and had found something attention-grabbing: Yale University was illegally discriminating against Asian American and white applicants, in violation of federal civil rights law. Working with education reporter Collin Binkley, the pair scrambled to move a story that crushed other major news outlets by nearly an hour. Thanks to Binkley’s reporting, the AP was also first to get Yale’s statement on the probe, which it said was “hasty” and unfair. https://bit.ly/34cw1gT

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Aug. 07, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusive: Portland protests – the view from both sides of the fence

This week’s Best of the Week celebrates the team of AP journalists whose extensive coverage of the Portland protests culminated in an exclusive all-formats look at the conflict from the perspective of both demonstrators and federal officers.

With reporting and visuals from inside the federal courthouse that no other news organization could match, and consistently strong coverage from the crowd massed outside the building, the AP team documented the drama and chaos, as well as the human stories amid the nightly volley of fireworks and tear gas canisters.

The defining feature that moved Sunday night was the most clicked/engaged AP story for much of Monday, sparking discussion and widely cited for its comprehensive, fair reporting.

For balanced and insightful coverage from both sides of the Portland divide, setting AP apart on a highly charged story, the team of Gillian Flaccus, Mike Balsamo, Aron Ranen, Marcio Sanchez, Noah Berger, Sara Cline and Krysta Fauria wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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June 19, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

Race and Ethnicity team explores question: ‘What is a black life worth?’

In the course of covering protests and a memorial service for George Floyd in Minneapolis, AP race and ethnicity writer Aaron Morrison started thinking about other cases that began over minor offenses and ended with a black person dying. Morrison visited the scene where Floyd took his last breaths, talked to members of Floyd’s family and interviewed protesters with this question in mind: 

What is a black life worth? 

AP video journalist Noreen Nasir, also in the Twin Cities, was picking up on the same theme in her own reporting. Joined by New York-based photographer Bebeto Matthews, the team took a deep and unflinching look the at the circumstances behind Floyd’s death, and what many see as a pivotal moment in the struggle against institutional racism. Their story led the AP News site, was featured at the launch of the Facebook’s News Feed and was widely used by AP members. 

For sharp reporting and analysis that cast George Floyd’s killing in light of systemic issues of race inequality, Morrison, Nasir and Matthews win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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June 19, 2020

Best of the States

AP teams deliver a deeply reported all-formats profile of George Floyd

The story of George Floyd’s death will likely endure as a pivotal moment in civil rights and police accountability, but his life – from a start in Houston public housing to his death in Minneapolis, where he hoped to start a new chapter – wasn’t lived in a spotlight. 

In a uniquely AP collaboration across states and disciplines, AP journalists turned to people who knew Floyd from his childhood through his adult years, weaving together his story in all formats, enhanced by existing video of the man. The result was a revealing, deeply reported profile, including Floyd’s brief turns as a football player, rapper and bouncer, time in prison and days spent trying to help mentor kids to avoid his mistakes. 

For persistent, collaborative and creative storytelling that goes to the heart of the tragedy that unfolded in Minneapolis, the multiformat team of Luis Andres Henao, Juan Lozano, Nomaan Merchant, Adam Geller, John Mone, David Phillip and Aaron Morrison shares this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 15, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Resourceful, innovative coverage of virtual Supreme Court

broke new ground for AP, creating popular new features for the court’s first-ever arguments by telephone with live audio. The pair revived the AP SCOTUS Twitter account @AP_COURTSIDE to live-tweet trivia, analysis and details during the arguments, they worked with the AP broadcast team to get AP pool access to the live audio, and they came up with a brand-new wire feature they also called “Courtside” – a more live-blog style of breaking news to help the public understand what they were hearing (including that weird toilet flush sound during one argument). That approach could become a model for covering future live news events.The features introduced by Sherman and Gresko attracted readers and followers, and complemented AP’s comprehensive stories on the court sessions.https://bit.ly/2WWadB9https://bit.ly/2YYAf9lhttps://bit.ly/2Wuubnk

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May 15, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Even Trump claims surprise after AP bombshell on Flynn case

scooped everyone with news that the Justice Department was moving for dismissal of the case against Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser who had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Balsamo, acting on a tip, worked sources and obtained exclusive access to court documents showing the case was being dropped, before they were even filed in court. Tucker, AP’s Mueller investigation expert, drafted the story, pulling together details and information from other sources on how this case could have ended in such a spectacular and unusual way.The AP exclusive forced virtually every major news outlet to use the story, including CNN. Even Trump proclaimed he didn’t know it was coming – and he’d been railing for weeks about the case, mulling whether to pardon Flynn.https://bit.ly/2ArlBNRhttps://bit.ly/2WRm8Ae

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