Jan. 20, 2017

Best of the States

Lie detectors trip up border agency applicants

San Diego correspondent Elliot Spagat was chatting with a longtime government source and she mentioned her son applied to Customs and Border Protection but was rejected after failing a polygraph test. She and her son were mystified by the result. Soon after, a member of Spagat’s running group – a military veteran with a stellar resume – told the same story of a failed Border Patrol test.

Intrigued, Spagat brought up the issue during a regular check-in call with an official involved in recruiting for the Border Patrol. The official told him the polygraph failure rate was very high. Spagat knew he was on to something and kept pressing, next talking to Border Patrol Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, who gave him a failure rate – 65 percent.

But Kerlikowske didn’t see the number as a negative – it meant the agency was applying tough standards to find its officers. Still, a two-thirds failure rate struck Spagat as abnormal but how could he prove it? Comparable data was hard to find.

So Spagat set about creating it.

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April 10, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Focus on COVID-19 patients for testing treatments

spent weeks searching for patients to put faces on two clinical trials testing COVID-19 treatments: One was a coronavirus survivor who opted to donate her blood for research; the other was a doctor turned patient who decided to join a study testing an experimental biotech drug. The stories were part of AP’s ongoing effort to tell the behind-the-scenes stories of people affected by the pandemic.https://bit.ly/2JQKbcwhttps://bit.ly/2XlHOWQ

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March 29, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

Planning, execution and teamwork deliver outstanding coverage of Mueller report

For weeks, journalists in Washington had been chasing tips that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 race for the White House was winding down. Knowing that appetite for the story was huge, our Washington team created a comprehensive coverage plan for the day the report would be delivered to Attorney General William Barr.

Eric Tucker, Justice Department reporter, and Chad Day, Trump investigations reporter, kicked off the coverage with “Mueller in Plain Sight,” a sweeping narrative of everything that had already been revealed by Mueller in his public indictments.

As speculation intensified, Tucker and law enforcement reporter Mike Balsamo alternated shifts at the Justice Department, while AP photographers and videojournalists staked out Mueller and Barr. Photographer Andrew Harnik scored with images of Mueller arriving at the Justice Department, the first image of Mueller by a news photographer in more than a year.

Word finally came on Friday, March 22 that Mueller’s work had ended. Within minutes of moving an alert, the AP sent a series of richly reported stories by the team that led AP’s coverage for months: Tucker, Day, Balsamo and Congress reporter Mary Clare Jalonick.

And on Sunday morning AP scored another visual scoop when freelance photographer Cliff Owen learned that Mueller was at church. Owen’s photos of Mueller exiting St. John’s church ricocheted around the internet.

Later Sunday, when a Justice Department official handed reporters copies of Barr’s summary, Tucker calmly read the highlights over an open phone line to the bureau while Balsamo sent full quotes. AP’s first alert, that Mueller had not exonerated Trump on obstruction of justice, moved a full 10 minutes before the Washington Post and five minutes before the New York Times.

The video team also provided unmatched live coverage from a wide range of locations in Washington, at Mar-a-Lago in Florida and in New York throughout the weekend.

For exceptional planning, teamwork and execution, Eric Tucker, Chad Day, Mike Balsamo, Mary Clare Jalonick, Andrew Harnik and Cliff Owen win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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July 23, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Iowa pair, first contacted by AP, deny involvement in Tibbetts’ death

was steadfast: Before publicly identifying two men suggested as suspects in the 2018 murder of Mollie Tibbetts, he needed to talk to them. The sentencing of another man convicted in the stabbing death of the University of Iowa student had been delayed after his defense attorneys offered up Gavin Jones and Dalton Hansen as possible suspects. Foley was appalled that Iowa media outlets were identifying the two men as suspects without trying to reach them for comment. Neither man had been contacted — by law enforcement, news media or anyone else — after they were named by the defense.That changed when Foley dug deep to unearth phone numbers buried in unrelated court documents. When reached, Hansen called the allegations crazy but confirmed his connection to Jones and said he knew the inmate who was implicating the pair in the case. Jones also eventually answered Foley’s call, but demanded to know how Foley got the number, started to swear at him and almost hung up. But Foley calmed the man, keeping him on the line long enough to maintain his innocence and assert he has alibis lined up to share with investigators whenever they reach out to him. “The cops haven’t talked to me. No one has talked to me. You are the first person that has called me,” he told Foley.Other outlets had stories about the judge’s expected ruling rejecting the defense arguments, but Foley was exclusive, leading with the comments of both men accused by defense lawyers.https://aplink.news/ubk

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Jan. 27, 2017

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Feds advise Virginia on how to get around ban on using seized funds for salary hikes

for reporting that, despite a ban on using assets seized in criminal investigations to raise salaries for law enforcement, the federal government told the Virginia state government how to get around the rule. The resulting worker pay raises of up to 30 percent became the subject of a heated floor speech in the state Senate and a disapproving editorial. https://yhoo.it/2jRl90P

June 28, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exclusive photos as agents search ship for tons cocaine

for capturing exclusive images of agents searching a container ship found to be carrying more than 17 tons of cocaine. Rourke made the smart decision to shoot not at the Philadelphia port, where the massive ship was docked, but from a park across the river in New Jersey – enabling him to a make a variety of images of agents and drug-sniiffing dogs in action, while photographers at the dock were able to shoot little more than static photos of the ship. https://bit.ly/2Yqqg9C

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Nov. 01, 2019

Best of the States

Experience, persistence pay off with breaking news: US to collect asylum seekers’ DNA

Immigration and Homeland Security reporter Colleen Long’s ears perked up in early October when she heard agency officials mention “CODIS” as they briefed reporters on the likelihood they would expand their practice of collecting DNA from migrants. 

CODIS, she knew from experience, was an FBI database usually associated with violent crimes, so Long was surprised to hear of its use in connection with migrants whose only crime was crossing the border illegally. Long followed up with detailed questions at the briefing but didn’t get answers, so she kept pressing officials.

Her persistence was rewarded with an advance briefing on the new rule, and additional details about how the DNA policy would be implemented. Long’s story moved hours ahead of the official announcement, becoming one of the most-read stories of the day. 

For making the early connection to the policy implications of the DNA database, then pressing the issue with officials until she had the exclusive details, Long earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 02, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP scoop on US ruling to free immigrant children

scored a 90-minute beat on a closely watched federal court ruling that ordered the release of children held with their parents in U.S. immigration jails during the pandemic. Merchant was tipped earlier in the day and had much of the story written ahead of the decision. He had set the stage earlier in the week with an unmatched story on families being isolated in Texas at the largest of three family detention centers run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. https://bit.ly/3iclNlv

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Oct. 20, 2016

Best of the Week — First Winner

An accidental shooting kills a child every other day

The tragic stories pop up frequently in local media: a curious toddler gets hold of a gun and accidentally shoots himself or someone else. But how often does that happen? Under what circumstances? And what children are most at risk?

In a new investigative partnership, a team of reporters from the AP and USA TODAY Network spent six months seeking answers to those questions and others about accidental shootings involving minors. What they discovered is horrifying: A child dies every other day of an accidental shooting in the United States. What's more, the federal government significantly undercounts the problem.

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Dec. 11, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exclusive: ‘Mercenary’ donor sold political influence

reported exclusively on Imaad Zuberi, a shadowy, elite political fundraiser whose reach included private meetings with then-Vice President Joe Biden and VIP access at Donald Trump’s inauguration. Zuberi funded political campaigns in the U.S. and sold the resulting political influence to the highest-bidding foreign government overseas.Suderman Mustian reviewed thousands of documents and interviewed more than 100 law enforcement officials, diplomats and businessmen on three continents who dealt with Zuberi during his globe-trotting years of political fundraising. Critically, Suderman persuaded his sources to turn over a trove of private emails that painted an unprecedented picture of Zuberi’s modus operandi.The reporting revealed vulnerabilities in the U.S. campaign finance system and uncovered the names of politicians who had benefited from Zuberi’s largess, prompting calls for reform. https://bit.ly/3okr64k

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Sept. 24, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: In drought-stricken West, farmers of weed are stealing water

revealed that illegal marijuana growers are taking water in uncontrolled amounts, draining wells used by landowners and farmers — and that overstretched law enforcement can do little about it.Selsky, based in Salem, Oregon, has reported on the impact of drought in the West and for years has tracked the burgeoning market for legal pot. But when he checked with sources about water theft by illegal marijuana grows, he quickly found that the situation was dire. Hundreds of huge illegal grows have been erected, too many for law enforcement officials to raid.The problem is showing up in parts of Oregon and California. Selsky visited a neighborhood in central Oregon where a homeowner was having a new well drilled after his existing well ran dry just a block away from a recently busted illegal grow. And he tracked down a resident in southern Oregon who for decades has depended on a creek for growing food. That creek has gone completely dry since large illegal marijuana grows began popping up in the area last spring. The local sheriff described “catastrophic” consequences for natural water resources, citing “blatant theft.” https://aplink.news/v3c

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Jan. 21, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Teamwork delivers sharp coverage of synagogue hostage standoff

responded quickly Saturday, both in-person and remotely, to reports of a hostage standoff at a Colleyville, Texas, synagogue. Well-sourced reporting and old-fashioned door-knocking led to revelatory journalism as the story unfolded. The standoff ended with the hostage-taker’s death as an FBI SWAT team rushed the building.Dallas reporter Bleiberg was the first staffer on the ground, staying on-scene for more than eight hours, working in official updates and sourcing information that moved the story forward.Washington-based federal law enforcement reporters Tucker and Balsamo quickly jumped in, using their own sources for updates on the hostages, the gunman and the Pakistani neuroscientist he was demanding be freed from a federal prison. In what proved to be a smart decision, the AP used restraint when the gunman referred himself as a “brother” to federal inmate Aafia Siddiqui; other news organizations had to backpedal as that story began to unravel. But AP did produce a first day explainer on Siddiqui and her case.Dallas staffer Jaime Stengle and Austin-based colleague Paul J. Weber made significant contributions to the coverage, and New York photo editor Don King wasted no time picking up early photos from member photographers at the scene, even as Dallas staff photographer Tony Gutierrez hurried to Colleyville.The morning after the final three hostages escaped, Bleiberg knocked on the most important door of the weekend, and it paid off, as he was able to speak briefly with Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who has been praised by other congregants, security specialists and law enforcement with his handling of the ordeal.From Saturday onward, AP reporters around the U.S. and overseas helped to deliver more tips, interviews and sourced information, producing stories that stayed in the AP News top 10 for the three-day weekend.https://aplink.news/ofmhttps://aplink.news/1iwhttps://aplink.news/k5whttps://aplink.news/s07https://aplink.news/gquhttps://aplink.video/oiy

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Feb. 25, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP figure skating crew leads breaking news from Olympics

dominated coverage of figure skating from Beijing, reporting the top breaking news stories of the 2022 Olympics. With help from colleagues working in all formats, along with the Moscow staff and fellow staffers promoting AP’s content on social media, they covered all the angles with some of the biggest stories of the Winter Olympics, including AP’s most-read story of the month.Even before the pivotal night of the women’s competition, Skretta and the team delivered standout work, setting up the Games and the expected dominance of both the Russian women and American favorite Nathan Chen. And when a positive drug test was revealed for Russian favorite Kamila Valieva, the team kept AP well ahead of the competition.Among the highlights were Ellingworth’s definitive piece on Valieva's controversial coach, a follow-up the morning after the eventful women’s final, and fresh takes on the sport from Ho and Morrison, highlighting issues of body image, racism and the impact of the sport on such young skaters. Read more

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June 09, 2017

Best of the States

Diversifying pot: How some states are luring minorities into the legal business

For years, marijuana arrests have put minorities in jail at a disproportionately higher rate than whites. Now that recreational marijuana is legal in eight states, the majority of those who benefit most from the profitable industry are white.

Reporters Janie Har, from the Associated Press Race & Ethnicity team, and Bob Salsberg, from the Massachusetts statehouse bureau, set out to explore this dichotomy and how local governments are responding to it.

For their compelling explanation of the cannabis racial divide, Har and Salsberg receive this week’s $300 Best of the States award.

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April 02, 2017

Best of the States

Fight for access leads to Porter's breaking news in Bridgegate case

The Associated Press has been working for more than a year with a group of media organizations to lobby the federal court system in New Jersey to release pre-sentencing memos in criminal court cases to pull back the veil on what goes into judge’s sentencing decisions.

With two former allies of Gov. Chris Christie convicted in the Bridgegate case set to find out their fates last week, New Jersey law enforcement reporter David Porter was done waiting.

For his work collaborating with AP members in New Jersey to fight for public access to the memos and then being the first to report on them, Porter wins this week’s Best of the States award.

Guilty Parties

Feb. 18, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: Red flags trailed academic across elite universities

used interviews, court documents, emails and online classroom reviews to put AP out front with exclusive details of a doctoral student and lecturer who was arrested for deadly threats that closed down the UCLA campus for a day.Los Angeles law enforcement reporter Dazio pieced together Matthew Harris’ troubled academic journey through Duke, Cornell and UCLA, revealing that Harris’ disturbing behavior was well-known among students and some faculty, and raising questions about how the elite institutions handled their concerns. Read more

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Sept. 06, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

In the face of death, the party of a lifetime

In a world focused on life and survival, death is often unseen, endured in private and acknowledged in glowing obituaries or tragic news stories. It’s also mostly out of the control of the person who is dying.

Now, with nine U.S. states allowing terminally ill people to end their lives with fatal drugs, thousands of people have legally chosen how and when to end their lives.

Seattle Photographer Elaine Thompson has long wanted to show the real, personal side of what often comes across as an impersonal process. She spent months looking for the right subject, getting tantalizingly close to success before plans fell through. She stuck with it, and when she found Bob Fuller, she enlisted reporter Gene Johnson to tell his story.

This week’s Best of the Week goes to the team of Elaine Thompson and Gene Johnson who chronicled how one man, in the face of death, created the party of a lifetime.

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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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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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Sept. 24, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Hanoi producer documents his 9-week lockdown ‘weekend’

had embarked on a midsummer weekend getaway with his partner in the seaside resort of Vung Tau, Vietnam. But when when a surge of COVID-19 prompted tight restrictions, turning his visit into more than nine weeks of lockdown, Dinh delivered an all-formats first-person account of his life stuck in an apartment away from home.In text, photos and video, Hanoi-based video producer Dinh opened the doors to his lockdown home, creatively documenting what one does with so much time indoors while restricted to a quick once-a-week trip to a nearby drug store and grocery. He said he sometimes lost track of time, but a stark reminder of how long he’d been in lockdown was an avocado plant. A seed when he took it from a restaurant just before the lockdown, he watched it grow more than 30 centimeters (1 foot) tall.https://aplink.news/3o9https://aplink.video/mzo

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