Feb. 28, 2020

Best of the States

Be Prepared: Source work, planning deliver top coverage of Scouts’ bankruptcy

David Crary heard from his legal sources that something big was coming for the Boy Scouts of America, which has been besieged by sexual abuse lawsuits: a bankruptcy filing.

Weeks before the paperwork was filed, Crary, who has been covering the organization for 20 years, set into motion plans to ensure the AP was well-covered. When the Scouts’ filing finally came out late on a holiday, his sharply written prep had the story on the wire within minutes, explaining the gravity of the filing and the reasons behind it.

AP journalists around the country pitched in, including Brady McCombs who gathered reaction from Scouts and local councils, spinning it into an engaging follow-up, and correspondent Randall Chase who attended the Scouts’ first bankruptcy hearing in a Delaware court. Their efforts were rewarded with outstanding play.

For their careful planning and flawless execution of coverage of the Scouts’ bankruptcy filing, Crary, McCombs and Chase win this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 14, 2018

Best of the States

Lobbyists – including House speaker’s brother – influence Florida’s payments to victims

In Florida, the Legislature has to approve court awards – beyond a capped amount – for lawsuits alleging wrongdoing by a state or local agency.

So when Florida Tallahassee reporter Gary Fineout began hearing about a surge in payouts to victims and families harmed by government actions, he began digging into public and legislative records. What he found confirmed the influence of lobbyists, and of one lobbyist in particular: the House speaker’s brother.

Fineout found that claims lobbied by the speaker’s brother had a substantial rate of success. Of the $37.5 million in claims bills approved over the past two years, nearly half was awarded to victims represented by Michael Corcoran, brother of Florida’s House speaker.

One state lawmaker, a candidate for attorney general, said the process needs fixing, and said that Florida should have a codified, egalitarian process for awarding payments, one that doesn’t rely on who has the best lobbyist.

Fineout's story received extensive play, including a rare banner headline atop A1 in the state's largest newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times. The Sun-Sentinel newspaper said in an editorial that “Florida owes thanks to Gary Fineout ... for shedding light on a dark side of Florida government.”

For work that South News Director Ravi Nessman called a “perfect example of the kind of tough, accountability reporting that we prize so much from our statehouses,” Fineout wins this week's Best of the States award.

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Aug. 16, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP investigation: Guam’s ex-archbishop protected culture of clergy sex abuse of children

Knowledge of clergy sex abuse is widespread on the mainland of the United States. But it has long been a secret in the small, overwhelmingly Roman Catholic U.S. territory of Guam.

Washington-based investigative reporter Michael Biesecker, working with Atlanta-based enterprise photographer David Goldman and Seattle video journalist Manuel Valdes, helped to puncture that veil of silence when AP examined thousands of pages of court documents in lawsuits brought by abuse victims and then conducted extensive interviews.

The AP team detailed a pattern of repeated collusion among predator priests, with abuse that spanned generations and reached all the way to the top of the territory’s church hierarchy, ruled over by then-Archbishop Tony Apuron, who himself had been accused of the rape of a 13-year-old choir boy when Apuron was a parish priest.

The care and sensitivity of the reporting and images were essential to the project’s power. “To see my story told in this way gives me a lot of peace, that I have a purpose,” said Walter Denton, a former U.S. Army sergeant and survivor of abuse nearly 40 years ago.

For telling a sensitive and little-known story of systemic clerical abuse dating from the 1950s to as recently as 2013, Biesecker, Goldman and Valdes share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Dec. 13, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: New abuse suits could cost church billions

for taking a hard look at the financial reckoning of the U.S. Roman Catholic sex abuse trials, and reporting exclusively that changing laws and attitudes could translate into a flood of lawsuits with potential payouts topping $4 billion. Condon and Mustian reported on the potential impact of new laws, enacted in 15 states, that extend or suspend the statute of limitations governing claims. The pair found several attorneys who have turned their entire practices over to such cases, with TV ads and billboards seeking clients. https://bit.ly/36oRoJX

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Oct. 11, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: Family behind opioid maker gave millions to colleges

for following up on an offhand remark by an Ivy League fundraiser to document how the Sackler family, behind the powerfully addictive opioid OxyContin, gave money to colleges and universities on a much larger scale than previously known: at least $60 million to prestigious schools worldwide – including millions donated after the company became embroiled in lawsuits related to the opioid epidemic. https://bit.ly/2AGZ78o

June 28, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP partners with Maryland students to investigate US jail suicides

for a unique partnership to investigate the high rate of suicides in U.S. jails. Cohen and students from the University of Maryland’s Capital New Service spent months compiling a database of lawsuits and reviewing hundreds of other cases, finding news-making patterns: Scores of jails have been sued or investigated for allegedly refusing inmates medication, ignoring their cries for help, failing to monitor them despite warnings they might harm themselves, or imposing such harsh conditions that the sick got sicker.https://bit.ly/2IP5zhfhttps://www.apnews.com/DeathBehindBars

Sept. 13, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP scores series of beats on California boat fire that killed 34

for excellent source reporting and coordination that allowed AP to scoop other news outlets, often by hours, on several aspects of the aftermath of a diving boat fire, including: the recovery of 25 bodies, that the boat’s owners had preemptively sued to limit victims’ lawsuits, and that search warrants in a criminal inquiry were being served.https://bit.ly/2kB4XDPhttps://bit.ly/2kDNY3Bhttps://bit.ly/2lL2Mhihttps://bit.ly/2kE9Vjd

Dec. 02, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exclusive: Boy Scouts mortgaging iconic New Mexico scout ranch

for reporting exclusively that the Boy Scouts of America was taking a surprising step: It was putting Philmont Scout Ranch – a pristine 150,000 acre camp in New Mexico, considered the crown jewel in the organization’s network of camps – up as collateral as it deals with financial fallout over a wave of sex-abuse lawsuits. It was the latest in a series of scoops by Crary about the Boy Scouts and their financial troubles, including his recent break about the organization increasing membership fees by more than double. https://bit.ly/2qZsQbe

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Nov. 19, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Comprehensive AP coverage of Astroworld concert tragedy

teamed up with colleagues around the country to deliver sweeping coverage of the deaths at Houston’s Astroworld music festival, reporting on spot developments while telling the stories of the 10 people killed, obtaining valuable video and photos from the crowd and piecing together a riveting account of what unfolded over 70 horrific minutes.Houston reporter Juan Lozano was on the story from the beginning, gathering harrowing details, interviewing victims and their families and talking to authorities, along with Dallas-based reporter Jamie Stengle and New York-based video journalist Robert Bumsted.Working remotely, reporters Mike Catalini and Randall Chase helped assemble vignettes on each of the dead, while Los Angeles news editor Ryan Pearson tracked down images and interviews from concertgoers with assists from reporters Acacia Coronado and Beatrice Dupuy. Kristin Hall in Nashville filed interviews and background on festival promoter Live Nation. And as the week wore on, journalists Michael Kunzelman and Bernard Condon quickly jumped in for spot coverage, focusing on calls for an outside investigation and the lawsuits starting to pile up.The team effort culminated in “70 minutes at Astroworld,” a vivid account of the unfolding tragedy expertly woven together by national writer Matt Sedensly using AP’s reporting, new and compelling narratives from attendees and videos of the concert. The story, including an interactive graphic by Francois Duckett, was among the week’s most-read and engaged stories on apnews.com, highlighting the AP’s virtual ownership of the highly competitive story.https://aplink.news/4v8https://aplink.news/taxhttps://aplink.news/z86

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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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Aug. 19, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Revealing look at Canada’s troubled euthanasia system

reported extensively on Canada’s euthanasia laws, which are some of the world’s most permissive and have spurred criticism from the United Nations and even the pope. AP medical writer Cheng noticed a pattern after several troubling incidents in the country; she found Canada has fewer safeguards in place than many other countries. Terminal illness is not a requirement for euthanasia, and treatment of the disabled is a particular outlier.The piece includes families’ experiences: Detroit-based video journalist Householder crossed the border to Ontario, telling the story of a woman who was shocked that her father was accorded euthanasia within days of a fall, and Cheng reported on a man whose application for euthanasia listed just one condition: hearing loss.Read more

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Aug. 30, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

APNewsBreak: More than 300 accusers in Ohio State doctor scandal

for dogged source work and thorough reporting to confirm the growing number of sexual misconduct accusers against the late Ohio State team doctor, Richard Strauss, Franko has covered the scandal from the beginning and has deep sources, but nailing down the number of accusers has been difficult. Because the lawyers have been tight-lipped about the mediation process, Franko stayed in touch with some of the plaintiffs even if they would talk only off the record. The subject of the growing number of accusers came up during one such conversation, and Franko started checking with some of the lawyers to confirm it. She learned enough to prep a draft story, and when she finally got multiple confirmations and comment, she had the story ready to roll out: More than 300 accusers have come forward. The APNewsBreak was used by the hometown Columbus Dispatch and received wide play online with solid engagement on social media. https://bit.ly/2MFdD8F

March 09, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Phone tip leads to shady company linked to border wall contract

The short Associated Press story out of San Diego about the first border wall contract awarded under the Trump administration made only a brief mention of the Omaha, Nebraska, company that had won the contract. But that prompted a woman to call the AP. She made several claims to Chicago-based Central Desk editor Jeff McMurray without offering proof, but he figured it was interesting enough to pass along. Omaha breaking news staffer Margery Beck was asked to check into the company.

As Beck examined state business records and court documents, she discovered that the company, SWF Constructors, operated at the same address as another business that had been sued a dozen times, including at least three times by the federal government, for failing to pay subcontractors on government projects. That company, Coastal Environmental Group, was also the subject of an Interior Department audit questioning $2 million in billing for a Superstorm Sandy cleanup contract.

For aggressive records-based reporting that resulted in a timely story no one else had, Beck receives this week’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 24, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Powered by facts: AP investigation undercuts Trump voter fraud claims, prompts rare interview

Former President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the 2020 presidential election and his efforts to spread the false claim that widespread voter fraud cost him a second term raised a critical question: How much voter fraud occurred in the six crucial battleground states disputed by Trump?

Turns out, just 473 potential cases in those states. Many of the cases involved Republicans and virtually every case was an individual acting alone rather than coordinated fraud.

AP’s finding was the result of an exhaustive investigation by a team of reporters, data journalists and others, based on detailed fact checks of the vote entries for every county in each of the six states. The investigation also led to an exceptionally rare recorded phone interview with the former president in which he repeated his unfounded conspiracy theories but could find no fault with AP’s reporting.

The story made headlines and was widely cited. For meticulous reporting and analysis that revealed the actual attention-grabbing sliver of voter fraud cases, the team of Christina A. Cassidy, Scott Bauer, Bob Christie, David Eggert, Camille Fassett, Anthony Izaguirre, Shawn Marsh, Anna Nichols, Michelle Price, Ed White and Corey Williams is AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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July 14, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

​AP investigation: Children suffered as Vatican hospital chased profits

The approach to Vatican Correspondent Nicole Winfield came from a member of a task force that had investigated care at Italy’s foremost pediatric facility, known as “the pope’s hospital.” The contact feared that serious concerns raised by the task force hadn’t been addressed two years later.

That tip, in late 2015, set the AP on a 20-month investigation of the Bambino Gesu (Baby Jesus) Pediatric Hospital. Winfield teamed up with London-based Medical Writer Maria Cheng to reveal a dark chapter in the facility's history. They found that children sometimes paid the price as administrators tried to make the money-losing enterprise turn a profit, and Vatican officials took pains to keep the concerns quiet.

Their work earns the Beat of the Week.

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April 20, 2018

Best of the States

AP's 50-state analysis: State legislatures lack public records of sexual misconduct claims

As the #MeToo movement spread to state capitols, AP statehouse reporters filed uniform FOIA requests with every legislature seeking information about past sexual misconduct cases and payouts to victims. The coordinated effort, overseen by State Government Team reporter David Lieb, produced some interesting numbers: roughly 70 complaints and nearly $3 million in sexual harassment settlements over the past decade.

But the real story was the information that wasn’t released.

In fact, a majority of states would not disclose records related to sexual misconduct among lawmakers. The most common response was that they had received no such complaints over the past decade, did not keep a record of any such complaints or were not legally bound to disclose the records. But Lieb's research revealed that even states with documented cases of lawmaker sexual harassment were not releasing records about those allegations – and potentially others.

Lieb worked with data editor Meghan Hoyer to organize and analyze the responses from our statehouse reporters in every state. The resulting spreadsheet was distributed to AP bureaus and customers weeks ahead of publication to allow for localizations. AP reporters in 19 states did just that, producing sidebars that in many cases landed on A1.

The mainbar and the state-by-state list of accused lawmakers received wide interest on the APNews app. The story also landed on at least 20 front pages.

For their 50-state accountability project on a topic that continues to rattle state capitols, Lieb and Hoyer win this week’s Best of the States award.

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