Aug. 13, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Teamwork dominates coverage of Pentagon officer’s fatal stabbing

teamed up in all formats to lead coverage of a police officer's fatal stabbing outside the Pentagon, delivering first, exclusive details over two days, decisively winning play and leaving other news organizations to cite AP or match us hours or days later.Veteran military reporter Lolita Baldor had been walking up the stairs to the Pentagon when she heard a sound familiar to her: gunshots. Moments later, she confirmed with a guard that there had indeed been shots fired near the Metro and that one person was down. At the same time, video journalist Sagar Meghani was in a credentialing office just inside the Metro entrance to the building, when he heard an officer yell “Shooter!” Since taking photos and videos inside the building is forbidden, Meghani pretended to look at his phone while surreptitiously snapping photographs of the scene and posting them in Slack. He also recorded and posted public address announcements about the building being in lockdown.Meanwhile, AP staffers across all formats responded. Washington photographer Andrew Harnik raced away from a football practice he’d been covering, producing some of the first photos of heavy police activity. Video journalist Nathan Ellgren established live shots at the Pentagon within 20 minutes of getting the call. Reporters Michael Balsamo, Eric Tucker and Colleen Long worked sources throughout the day to report key details about how the violence unfolded and obtaining the assailant’s name from three separate sources. Investigative reporter Michael Biesecker confirmed previously pending charges against the alleged assailant, making AP first to report the man’s criminal history. The teamwork resulted in the most widely used story on the AP News app and website for the day.https://aplink.news/um0https://aplink.news/pjwhttps://aplink.video/g55https://aplink.video/3vf

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Aug. 20, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Source work breaks news of Pentagon’s vaccine mandate

used strong source work to break the news that members of the U.S. military will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine.Baldor, a veteran Pentagon reporter, spoke to contacts every day on the issue, and while some news outlets reported incorrectly that the Pentagon announcement would come Aug. 6, Baldor’s sources told her the decision was being pushed to the following week because of legal wrangling at the White House.She prepped a story on Friday, then got word mid-morning on Monday that an announcement was expected later in the day. She kept making calls until a longtime source gave her the memo on vaccine policy.

Immediately after AP’s alert, Baldor had a full story on the wire with quotes from the memo explaining the rationale behind the mandate. AP was the only news organization to get the memo and was first with the story and details, sending competitors scrambling to catch up; many news organizations cited AP as the news broke. The story had the most pageviews of the day on the AP News app and site. https://aplink.news/s2z

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June 25, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Years in the making, AP’s ‘AWOL Weapons’ investigation prompts immediate Pentagon reaction

Ten years ago, Kristin M. Hall noticed several cases in which U.S. troops stole military guns and sold them to the public. Hall, a military beat reporter at the time, then fired off the first of many Freedom of Information Act requests. The Army, however, refused to release any records and the story could easily have ended there, with Hall moving on to become a Nashville-based entertainment video journalist focused on country music. Yet, she kept at it.

Last week, Hall’s decade-long journey — and the work of a host of others on the global investigations, data and immersive storytelling teams — paid off in “AWOL Weapons,” a multilayered, visually rich project revealing that at least 1,900 military weapons — from handguns to rocket launchers — had been either lost or stolen during the 2010s, with some used in street violence in America.

Two days after publication, the Pentagon’s top general and the Army each said they would seek systematic fixes for the missing weapon problem, and through a spokesman, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff called AP’s investigation “another example of the free press shining a light on the important subjects we need to get right.”

With deep reporting and a riveting digital presentation, the multistory package saw outstanding customer use and reader engagement.

For remarkable persistence that revealed a problem the military wanted to keep quiet, generating immediate prospects for reform, Hall receives special distinction alongside colleagues Justin Pritchard, James LaPorta, Justin Myers and Jeannie Ohm as winners of AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Jan. 05, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP NewsBreak: US soldier fought to the end after ambush in Niger

The horror tales from Niger – as reported by some of the world’s most reputable media – were gruesome: Sgt. La David Johnson, one of four Americans who died on a mysterious U.S. Army Special Forces mission in early October, had been captured alive, tortured, killed execution-style at close range and his remains had been mutilated.

The details were all erroneous, it turned out.

It took the AP’s Pentagon reporter Lita Baldor to set the record straight with a stunning scoop on an otherwise quiet Washington Sunday in December, revealing the findings of a still confidential Pentagon report.

For an unmatched story that revealed the heroism of an American soldier who died in the line of duty, Baldor wins this week’s Beat of the Week.

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Sept. 09, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Source work breaks news of surge in US military sexual assault

tapped into her deep network of Pentagon sources to score a major scoop a full day ahead of the official announcement: Sexual assaults in the military had increased by 13% last year, largely driven by a 26% surge of reported sexual assaults in the Army.Few reporters have broken as many stories on issues affecting the lives of U.S. service members as Baldor, AP’s longtime military affairs reporter. She had been working sources for weeks before the official report on sexual assault, and knew the Army numbers would be bad. Then a source came through with all 26 pages of the Pentagon talking points, giving her virtually everything she needed to break the story. Many news organizations used Baldor’s story or had to cite AP’s reporting in their own reporting.Read more

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Sept. 03, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Washington team breaks multiple stories; keeps AP ahead during Afghanistan withdrawal

As AP’s staff in Afghanistan grappled with the turmoil of the U.S. evacuation, an AP trio half a world away — Pentagon reporters Bob Burns and Lita Baldor and State Department reporter Matt Lee, with contributions by colleagues — set the standard, breaking news on the month’s most competitive story.

Whether posing tough questions at government briefings or getting the deeper story through one-on-one reporting, the reporters turned out crisp stories that were fair, accurate and authoritative. From the eyebrow-raising visit of two U.S. lawmakers, to the suicide bombing outside Kabul’s airport, to analysis of the ultimate beneficiary of America’s $83 billion expenditure, their coverage kept AP consistently out front.

For repeatedly scooping the competition and setting the news agenda on the closely watched, fast-developing events in Afghanistan, the team of Bob Burns, Lita Baldor and Matthew Lee is AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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Jan. 22, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Trust in AP: Unmatched sourcing delivers scoop on fears of National Guard insider attack

On the news-heavy weekend between impeachment and inauguration, Lolita Baldor broke a story that became the dominant item for news organizations across platforms: Top military officials feared insider attacks from National Guardsmen activated to protect the inauguration, prompting the FBI to vet all 25,000 troops sent to the city.

And officials weren’t whispering their concerns anonymously; Baldor quoted the Secretary of the Army, Ryan McCarthy. That was no fluke; Baldor has built trust with McCarthy and other top officials at the Pentagon. The Army granted her exclusive, off-the-record access to an inaugural planning session, then arranged on-the-record interviews with a number of leaders.

Baldor’s scoop immediately lit up social media and was picked up by some 330 news outlets, including networks and major publications.

For impressive source work that produced a major scoop in the intensive buildup to the inauguration, Baldor wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Jan. 07, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: New policies may fail to address US military racism, extremism

teamed up on an investigation revealing that despite recently issued Department of Defense guidelines, racism and extremism in the U.S. military remain a concern. Among the most significant policy updates, “liking” and reposting white nationalist and extremist content on social media could result in disciplinary action.But Stafford and Laporta found that the new guidelines failed to address hate crimes or ongoing racial disparities in military law. Numerous studies show Black and Hispanic service members were disproportionately investigated and court-martialed.The investigative reporters also found that the Pentagon rules do not outright ban service members from being members of extremist organizations, such as the Ku Klux Klan, Oath Keepers or other right-wing and white nationalist groups. The regulations, like the previous ones, only prohibit “active participation,” in such groups.These concerns aren't new. Stafford and LaPorta reported on the decadeslong history of racism in the military, and they point to previous DOD efforts that have fallen short of rooting out extremism in the ranks.The investigation, part of AP’s “Racism in the Ranks” series, earned widespread attention online and landed on the front pages of at least a half-dozen newspapers.https://aplink.news/7gy

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Feb. 25, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Sharp rise in reports of sexual assault at US military academies

broke news ahead of a Pentagon announcement: Sexual assaults reported at U.S. military academies have risen sharply.Longtime Defense Department reporter Baldor used a tip, source work and rigorous reporting to determine the closely guarded numbers for all the elite academies. And when the DOD asked her to hold the story, suggesting her information might be wrong, she stood firm. Baldor’s AP story moved more than an hour before the official announcement, her numbers confirmed by the Pentagon. Read more

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June 12, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Whiplash over troops in DC yields 2 scoops

scored two scoops in a single day: first, that the Pentagon was ordering active-duty troops deployed to the capital region to return to their home bases – followed hours later by Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s reversal of that order after visiting the White House. Baldor’s credibility with senior military officials gave her the sourcing to break both ends of that sudden turn of events, and sent other news outlets scrambling to match her reporting. https://bit.ly/3hieF6r

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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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June 21, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

‘How is this OK?’: US military struggles with reforms on kids’ abuse

for revealing that despite mandated reforms, the Pentagon still struggles to provide justice when the children of service members sexually assault each other. Acting on a tip to Dunklin, their story describes the case of a 13-year-old boy accused of molesting at least 10 younger children on a U.S. Air Force base in Japan. The girls’ mothers say Air Force officials showed little urgency to offer counseling or investigate. “How is this OK?” asked a mother who locked her kids indoors. https://bit.ly/2XZXbSf