Deported while unconscious: Reporter explains ‘medical repatriation’ practice

Last fall, an Iowa Supreme Court decision about the deportation of two Mexican men who were in the United States illegally caught the attention of Des Moines-based reporter David Pitt.


David Pitt

The ruling noted, but provided few details about, an obscure process formally known as “medical repatriation,” which allows hospitals to put patients who are living in the U.S. illegally on chartered international flights back to their home countries, often while they are still unconscious.

Pitt sought more information on the practice. In interviews with immigrants, their families, attorneys and advocates spanning several months, including some conducted in Spanish with the help of his colleague Barbara Rodriguez, Pitt was able to explain the “little-known removal system.” Pitt’s tenacity resulted in a fascinating look (in text, photos and video) at how two of the nation’s key issues — immigration and health care — are intertwined.

The story received wide play around Iowa and reaction from readers around the globe. You can catch Pitt discussing the story Wednesday on NPR’s “Tell Me More.”


In this Thursday March 7, 2013 photo, Jacinto Rodriguez Cruz, 49, leaves his home on a wheelchair with the help of his wife, Belen Hernandez in the city of Veracruz, Mexico. Cruz and another friend suffered serious injuries during a car accident last May 2008 in northwestern Iowa. After their employers insurance coverage ran out, Cruz, who was not a legal citizen, was placed on a private airplane and flown to Mexico still comatose and unable to discuss his care or voice his protest. Hospitals confronted with absorbing the cost of caring for uninsured seriously injured immigrants are quietly deporting them, often unconscious and unable to protest, back to their home countries. (AP Photo/Felix Marquez)

Video journalist hightails it to the heart of disaster in Texas

With quick thinking and immediate action, an AP video journalist beat even the first responders to the scene of a disaster in West, Texas. AP Managing Editor for State News Kristin Gazlay explains:

Dallas video journalist John Mone got a telephone call from a friend in the small town of West, Texas, whose house had just been shaking. He checked Twitter, saw reports that a fertilizer plant had exploded and called the Dallas desk. “Go,” editors told him. So he went.


John Mone

Because he was so quick to get on the road, he was able to get to the heart of the disaster, gaining access to first responders, witnesses and triage tents before authorities were able to cordon off the area. Austin-based legislative relief staffer Michael Brick wasn’t far behind, and Lubbock correspondent Betsy Blaney worked the phones.

Mone hightailed it down Interstate 35 fully expecting to be detoured to clear the way for response units. As he approached West, encountering the acrid smell of ammonia in the air, he was directed away from the blast site and to a triage center where all the witnesses were gathered –- and access to them had not yet been locked down.

He hit the record button on his video camera and didn’t stop rolling. He located people waiting for word on the injured, eyewitnesses wandering around in a daze and someone who had captured iPhone video of the explosion. Later, when police began to block off the area, he sneaked down a side road on foot with his camera, walked a mile and was able to film damaged homes.


This Thursday, April 18, 2013, aerial photo shows the remains of a nursing home, left, apartment complex, center, and fertilizer plant, right, destroyed by an explosion in West, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Mone shared his interviews with desk editors putting together the mainbar, and shared a byline with Brick.

See his video here:

Read the story here:

The video of his witness interview was used 1,000 times by AP clients and, overall, video filed by Mone was taken by 2,600 times clients internationally. ABC News regularly used AP video in its updates.

For helping ensure the AP owned the story of the fertilizer explosion in a way no other news organization could match, Mone wins this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.

Stories behind coverage of Boston Marathon blasts

In a memo to staff, Senior Managing Editor for U.S. News Mike Oreskes recounts how photographer Charles Krupa, who covered his first Boston Marathon in 1986, pushed toward danger to capture one of the signature images of the April 15 bomb blasts. Oreskes also singles out other AP staffers near and far who contributed significantly to AP’s news report:

Even in the midst of the biggest stories, it is often the individual acts of journalistic determination that make all the difference. Charles Krupa, AP’s Boston Photographer, was in the pressroom finishing his coverage of the Boston Marathon when two deep booms resonated through the Copley Plaza hotel.

A security official announced that the hotel was in lockdown because of an explosion at the finish line, and that no one was allowed to leave.

But Krupa, knew he had to go.

He would run toward danger to fulfill his role as photojournalist, bringing back the gripping photo of a man, legs shattered by the explosion, being rushed from the scene in a wheelchair. It was one of the signature images of the bombings that transfixed the nation and brought Boston to a standstill for four days. For his professionalism and determination that awful afternoon Krupa wins this week’s Beat of The Week.

As guards started to lock the two marked exit doors, Krupa grabbed three cameras _ one with a 70-200mm zoom lens, one with a 300mm telephoto lens and the last one hurriedly attached with a 16-35mm zoom lens that would allow him to get up close to the subject. He put his laptop on his back and bolted for an unmarked, unlocked door he remembered near the race officials desk.

He crashed past three guards about to lock the next door, leading outside, and broke into the street.

He stopped, checked his cameras and ran toward the finish line on Boylston Street, half a block away.

It was there, in the panic and confusion, that he saw Jeffery Bauman being tended by a doctor, an emergency medical technician and a volunteer in a cowboy hat. “When I saw Bauman’s legs were gone, I knew whatever happened was bad,” Krupa said.


An emergency responder and volunteers, including Carlos Arredondo in the cowboy hat, push Jeff Bauman in a wheel chair after he was injured in an explosion near the finish line of the Boston Marathon Monday, April 15, 2013 in Boston. At least three people were killed, including an 8-year-old boy, and more than 170 were wounded when two bombs blew up seconds apart. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The volunteer, his hands bloody from applying tourniquets to Bauman’s mangled legs above the knees, was hailed as a hero. Bauman woke up in the hospital and helped the FBI identify at least one of the bombing suspects who he said had looked him in the eye shortly before the bomb went off.

Krupa shot six or seven frames, and moved on to capture more images.

When a crew of Boston police officers saw him coming and made it clear he wasn’t getting through them, he doubled back to the finish line photo bridge, only to be blocked at the bottom of the staircase by another policeman. But then a race official whom Krupa has known for 25 years told the officer to let him pass. Krupa covered his first Boston Marathon in 1986.

From there, Krupa said, he could survey two scenes half a block apart: race officials, doctors and police helping the injured, ambulances being quickly loaded, and the sidewalks splattered with blood and broken glass.

After a few minutes, concerned about more possible bombs, police and officials cleared the area.

Krupa had been on Boylston Street about 8 minutes. He had shot about 250 frames.

He went back to the hotel but couldn’t get in, so he sat on the sidewalk, took out his laptop and filed about 25 images.

Those eight minutes were the first extraordinary individual effort of an extraordinary week, but hardly the last. If Krupa showed the world what happened, Washington newswoman Eileen Sullivan told how it happened and who authorities say did it, and Atlanta-based videojournalist Robert Ray got the only shot of the suspect being taken away in an ambulance. In between, New York photo editor Karly Domb Sadof plumbed social media for user-generated content that kept the photo report fresh all week.

Sullivan, the AP’s domestic counterterrorism reporter, broke two agenda-setting stories. The day after the bombing, she reported exclusively that the bombs were made in ordinary kitchen pressure cookers hidden in black bags. Then, after working sources through the predawn hours on the last day of the police dragnet, she reported the names of the suspects and that they were Russian Chechens.

When the manhunt ended and the surviving suspect was taken into custody, Ray captured exclusive video, sprinting ahead when he saw the ambulance leaving, escorted by police. As it passed, Ray raised the video camera up to the window and got the shot of the suspect inside, on his back. The single edit was used more than 1,800 times by AP video clients, leading BBC and Sky News bulletins.

Domb Sadof, who normally is the photo desk liaison to the Business Desk, was virtually a one-woman show pursuing user-generated photos through social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook. She obtained permission from the families to use photos of the three people killed, and in at least two cases her efforts led to interviews with photographers that developed into stories.

She even managed to connect the Boston bombings to another tragedy. A marathoner on his way home from Boston witnessed the Texas fertilizer plant explosion. Domb Sadof located the man and passed along his information to the Central Desk for a story.

AP’s reporting from Honduras, Gaza and Syria wins prestigious awards

Associated Press journalists have won a number of prestigious awards for their work covering a variety of difficult stories spanning from Latin America to the Middle East.

AP won three awards and two citations from the Overseas Press Club of America:

  • Based in Jerusalem, photographer Bernat Armangue won the John Faber Award for his package of images documenting the Gaza conflict.
  • Photographer Oded Balilty, also based in Jerusalem, was recognized with the Feature Photography Award for his stunning images from an Orthodox wedding. 
  • Alberto Arce, AP’s correspondent in Honduras, won the Robert Spiers Benjamin Award for a series of stories looking at violence in that Central American country.

Smoke rises after an Israeli forces strike in Gaza City, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

AP’s coverage of the civil war in Syria by Rodrigo Abd, Ahmed Bahaddou, Manu Brabo, Khalil Hamra, Hamza Hendawi, Ben Hubbard and Bela Szandelszky earned the Hal Boyle citation.  Brabo also received the Robert Capa citation for a separate 12-picture package from Syria.

Separately, Arce’s coverage from Honduras also won a 2012 Sigma Delta Chi Award for foreign correspondence from the Society of Professional Journalists.

In addition, AP collected 16 awards in the National Press Photographers Association contest, more than any other news agency. First place winners include Armangue, Daniel Ochoa de Olza, Manas Paran, Mike Roemer, David J. Phillip, David Goldman and Vadim Ghirda.

On April 15, AP won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for images from Syria. AP journalists have also been recognized by the National Headliner Awards, Pictures of the Year International, World Press Photo, China International Press Photo competition (CHIPP) and the White House News Photographers Association.

AP responds to hacking of Twitter account

UPDATED on April 24 at 11:42 a.m. ET: The following statement is from Erin Madigan White, manager of AP media relations:

“The @AP Twitter account, which was suspended, is back up. Our longstanding policy has been to refrain from discussing our security measures.”

The following statement is from Paul Colford, director of AP media relations:

“Earlier this afternoon the @AP Twitter account was hacked. Out of a sense of caution, we have suspended other AP Twitter feeds. We are working with Twitter to sort this out.”

Read the latest AP news story.

Behind the news of the marathon: data crunching and photo verification

Personal tales of Boston marathoners came together after The Associated Press analyzed images and data, including the finishing times recorded by chips on competitors’ bibs, to pinpoint some of the runners who were in the finish line area when the bombs went off.

AP has distributed photos taken by Massachusetts engineer Bob Leonard, whose images near the finish line clearly show the two brothers suspected in the April 15 blasts, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed in shootout with police, and 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, later captured. “They actually stood in that corner for quite a bit of time,” Leonard told AP.

Leonard was not the only picture-taker to help with images of the suspects. David Green, a businessman from Jacksonville, Fla., who ran the marathon, produced a photo in which Dzhokhar Tsarnaev appears fleeing the scene, though initially there was doubt as to its authenticity because of the very low resolution of the image. It made the photo appear to be a composite image.

When Green later provided the high-resolution frame directly from his cellphone, editors of the AP were able to establish its authenticity based on the improved resolution as well as the time the photo was taken. The AP has established an exclusive arrangement for distribution of the photograph.

A story about Leonard and Green includes a slideshow with 12 of their revealing images.

Coverage of Sandy and Honduras earn AP staffers National Headliner Awards

Four Associated Press journalists earned top honors in the National Headliner Awards, announced today by the sponsoring Press Club of Atlantic City.

Honduras correspondent Alberto Arce won first prize for his coverage of Latin America’s most violent country. His reporting from the region has earned numerous accolades this year. Texas-based reporter Jim Vertuno also won first prize for sports writing, based on his coverage of the Lance Armstrong scandal.

For photography, Manish Swarup’s powerful picture of a burning Tibetan running through a street earned him first place honors in two categories — Spot News and Best of Show. And in New York, Bebeto Matthews earned first prize for feature photography for his post-storm image, “Sandy Claus.”

See a slideshow of winning images by AP photojournalists. In total, AP journalists won nine awards. See the full list of winners at

On April 15, it was announced that AP won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for images of the Syrian civil war. In recent months AP photographers have also been honored by Pictures of the Year International, World Press Photo, China International Press Photo Competition (CHIPP) and the White House News Photographers Association.

Ahead of prison, Amish community gives journalists rare access

By gaining the trust of an Amish community in Ohio, a resourceful team of multiformat journalists were given rare access to tell their story. In a memo to staff, Managing Editor for State News Kristin Gazlay explains:

It was going to be the last time the tight-knit community would be together, before five Amish adults — four women and one man — would report to prison for the hate crime of forcibly cutting the hair and beards of fellow Amish.


Freeman Burkholder swings to hit the baseball during a farewell picnic in Bergholz, Ohio on April 9, 2013. A picnic was held for Burkholder and four Amish women who were sentenced to prison for their roles in a hair and beard cutting scandal against another Amish community. (AP Photo/Scott R. Galvin)

Cutting hair is shameful and offensive to the Amish, who believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards and stop shaving once they marry. Members of the insular group eschew any modern conveniences, rarely speak publicly and even more rarely allow themselves to be filmed or photographed.

But the team of Columbus reporter Kantele Franko, photo freelancer Scott Galvin and Washington video cameraman Dan Huff got an exclusive invitation to cover an end-of-school celebration, where children at old-fashioned schoolhouse desks sang in German, men played baseball in buttoned shirts and pants with suspenders — and members of the group heading to prison talked on camera about the sentences.

The Ohio AP had covered the case extensively, leading a defense attorney to invite them to the celebration, held early this year so the children could spend more time with their parents before they went to prison. The team worked to make the Amish feel comfortable, knowing that reporters and media equipment were an unusual sight. Franko persuaded the first interviewees to introduce the team to others, Huff explained the purpose of his microphones and the recording process, and Galvin wandered among the children so much that eventually even those who had shied away were smiling at the cameras.


Amish children play on the teeter-totters prior to the start of class in Bergholz, Ohio on April 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Scott R. Galvin)

The resulting multiformat play was dominating: The main broadcast networks, MSN, Miami Herald, Denver Post and Washington Post all used the material, with many sites posting photo galleries. The package was the fourth-most popular on Yahoo. One of Galvin’s photos, showing a tiny boy among young men lined up at a fence, made NBC News’ The Week in Pictures.

See the coverage here:

For expertly telling a story that required sensitivity, finesse and trust, Franko, Galvin and Huff win this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.


How an AP reporter found $50 billion buried in federal fine print

Ricardo Alonso-Zalvidar

Ricardo Alonso-Zalvidar

In the “Beat of the Week” memos to staff, AP Senior Managing Editor for U.S. News Mike Oreskes tells the stories behind the top news of recent days. In his latest note, he lauds the persistent, meticulous reporting of Washington-based health care reporter Ricardo Alonso-Zalvidar, who also is advising AP reporters across the country in covering the rollout of the Affordable Care Act:

Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar has covered health care policy for the AP since 2009, dominating with beat after beat after beat. He has won the respect of colleagues and competitors. He has produced ground breaking policy coverage, a model of the genre, and has been cited here 11 times with honorable mention for work that impressed the Beat of the Week judges.

But for all that, he has never won Beat of the Week.

Finally, his persistence paid off.

Alonso-Zaldivar was studying the fine print (something he does) for the Department of Health and Human Services budget proposal when one number jumped out: a projected $50 billion in new Medicare revenue over the coming decade. That was up from last year’s projection of $28 billion. When Alonso-Zaldivar asked why, neither the White House for its Office of Management and Budget had an answer.

He wrote a spot story pointedly noting the murkiness of the administration’s plans, while at the same time agitating with HHS for an explanation.


Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, April 12, 2013, before the House Ways and Means Committee hearing on President Barack Obama’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2014, and the HHS. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Two days later, congressional Republicans challenged HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on the same points, and she gave a partial answer: The administration was planning to set up a new way to determine how much seniors pay in Medicare premiums, based on their incomes. It would clearly mean a cost increase for many beneficiaries, but there were no details about who, or how much.

Alonso-Zaldivar seized the opportunity to press his point again, telling his HHS contacts that he planned to put Sebelius’ incomplete answer on the wire.

One of those contacts soon popped a detailed data table into his email inbox, spelling out the details the administration had been reluctant to share. He was able to report exclusively that President Barack Obama’s new budget included a proposal to significantly increase the amounts paid by upper-income retirees in Medicare premiums.

AP was alone with the story throughout the weekend. Even the House Ways and Means Committee, which had challenged Sebelius for answers, read it first in Alonso-Zaldivar’s exclusive.

The story made scores of front pages, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Louisville Courier Journal, Jackson Clarion Ledger, Providence Journal, Fort Worth Star-Telegram and St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It was the lead story in a dozen papers. A follow-up humanized the proposal with the tale of a New Mexico retiree who has an income of $85,000 and would be hit by the increases, and felt penalized for her frugal retirement planning.

None of this was unusual for Alonso-Zaldivar, one of the relatively few people in Washington who has read the entire health care legislation, all 974 pages.

For this persistence and attention to detail, Alonso-Zaldivar wins this week’s $500 prize, his first Beat of the Week, recognition long overdue and now rectified.

Pulitzer win recognizes AP’s commitment to telling story of Syria

Five Associated Press photographers from around the globe were awarded the Pulitzer Prize this week for their powerful and heartrending coverage of the Syrian civil war, and AP was a finalist for its multiformat coverage there.


Pulitzer Prize-winning AP photographers, clockwise from top left, Rodrigo Abd, Manu Brabo, Narciso Contreras, Khalil Hamra and Muhammed Muheisen.

The breaking news photography award — reflecting work by the team of Rodrigo Abd, Manu Brabo, Narciso Contreras, Khalil Hamra and Muhammed Muheisen — is the 51st Pulitzer Prize win for AP. The Pulitzer judges honored them for “producing memorable images under extreme hazard.”

“It’s tremendous recognition for a group of five of the most talented and brave photographers working in the world today for their work covering the awful war in Syria,” AP Vice President and Director of Photography told The New York Times “Lens” blog. “It’s very fitting given their dedication and commitment in the face of terrible work conditions over the course of the last year.”

Other news outlets around the world — including TIME magazine, BBC News and the Guardian — showcased galleries of the pictures.

“AP is widely and justifiably known for its coverage of war, and [this] prize fits into that rich tradition,” AP Vice President and Senior Managing Editor for International News John Daniszewski said. “The coverage of this war has been one of the most challenging of our era.”


Members of the Associated Press headquarters newsroom applaud the announcement of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize winners, Monday, April 15, 2013, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

AP’s coverage of Syria is detailed in its digital annual report, which includes a video of Abd describing the image “he will never forget,” of a young boy crying at his father’s funeral. It’s an image that appeared on the front pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal on the same day in 2012.