A Year of Extraordinary Unrest

From conflict erupting around the world to lethal plagues and missing airliners, it is hard to recall a year as unsettling as 2014. For the AP journalists covering the news last year, getting the story right has never been more important for our customers. Here’s a look at some of our top coverage from 2014.

Financing the golden years of Nazi war criminals

In 2011, AP investigative researcher Randy Herschaft found newly declassified documents at the National Archives that referred to a program in which the U.S. had paid suspected Nazi war criminals Social Security as part of a deal to leave the country voluntarily.

For decades, they found, millions of U.S. tax dollars had financed the retirement of dozens of suspected Nazis — among them Auschwitz guards and SS officers.

Intrigued, Herschaft and colleagues David Rising and Richard Lardner dug into what became a two-year investigation with findings that caused a worldwide sensation. For decades, they found, millions of U.S. tax dollars had financed the retirement of dozens of suspected Nazis — among them Auschwitz guards and SS officers.

It was not an easy path to the results. The Social Security Administration denied numerous FOIA requests, but the team was so determined to learn more that they even vetted every suspect removed from the United States by the Department of Justice just to see if there was any indication that they “left voluntarily.” Rising, AP Berlin correspondent, tracked down a former Auschwitz guard who had been living in Ohio before leaving for Croatia under the program, in 1989. Twenty five years later, at 90 years of age, he was still receiving $1,500 a month from Social Security. International investigative reporter Lardner pored through National Archives records, and all three conducted scores of interviews with relatives of suspected Nazis, former federal employees and U.S. diplomats, Holocaust survivors and members of Congress.

Less than two months after AP published its investigation of this dark chapter of America’s handling of the Holocaust, Congress unanimously passed the No Social Security for Nazis Act, and President Obama signed it into law, on Dec. 18, 2014.

A woman cries during a religious service held by villagers in memory of the victims at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, July 22, 2014.

ap photo / Vadim Ghirda

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Eyewitness to an intractable conflict

Hours before a Russian-made Buk missile system brought down a passenger jet over Eastern Ukraine, two AP correspondents witnessed such a weapon rolling through town just a few miles away. It was the first and only confirmation that a Buk was in the area where Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew aboard.

Days after that, a rebel commander confirmed to AP that his men — working with Russian operatives — had pulled the trigger.

Time after time, AP reporters in Ukraine broke stories — often working at great personal risk — to keep the world informed about this fast-paced and deadly conflict. One AP cameraman was hit by shrapnel when a sonic grenade exploded near him; another injured by a stun grenade in a clash between demonstrators and police. Among the most important stoires, AP’s team on the ground revealed how Crimea’s new rulers have stolen prime property and businesses in a large-scale property grab; used satellite imagery to catch Russia in a lie about military deployments; and, lifted the lid on multimillion-dollar corruption in Ukraine’s old regime. As the conflict rages on, AP photographers and videographers have consistently captured exclusive imagery from the fighting that has been used by media around the world.

Reporters Yuras Karmanau and Peter Leonard crafted the first comprehensive narrative of how Flight 17 was shot down, and AP chronicled the last hours of its passengers — prompting feedback from thousands of readers, many of whom said the story brought them to tears. The families of three victims even wrote AP to thank us. One mother said she would keep our story in her son’s “memory box.”

Time after time, AP reporters in Ukraine broke stories — often working at great personal risk — to keep the world informed about this fast-paced and deadly conflict.

The curious case of a cuban twitter

The history of U.S.-Cuba relations is replete with subterfuge that could fill a James Bond movie. Now add to this a new and astonishing case: the creation of a fake Twitter account to stir unrest and undermine the country’s Communist government.

Reporters ... combed over more than 5,000 pages of documents in English, Spanish and Serbo-Croatian to piece together the tales of intrigue that were generated by an outside contractor paid millions of dollars by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Hatched by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the caper involved using contractors to create a messaging service that would evade Cuba’s strict controls on information. In a play on Twitter, the service was called ZunZuneo — Cuban slang for a hummingbird’s tweet. Ultimately, ZunZuneo went bust, but the AP reporters who uncovered the plan also uncovered a host of other schemes by USAID intended to subvert the Cuban government. Among them: infiltrating Cuba’s hip-hop community to spark a political movement through song.

Reporters Desmond Butler, Jack Gillum, Alberto Arce, Andrew Rodriguez and Michael Weissenstein combed over more than 5,000 pages of documents in English, Spanish and Serbo-Croatian to piece together the tales of intrigue that were generated by an outside contractor paid millions of dollars by USAID. The stories detailed front companies, offshore bank accounts, undercover training and other tactics used to try and trick the Cuban government. None of them apparently worked.

AP’s revelations stirred disbelief in Congress, with lawmakers calling the operations “cockamamie” and “reckless” and ordering that they be ceased. As it turned out, while the failed plots were going on, U.S. and Cuban officials were negotiating an end to the decades of hostility between the countries. The day the two countries announced a thaw in relations, the head of the USAID announced his resignation.

that's entertainment!

When people think about AP, war, natural disaster, politics and other hard breaking news most often comes to mind. But AP covers — and breaks news — in other high-interest areas as well, most notably entertainment.

AP has covered Hollywood since, well, the big screen came into existence. Today, we cover celebrities and entertainment of all kinds around the world. And, we break big news in the field.

Last year we got perhaps the biggest entertainment scoop of all — a true worldwide blockbuster: the nuptials of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. The story caught all other media by surprise, and even our closest competitors had to credit us. It was accomplished the old-fashioned way: nurturing relationships. AP film writer Jake Coyle had been interviewing Brad Pitt for several years, and developing a relationship with him. The trust grew to a point that Jolie herself began developing a relationship with Coyle. In one interview, Jolie told Coyle she might soon have some interesting news to share. Then, early one morning on Aug. 28, Coyle got a call from Jolie’s representative, giving him the exclusive: The two stars had gotten married the previous Saturday at their home in France.

Another wedding scoop last year that grabbed international headlines: Charles Manson's decision to tie the knot. Manson was the leader of the murderous “Manson Family” that killed seven people in 1969, including the pregnant then-fiancee of filmmaker Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate. Imprisoned now for more than 45 years, he applied for a marriage license with a 26-year-old woman who has been visiting him.

Special correspondent Linda Deutsch, who has covered major Hollywood trials for decades, received the tip from a longtime source late one Friday night. She and Fresno correspondent Scott Smith checked it out and even tracked down the woman, who told Smith, “I love him. I’m with him,” and then detailed the protocols for getting married in prison. Twitter, Deutsch noted, “lit up like a Christmas tree.”