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Blockbuster AP scoop reveals shelving of CDC guidelines on safe reopening

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For weeks, critics had complained that the Trump administration was putting political concerns ahead of scientific recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control. A blockbuster AP scoop amplified those complaints as The Associated Press revealed that President Donald Trump’s administration shelved a CDC document containing step-by-step advice to authorities on how and when to reopen restaurants and other public places during the pandemic.

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President Donald Trump listens as Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks during a coronavirus briefing at the White House, April 22, 2020. – AP Photo / Alex Brandon

Late on a Sunday night, Florida-based reporter Jason Dearen, recently returned from a two-year leave, got a call from a source inside the CDC to whom he had repeatedly reached out over several weeks. The source was fuming. The Trump administration had shelved a detailed set of documents meant to help communities reopen their economies. Dearen’s source described the document, but wouldn’t provide it.

In talking about the revelation the next morning, Dearen’s editors realized it was the same document medical writer Mike Stobbe in New York had already obtained. Stobbe too had been hearing gripes about a delay in making it public. AP now had two solid sources disclosing that a touchstone document created over weeks by the nation’s top disease investigators was being buried by the Trump administration, leading to the pair’s jointly bylined story that moved May 7.

The story immediately took off. It dominated news broadcasts on CNN,and The New York Times kept the headline at the top of their website all day,linking to AP’s story. Late night host Stephen Colbert did a segment on it,as did HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” It was by far the best-performing story on AP News for the week,generating more than 1 million page views, and its 129 newsroom downloads were the most of any coronavirus story that week outside of the mainbars.

After the initial story broke,a new source came forward,telling Dearen there was more. The administration began ordering key parts of the guidelines to be released,the source said,and the White House claim that the CDC itself hadn’t signed off on the document was false. Dearen asked for proof, and the source sent a trove of emails from the highest levels of government proving it all. That led to another story that also attracted enormous attention,earning more than 600,000 AP News pageviews. Dearen appeared twice on Rachel Maddow’s show to talk about the stories.

Dearen’s source sent a trove of emails from the highest levels of government proving the White House’s actions.

For a major scoop that resonated among customers and readers and finally brought to light the scientists’ suppressed guidelines for how the country should reopen, Dearen and Stobbe win AP’s Best of The Week award.

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