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

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On the news-heavy weekend between impeachment and inauguration, national security reporter 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, and these concerns were prompting the FBI to vet all 25,000 troops sent to the city.

It was one of the most telling examples of the alarming state of Washington on the eve of the inauguration — fearful,as Baldor wrote,that the very people assigned to protect the city and national leaders could instead threaten them. Also striking in the story,officials weren’t whispering their fears anonymously on background; Baldor quoted the Secretary of the Army,Ryan McCarthy,expressing his worries on the record. While other reports,including one in Defense One,previously noted plans for additional scrutiny of troops,no one had reported on the FBI vetting or quoted someone at McCarthy’s level describing his concerns.

Baldor’s story was no fluke. A veteran national security and Pentagon reporter,she has long worked to build up sourcing with the Army,and McCarthy in particular. She has interviewed him and Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville many times,establishing a strong relationship of trust. They know she — and the AP — will report their stories fairly. That has resulted in Baldor breaking news multiple times,including during the tense period when Trump was considering having active-duty soldiers engaged in policing protests. More recently,she broke news,from a McCarthy interview, that the Army was considering allowing troops in the Capitol to carry firearms (it later did so).

Baldor has long worked to build up sourcing with the Army, establishing a strong relationship of trust.

Baldor had been pressing Army officials for inside details of preparations during the run-up to the inaugural. Other news organizations were almost certainly doing so as well,but the Army gave only Baldor exclusive,off-the-record access to an inaugural planning session. After that ended,officials arranged on-the-record interviews with a number of top leaders,including McCarthy. Beyond obtaining the blunt statements of the Army worries, Baldor used the interviews to shape some off-the-record details into a useable form.

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National Guard troops reinforce security around the U.S. Capitol ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration, in Washington, Jan. 17, 2021. – AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite

The story immediately lit up social media and was picked up by some 330 news outlets. CNN and other major networks quoted it and other publications,including The Washington Post,scrambled to match it or wrote their own stories,crediting AP. The piece was the No. 1 or No. 2 story listed on the three most closely watched political tipsheets: Politico Playbook,Axios and Punchbowl.

It also performed well on AP platforms,with 850,000 pageviews on AP News. The story was accompanied by video,and Baldor provided interview audio that was used as part of AP’s inauguration security coverage.

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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