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Deep sourcing puts AP way ahead on US-Venezuela prisoner swap

FILE - This undated file photo posted on Twitter on June 18, 2020 by Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, shows CITGO oil executives Jose Angel Pereira, from left to right, Gustavo Cardenas, Jorge Toledo, Jose Luis Zambrano, Tomeu Vadell and Alirio Jose Zambrano, standing outside the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, in Caracas, Venezuela. The oil executives have been granted a hearing scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 16, 202, before an appeals court, a rare decision by the judicial system in the South American country. (Posted on Twitter by Jorge Arreaza/Venezuela's Foreign Ministry via AP File)

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Outstanding source work enabled Miami-based Latin America reporter Josh Goodman and Washington-based national security reporter Eric Tucker to break the story of the largest prisoner swap between the United States and a foreign government in recent years. Their scoop on the release of seven American prisoners in Venezuela, in exchange for the release by the U.S. of two relatives of President Nicolas Maduro, put AP far ahead on a hugely competitive story and on a development journalists at rival news organizations had themselves been chasing for years.

The ground work for the scoop was months in the making. Both reporters earned the trust of families and senior U.S. officials, proving themselves capable of handling, and reporting on, sensitive information responsibly. That paid off with a source’s Saturday morning text message to Tucker, who has carved out a specialty in reporting on American hostages and detainees. He was told that there was significant news coming later in the day. At the same time, Goodman was hearing about movement on the case — specifically, that the American detainees had been taken out of their prison. Goodman understood that to mean they were close to being sent home.

The AP published a full, detailed story before any competitor had a single word; several hours passed before rival news organizations published their own stories. The AP also beat the official White House announcement and included a key detail not immediately mentioned in that statement — that the U.S. government had agreed to free two nephews of Maduro’s wife. As a result, AP’s story received major play in the U.S. and was one of the top stories of a busy Saturday in Latin America.

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