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AP exposes candidate’s lies; upends one of the year’s most competitive congressional races

J.R. Majewski, Republican candidate for Ohio's 9th Congressional District, takes the stage at a campaign rally in Youngstown, Ohio., Sept. 17, 2022. AP’s reporting showed numerous misrepresentations by Majewski, including his false claim to be a combat veteran of Afghanistan. (AP Photo / Tom E. Puskar)

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This AP exclusive started with a news tip: A Republican nominee in Ohio had made questionable claims about his tenure in the Air Force. It ended with a crescendo of rival news outlets citing AP’s exclusive report and a flurry of online buzz that resulted in the term “stolen valor” trending on Twitter.

A source phoned national political reporter Brian Slodysko to say that key pieces of the story J.R. Majewski told voters about his deployment to Afghanistan didn’t add up. Majewski had been publicly describing himself as a combat veteran who completed a tour of duty in Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but he repeatedly declined to provide specifics. The bio on his campaign website made similar claims.

There were other warning signs: Before launching his campaign for the Toledo-area seat,Majewski had been a promoter of the QAnon conspiracy theory,had rapped in several pro-Trump hip-hop videos and was among the crowd of election deniers at the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6,2021 insurrection. He had also made grandiose claims that he was an “executive in the nuclear power industry” that did not ring true.

Slodysko,investigative reporter James LaPorta — a Marine veteran who actually did deploy to Afghanistan — and investigative researcher Randy Herschaft joined forces to piece together an account of Majewski’s service and personal life. They used documents obtained through public records requests,interviews with military experts who examined Majewski’s records at the AP’s request and a survey of Majewski’s former employers, as well as a review of his 2009 bankruptcy filing.

Their blockbuster story revealed Majewski did not deploy to Afghanistan,where he claimed to have once gone 40 days without a shower,but instead spent a six-month stint loading planes in Qatar. It also showed that Majewski was demoted and barred from reenlisting. His campaign said that was the result of a dormitory brawl, but subsequent reporting by Slodysko and LaPorta has revealed Majewski’s punishment and demotion resulted from a 2001 stop for driving drunk on a U.S. base. He also never served as a nuclear industry executive.

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Campaign flyers for Republican U.S. House candidate J.R. Majewski are laid out at the the Get Out the Vote Super Saturday rally in Port Clinton, Ohio, July 30, 2022. – AP Photo / Tom E. Puskar

The story received more than 200,000 views in its first 24 hours on AP News as alerts pushed to mobile devices drew in readers. Those “pushes” were among AP’s top-performing alerts of the past month,a period that included the death of the queen. The New York Times matched the story,noting prominently that AP had it first. The piece had impact too: The National Republican Campaign Committee subsequently pulled advertising money it planned to spend on Majewski ahead of Election Day,essentially giving up on his ability to win the race.

For deep source work and dogged reporting that exposed a political candidate’s blatant lies about his record,Slodysko, LaPorta and Herschaft take AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner honors.

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