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Wife of WNBA’s Griner tells AP: US embassy botched call

In this image from video, Cherelle Griner, wife of WNBA star Brittney Griner, speaks to The Associated Press Monday, June 20, 2022. Brittney Griner tried to call her wife nearly a dozen times through the American embassy in Russia on the couple's fourth anniversary Saturday, but they never connected since the phone line at the embassy was not staffed, Cherelle Griner said Monday. (AP Photo)

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Washington national security reporter Eric Tucker and WNBA reporter Doug Feinberg broke news in the closely watched case Brittney Griner, the WNBA star jailed in Russia, reporting exclusively that a long-awaited phone between Griner and her wife never happened because the U.S. government mishandled the call.

Tucker and Feinberg collaborated across departments using source work and trusted credentials to land a video interview with Cherelle Griner, who revealed how her wife, Brittney Griner, tried to call nearly a dozen times through the American embassy in Russia on the couple’s fourth anniversary, but they never connected because the phone line at the embassy was apparently unstaffed.

First word of the snafu came when Tucker,who has carved out a niche covering American hostages and wrongful detainees,heard from a reliable source who said there was important news in the Griner case. That source connected him to Brittney Griner’s agent,who has been in contact with Feinberg,a veteran on the NBA beat,since Griner’s detention began. Knowing she could trust AP to handle the story responsibly,the agent offered to connect Tucker directly with Cherelle Griner,and asked that Feinberg also be part of the call.

The two reporters scrambled to set up the Zoom interview with Cherelle Griner,in which she said the weekend call with her wife had been on the books for two weeks but no one picked up at the U.S. embassy. In an outstanding example of teamwork between the Washington and sports desks,the reporters raced to get the story out, and AP State Department reporter Matt Lee secured an exclusive statement acknowledging a “logistical error” had prevented the call from going through.

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WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom in Khimki, just outside Moscow, June 27, 2022, for a preliminary hearing ahead of her trial on charges of cannabis possession. – AP Photo / Alexander Zemlianichenko

The story got enormous play in political and sports circles and was featured in Politico’s Playbook under the category of: “What the White House Doesn’t Want You to Read.”

It was shared many thousands of times across social media platforms,was featured prominently by ESPN and Griner’s hometown newspaper in Phoenix,and it was matched by CNN. The Washington Post,Yahoo and People all reported it,and the New York Post and New York Daily News also did their own stories. CBS Morning News used AP’s video,which scored thousands of views on YouTube alone,in a segment the following morning,and Cherelle Griner later appeared on MSNBC to discuss her interview with AP.

The story was among the first matters addressed from the White House podium the next day, with officials expressing regret for the error and promising that the call between the Griners would be rescheduled.

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