As it has done every year since 1936, the Associated Press conducted a vote to select the top ten news stories of the previous 12 months. Looking back over previous lists, you notice that some stories linger from year to year, moving up and down the list in importance. This year, a number of stories that were listed separately were actually related to one another – as was the case with stories one, three, six and ten, which were all linked to terrorism.
For 2015, the editors and news directors who cast the votes decided that the widespread attacks by the Islamic State (ISIS) was the top story of the year. Last year, the rise of ISIS was voted the third biggest story. Unfortunately, ISIS is still going strong and will likely be somewhere on the list again next year.
Story number three was “the terrorist attacks in Paris.” During the first attack, in January, terrorists shot up the offices of the satiric newspaper Charlie Hebdo, and also hit a Jewish market. In all, 17 people were killed. Then, in mid-November, ISIS dealt a far-deadlier blow when its members conducted a coordinated attack at Paris restaurants, bars and a concert hall. Before that night was over, 130 people had been killed and hundreds more wounded.
Story number six on the AP list was also related to ISIS, and was simply dubbed “terrorism worries.” The AP said that fears over terrorism surged in the United States following the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, where 14 people were killed at a Christmas party.
The tenth story also had ties to terrorism: “Europe’s migrant crisis.” The people streaming into Europe are fleeing violence in the Middle East and Africa, much of it caused by ISIS and other terrorist organizations.
The second biggest story of 2015 according to AP was the United States Supreme Court ruling in July making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. Stories about same-sex marriage have appeared on the list since at least 2012. Last year, story number nine was about same-sex marriage because 19 more states had begun allowing it, and there was speculation that the United States Supreme Court would take up the issue.
The fourth biggest story of 2015 encompassed several events: it was the mass shootings that continued to plague the country again this year. Those stories included the shooting at an Oregon community college, and the shooting at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado. It also included the San Bernardino terrorist attack and the killing of four Marines and a sailor in Chattanooga.
2015’s number nine story was about a specific mass shooting: the one at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where a young white man walked in and gunned down nine black parishioners taking part in a Bible Study. The shooting led to the eventual removal of Civil War symbols across the South, including the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds.
The fifth biggest story of 2015 had to do with the death of young black men in their encounters with police officers. It so happens that last year’s top story was “police killings” – specifically the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in Brooklyn. Those deaths, and others, led to protests and destructive riots in several cities that continued into this year and gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Story number seven on the AP list was the United States election campaign for president. Most of the drama is on the Republican side, where more than a dozen presidential hopefuls threw their hats into the ring that has so far been dominated by Donald Trump.
Story number eight also made an appearance on the list in 2007, but back then it was called “global warming.” Now, it’s on the list as “climate change.” The AP focused on the conference where 200 nations gathered in Paris to hammer out an agreement to reduce carbon emissions in the coming years. But the conference occurred shortly after the Paris terrorist attacks, and was largely overshadowed by them.
Clearly the list for 2015’s stop stories was dominated by terrorism and mass shootings. Both types of stories have appeared on the list far too often.
Looking back over the years, the lists almost always contain items that make about half the people happy and the other half – not so much. Often, those stories involve election results. Case in point: In 2008, the top story was the election of Barack Obama as president. Two years later, the number three story was the mid-term success of the Republicans in taking control of the United States House of Representatives.
But every once in a while, the list has an item tucked away that makes everybody feel good, no matter their political bent. One of those items was the number ten story in 2009.
Shortly after takeoff on January 15th, both engines on a US Airways passenger jet were disabled by multiple bird strikes. But the pilot – Chesley Sullenberger – managed to ditch the plane safely in the Hudson River. The photograph of people standing on the plane’s wings waiting to be rescued provided the iconic image for “The Miracle on the Hudson.” All 155 passengers and crew survived, and Captain Sullenberger was hailed as a hero for turning what could have been a disaster into the feel-good story of 2009.
Another feel-good story appeared in the seventh spot the following year – the rescue of the Chilean miners. Unlike the Hudson River story, this one unfolded over several weeks when 33 miners were trapped a half-mile underground for 69 days. At the beginning, it seemed that this story could only end badly. But a daring, ingenious rescue plan turned tragedy into triumph, and a worldwide television audience breathed a sigh of relief as each miner – one-by-one – stepped safely into the daylight.
Here’s hoping that next year’s list is dominated by those kinds of stories.
Justice Pfeifer was first elected to the Supreme Court in 1992. He was sworn in to his fourth Supreme Court term in January 2011.