Monday December 31, 2012

NEW YORK

The horrific massacre of 26 children and staff at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., along with a mass shooting in Colorado, was the top news story of 2012, narrowly edging the U.S. election, according to The Associated Press’ annual poll of U.S. editors and news directors.

The results followed a rare decision by the AP to reconduct the voting. The initial round had ended Dec. 13, a day before the shootings in Newtown, with the election ranked No. 1, followed by Hurricane Sandy. The original entry for mass shootings, focused on the rampage at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, placed sixth in that voting.

In the new poll, updated to account for Newtown, the mass shootings received 68 first-place votes out of 173 ballots cast for the top 10 stories, compared with 65 first-place votes for the election -- one of the closest results since the AP launched the poll in 1936.

On a scale of points ranging from 10 for first place to one for 10th place, the shootings tallied 1,448 points, compared with 1,417 for the election. The second balloting ran Dec. 17-19.

Hurricane Sandy was third, far ahead of the next group of stories.

"After we completed our poll, the news agenda was reshaped, tragically, by the Newtown shootings," said Michael Oreskes, AP’s senior managing editor for U.S. news.


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"To chronicle that we conducted the poll again before releasing both results."

The U.S.-focused slant of the top stories this year contrasted with last year’s voting, when the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan was No. 1, followed by Japan’s earthquake/tsunami disaster, and the Arab Spring uprisings that rocked North Africa and the Middle East.

The top 10 stories of 2012 are in this package. The choices of the news professionals voting in the AP poll mirrored the stories most closely followed by the public during the year, according to the Pew Research Center’s News Interest Index.

The index ranked Obama’s re-election as the most intently followed story, with the Newtown shootings second and Hurricane Sandy third.

Armed with a high-powered rifle, 20-year-old Adam Lanza forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and killed 20 children -- all ages 6 and 7 -- and six staff members in the second-worst school massacre in U.S. history. Sadly, it was one of several mass shootings, including the killing of 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. After the Newtown tragedy, President Barack Obama and many others, including some staunch gun-rights supporters, said it was time to find ways to rein in gun violence.

Mitt Romney outcampaigned an eclectic field of Republican rivals and bested Obama in their opening head-to-head debate. But on Election Day, thanks in part to a vigorous get-out-the-vote operation, Obama won a second term with a large lead in electoral votes and a solid advantage in popular votes. The GOP hung on to its majority in the House, but lost two seats to remain a minority in the Senate despite early campaign projections of gains there.

As a precursor to its destruction in the United States, Sandy killed more than 70 people in the Caribbean. Then its high winds and waters slammed into more than 800 miles of the U.S.’ East Coast, killing at least 125 people there and causing damage calculated at well over $60 billion -- the second-costliest storm in U.S. history after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. New York and New Jersey were hit the hardest, with several hundred thousand homes and businesses damaged or destroyed.

By a 5-4 margin, the Supreme Court upheld the core elements of Obama’s much-debated health-care overhaul, which even he embraced as "Obamacare." To widespread surprise, the decisive vote came from John Roberts, the generally conservative chief justice appointed by Republican George W. Bush. Romney, as the GOP presidential nominee, vowed to repeal the law if he won, but Obama’s victory ensured the plan would proceed, with complex ramifications for insurers, employers, health-care providers and state governments.

Amid yearlong turmoil in Libya, a jarring incident occurred Sept. 11 -- an assault in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stephens (pictured) and three other Americans. The attack was widely blamed on a group with suspected links to al-Qaida. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, later bowed out of consideration to be the next secretary of state because of her assertions in TV interviews that a spontaneous demonstration over an anti-Muslim video triggered the attack.

It was a daunting year for Penn State and its storied football program. In January, longtime coach Joe Paterno died, his legacy tarnished by the sex-abuse scandal involving his former assistant, Jerry Sandusky. In June, after a wrenching trial, Sandusky (pictured) was convicted of sexually abusing 10 boys and was later sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison. In July, the NCAA imposed severe sanctions, including $60 million in fines, a four-year postseason ban on football and a reduction in football scholarships.

By many measures, the economy was on a welcome upswing. The unemployment rate dipped to a four-year low of 7.7 percent, stock markets rose, builders broke ground on more homes, and November was the best sales month in nearly five years for U.S. automakers. But overshadowing the good news was deep anxiety about the economic consequences if Obama and the Democrats failed to reach a tax-and-spending deal with the Republicans.

Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, engaged in high-stakes negotiations over a deal to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff" that would trigger automatic tax hikes and spending cuts. The leaders narrowed some differences on Social Security and tax rates for the wealthy, but faced intense pressure from their bases to resist certain compromises.

For supporters of same-sex marriage, it was a year of milestones. Obama, after a drawn-out process of "evolving," said in May he supported the right of gay couples to wed. On Election Day, Maine, Maryland and Washington became the first states to legalize gay marriage via popular vote. And on Dec. 7, the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases that could further expand same-sex marriage rights.

What began in 2011 as an outbreak of peaceful protests escalated into full-scale civil war pitting the beleaguered regime of Bashar Assad against a disparate but increasingly potent rebel opposition. The overall death toll climbed past 40,000 as the rebels made inroads toward Assad’s bastion of Damascus. The United States and many other nations were supporting the opposition, albeit wary of outcomes that might help Islamic extremists gain power in the region.