The Iraq war and terrorism dominated the 2004 list of top stories in an annual Associated Press survey, but it was President Bush’s election victory that editors and news directors chose as the biggest story of the year.
The war itself was the No. 2 choice, and four other stories in the Top 10 involved either Iraq or terrorist attacks.
The election, in which Bush defeated Democrat John Kerry and the Republicans strengthened their hold on both chambers in Congress, received 137 first-place votes out of 234 ballots cast. Iraq, voted the No. 1 story in both 2002 and 2003, was runner-up this year, with 79 first place votes.
Here are 2004’s top 10 stories, as voted by AP members:
1. U.S. ELECTION: After vanquishing Howard Dean, John Edwards and other Democratic rivals, Kerry seemed to have a strong chance of ousting Bush. But the Massachusetts senator struggled to explain his stance on Iraq, underestimated the sting of negative ads and — in the end — narrowly lost the pivotal swing state of Ohio after a campaign in which Bush, over and over, insisted he was best qualified to be commander in chief at a time of complex challenges to national security.
2: IRAQ: Throughout 2004, Iraq was a striking mix of bloody turmoil and tantalizing promise. Anti-American insurgents wreaked havoc with car bombings and videotaped beheadings of hostages; the death toll for U.S. military forces passed 1,300, and the toll of Iraqi civilians was many times higher. Yet Iraq’s interim leaders doggedly proceeded with plans for national elections early in the new year.
3. FLORIDA HURRICANES: Four major hurricanes — Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne — devastated Florida and other southern states in August and September, killing 117 people in Florida, destroying 2,500 homes and causing more than $22 billion in insured losses. Not since 1886 had one state been hit by four hurricanes in one season.
4. ABU GHRAIB SCANDAL: Photographs came to light showing U.S. military guards at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad forcing naked Iraqi detainees to pose in humiliating positions. Prosecutions ensued, and the scandal fueled anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world.
5. SEPT. 11 REPORT: After painstaking research and dramatic public hearings, the commission formed to investigate the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, issued its report. It concluded that America’s leaders failed to grasp the gravity of terrorist threats before Sept. 11 and recommended creation of a national intelligence director to oversee civilian and military intelligence agencies.
6: GAY MARRIAGE: From coast to coast, gay marriage was a volatile topic throughout the year. Massachusetts became the first state to have legal, same-sex weddings, and local officials in several places — including San Francisco and Portland, Ore. — also wed gay and lesbian couples before courts intervened. However, each time the issue reached the ballot — in 13 states in all — voters decisively approved constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.
7: ARAFAT DIES: For three decades, Yasser Arafat was a hero to most of his fellow Palestinians but considered unreliable — or worse — by leaders in the West and Israel. His death in November, at age 75, triggered emotional mourning among Palestinians but also sparked hopes of a breakthrough in efforts to end their long, bloody conflict with Israel.
8: REAGAN DIES: Alzheimer’s disease had kept Ronald Reagan out of the public eye for a decade. But when the nation’s 40th president died in June, at 93, Americans responded with an outpouring of affection and respect. His stately funeral in Washington brought the country together at least briefly in a year otherwise marked by bitter partisan divisions.
9: RUSSIAN SCHOOL SEIZURE: Even in a world grown all too accustomed to terrorism, the drama in the Russian town of Belsan was shocking because children were so clearly prime targets. A band of terrorists, believed led by a Chechen warlord, took more than 1,000 people hostage at a school in September. When the seizure ended, amid explosions and gunfire, more than 330 hostages had been killed — most of them children.
10: MADRID BOMBINGS: Another stunning terrorist strike occurred in March, when 190 people were killed after bombs hidden in backpacks exploded on four commuter trains during Madrid’s morning rush hour. Soon after the attack, which was blamed on Islamic militants, angry voters unseated Spain’s pro-American conservative government in favor of the Socialist Party, which promptly withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq.
Voters in the AP survey were invited to write in their own suggestions for top stories. One voter listed “the growing gap between the haves and have-nots” and another the “growing influence of evangelical conservatives on our political campaigns.”
A sports story almost cracked the Top 10: The Boston Red Sox’ World Series victory, their first since 1918, finished No. 13 and was among 10 stories that received at least one first-place vote.