January 2, 2013
The Biggest Stories of 2012

by Justice Paul E. Pfeifer

The Associated Press recently released its annual list of the top 10 news stories for the year. The list – which the AP began putting out in 1936 – is based on a poll of its U.S. editors and news directors.

This year the votes were in and counted by December 13, but then a day later the country was shocked by the news out of a quiet community in Connecticut, where a crazed young man entered an elementary school and started shooting little children and teachers. Before he was finished, he had ended 26 lives and forever shattered dozens of others.

In the wake of that horrific event, the AP – in a rare move – conducted a new poll of its editors and news directors.  Not surprisingly, the new ballots changed the outcome of the list. The initial vote had the presidential election at the top of the list. The new number one story was “Mass Shootings.” Sadly, that category – “Mass Shootings” – encompassed more than the Newtown tragedy.

In the revised list the presidential election – the story that lasted the entire year – fell to number two.

Number three on the list was the superstorm named Sandy. The storm produced a massive wall of water and high winds that slammed into 800 miles of the northeastern United States killing at least 125 people. It was the second costliest storm in our history, behind only Hurricane Katrina.

Coming in at number four was the United States Supreme Court decision to uphold the main elements of President Obama’s overhaul of healthcare. Virtually no one predicted that Chief Justice John Roberts would cast what amounted to the swing vote in the five-to-four decision.

The September 11 attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya – during which our ambassador and three other Americans were killed – was voted the fifth biggest story.

The sex-abuse scandal surrounding Penn State’s football program came in sixth, the United States economy was the seventh biggest story and the fiscal cliff was eighth. The number nine story was President Obama’s decision to support same-sex marriage, followed by the ongoing war in Syria at number ten.

The AP also puts out a top ten list for each state. For Ohio, the number one story was no surprise – the presidential election. During the homestretch of the campaign it seemed that the two candidates had taken up residency in our state.

The number two story for Ohio involved yet another school shooting – at Chardon High School, in the northeastern part of the state. Three students were killed and three others were wounded when a 17-year-old walked into the cafeteria and opened fire. The story didn’t garner as much national attention as the Newtown shooting, but it was no less devastating for the families and the community. The shooter’s trial will begin in January.

The third biggest story was the opening of casinos in Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo. One more is set to open in Cincinnati early in 2013.

Story number four focused on the devastating storms and subsequent power outages that hit in late June and early July. It was the worst storm damage in Ohio since we were battered by the remnants of Hurricane Ike in 2008, and the third-costliest disaster in the state’s history.

And what would a top ten list be without Ohio State football? Urban Meyer’s arrival as the new head coach was voted as the number five story, and the 12-0 inaugural season only added to the lore.

With story number six we bid sad farewell to a legend: Ohio native Neil Armstrong passed away in August, just shy of his 82nd birthday. Armstrong gained everlasting fame for his daring mission to the moon, and he gained enduring respect for the sincere, humble way he lived his life afterward.

Story number seven was the southeastern Ohio Craigslist murders, and number eight was the new law that banned Ohio drivers from sending text messages while driving. The ninth story involved new regulations for deep-injection wells. The legislature passed the regulations after it was determined that hundreds of thousands of barrels of oilfield waste fluids – the by-product of hydraulic fracturing – which were injected into a fault line, likely caused the earthquake that hit Youngstown last New Year’s Eve.

The AP’s tenth biggest story came out of Amish Country, where sixteen members of an Amish breakaway group were convicted of federal hate crimes for beard- and hair-cutting attacks against members of their own faith.

It can be a bit dispiriting to read lists like these: so many of the stories focus on death and violence, disasters and devastation, misery or controversy. But there were some good stories to be found. For example, in the world of medicine, the FDA approved 40 new drugs and vaccines this year, a near record number. These new drugs will help combat a wide range of diseases, and more exciting developments are on the horizon.

NASA, often a source of uplifting news, delivered yet another masterpiece this past summer when it landed a rover named “Curiosity” on the surface of Mars. Curiosity, about the size of an SUV, will drive over mountains, dig into soil and drill into rocks to explore our neighboring planet.

The nuclear powered rover is an engineering marvel packed with scientific tools – including a laser that can zap distant rocks – cameras, a weather station and a chemistry lab. It represents the “can-do” spirit that has so long been a trademark of NASA.

There were even glimmers of good news that emerged from disaster areas. In the towns ravaged by Superstorm Sandy, an anonymous man dressed as Santa Claus started showing up in thrift stores and soup kitchens handing out $100 bills to random strangers hit by the storm.

Those sorts of stories don’t usually make top ten lists: bad news gets the attention, good news is harder to find – that’s just how it is. But occasionally stories crop up that remind us there is still reason to be of good cheer.

Happy New Year everybody.