- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — The Iraq war and terrorism dominated the 2004 list of top stories in an annual Associated Press survey, but it was President Bush’s re-election that editors and news directors chose as the biggest story of the year.

The election, in which Mr. Bush defeated Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, received 137 first-place votes out of 234 ballots cast. Iraq, voted the No. 1 story in 2002 and 2003, was runner-up this year, with 79 first-place votes.

Here are 2004’s top 10 stories, as chosen by AP members:

1. U.S. election: Mr. Kerry seemed to have a strong chance of ousting Mr. 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 state of Ohio.

2. Iraq: 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 storms — Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne — devastated Florida and other Southern states in August and September, killing 117 persons 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. September 11 report: The commission formed to investigate the terrorist attacks of September 11 issued its report. It concluded that America’s leaders failed to grasp the gravity of terrorist threats before September 11 and recommended creation of a national intelligence director to oversee civilian and military intelligence agencies.

6: Homosexual “marriage”: Massachusetts became the first state to permit legal, same-sex “marriage,” and local officials in several places — including San Francisco and Portland, Ore. — also united homosexual couples before courts intervened.

7: Arafat dies: For three decades, Yasser Arafat was a hero to most of his fellow Palestinians but considered unreliable by leaders in the West and Israel. His death in November, at age 75, triggered mourning among Palestinians but also sparked hope 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 age 93, Americans responded with an outpouring of affection and respect.

9: Russian school seizure: A band of terrorists, believed led by a Chechen warlord, took more than 1,000 people hostage at a school in Beslan, Russia, in September. When the seizure ended, amid explosions and gunfire, more than 330 hostages had been killed — most of them children.

10: Madrid bombings: Bombs hidden in backpacks exploded on four commuter trains during morning rush hour, killing about 200 people. Soon after the attack, which was blamed on Islamic militants, voters unseated Spain’s pro-American conservative government in favor of the Socialist Party, which promptly withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq.

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