NEW YORK – The convoluted American economy — restoring windfalls to a lucky few while leaving millions jobless and distraught — was the top news story of 2009, followed closely by the inauguration of President Barack Obama, according to U.S. editors and news directors voting in The Associated Press' annual poll.
The economy, which has superseded other issues as Americans' No. 1 concern, received 61 first-place votes out of 117 ballots cast for the top 10 stories. A related saga, the tribulations of the U.S. auto industry, was voted the No. 4 story.
In 2008, the top story was Obama's election as the first African-American president. His inauguration this year was No. 2, receiving 45 first-place votes, while the bruising battle in Congress over a health care overhaul was No. 3.
For the first time, the AP also enabled members of the general public to select their list of top stories, setting up a separate vote on Facebook. Those voters, 1,410 in all, reversed the order of the editors' and news directors' top two stories — placing Obama's inauguration first and the economy second, but the two Top 10 lists had eight stories in common.
One notable difference was that Michael Jackson's death was No. 3 among Facebook voters, instead of seventh on the AP members' list.
Here are 2009's top 10 stories as voted by the U.S. editors and news directors:
_1. THE ECONOMY: Despite a $787 billion federal stimulus package, much of the U.S. economy continued to sputter throughout the year. The jobless rate topped 10 percent, scores of banks failed, the federal deficit tripled to a record $1.4 trillion, and stocks fell to their lowest levels since 1997 before rallying. Yet investment banks' profits surged, triggering public anger and efforts in Washington to crack down on Wall Street bonuses.
_2. OBAMA INAUGURATION: Inauguration Day in January was a moving moment for many Americans, as the nation's first black president took the oath of office. But Obama soon confronted the sobering realities of governing as he struggled to get the economy back on track and win support for his ambitious legislative priorities.
_3. HEALTH CARE: A sweeping overhaul of the U.S. health care system, extending coverage to millions of Americans now without it, was a top priority for Obama and majority Democrats in Congress. But Republicans were almost unanimously opposed, leading to complex, bitterly partisan showdowns in both chambers.
_4. AUTO INDUSTRY: It was an immensely challenging year for America's Big Three automakers. General Motors and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy, GM's CEO Rick Wagoner was ousted by the government, and Chrysler was pressured into an alliance with Italy's Fiat. Ford avoided bankruptcy, but its worldwide sales — like its competitors' — fell sharply.
_5. SWINE FLU: Swine flu struck tens of millions of people worldwide, worrying governments as supplies of vaccine failed to meet demand. In the United States, according to federal authorities, swine flu sickened an estimated 50 million people, hospitalized close to 200,000 and killed 10,000.
_6. AFGHANISTAN: Casualties on all sides mounted as U.S. forces, with their Afghan and NATO allies, battled the resilient Taliban. President Obama, after lengthy deliberations, opted to send 30,000 more troops. His decision was complicated by the disputed Afghan election, which prompted allegations of widespread fraud but resulted in President Hamid Karzai taking office for a second five-year term.
_7. MICHAEL JACKSON DIES: The "King of Pop" died at the age of 50, triggering grief and nostalgia among his legions of fans around the world. His doctor became the focus of a Los Angeles police homicide investigation after telling investigators he administered propofol, a powerful operating room anesthetic, to help the pop star sleep.
_8. FORT HOOD RAMPAGE: An Army psychiatrist, Maj. Nidal Hasan, was accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, a sprawling military base in Texas, before being seriously wounded by police gun fire. Investigations were launched to determine if authorities missed warning signs that might have prevented the rampage.
_9. EDWARD KENNEDY DIES. Sen. Edward Kennedy, who carried on the family legacy after the deaths of his three older brothers, died of brain cancer after a distinctive political career filled with highs and lows. Though his own presidential aspirations were thwarted, he earned bipartisan respect for decades of hard work in the Senate.
_10. MIRACLE ON HUDSON: A US Airways passenger jet, both its engines disabled, made an emergency ditching in the Hudson River, and all 155 on board survived in what was dubbed "The Miracle on the Hudson." The veteran pilot, Chesley Sullenberger, was hailed as a hero for averting a disaster.
Just missing the Top 10 was the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor as the first Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court.
The war and political turmoil in Iraq was voted the No. 16 story, the first time since 2001 that Iraq was not in the Top 10.
The results of Facebook voting closely resembled the AP members' choices; each Top 10 list had only two stories not on the other list. Sotomayor's confirmation and Iran — the tensions related to its election and nuclear program — were in the Facebook Top 10 but not the members' Top 10. The Fort Hood rampage and Afghanistan did not make the Facebook Top 10.
In both cases, several write-in votes were cast for a development that occurred too late to be included on the ballot — the scandal enveloping golfer Tiger Woods after he crashed his car outside his home early one morning and eventually confessed to marital infidelity.
Here are the Facebook voting results:
_1. Obama's inauguration.
_2. The U.S. economy.
_3. Michael Jackson dies.
_4. Miracle on the Hudson.
_5. Swine flu.
_6. Health care overhaul.
_7. Edward Kennedy dies.
_8. Auto industry woes.
_10. Sotomayor joins Supreme Court.