After a bruising election campaign that took a good part of two years, America deserved a rest. The country didn’t get one, unless you count the government shutdown — which almost made the year’s ranking of the most-searched news stories on Yahoo.
What did make our annual list reminds us what a raucous, exhausting 2013 we had: not one but two notorious court trials, a national health care plan, conflicts both domestic and international, scandals in the entertainment and celebrity worlds, plus a couple of welcome newcomers. And you should see what didn’t make the list. (Well, actually, you can here.)
Take a look at what the year has wrought — and explore more at our Year in Review special edition.
[Related: Scroll through our Top 10 News stories slideshow]
If anyone renewed those idyllic 2008 claims that a black president proved that America’s race problems were behind us, one only had to look at raging commentary over interracial crime statistics or racial profiling that the George Zimmerman trial (No. 5) provoked.
Supporters cast Zimmerman as a citizen who put down a thug, but antagonists saw a trigger-happy racist. After his acquittal, Zimmerman stayed in the headlines when his wife of seven years filed for divorce from her “selfish” husband and when he was arrested on domestic violence charges involving his new girlfriend.
As for the president himself, Barack Obama gave a rare and candid insight into his experience as an African-American male. He also said the justice system had done its job: Divided the nation might be about the acquittal, the initial injustice of Sanford police failing to file charges over the death of Trayvon Martin had been remedied — albeit spurred by an online petition. A petition, at least in this day and age, does not render a verdict, but it can ask for justice.
[Related: A slideshow of the year’s biggest trials]
It was more classic courtroom drama that made the Jodi Arias trial (No. 1) the most-searched news story on Yahoo (and the defendant herself among the top 10 most searched terms of 2013). The live-streamed, five-month media circus, which cost Arizona taxpayers nearly $1.7 million, didn’t end with the May 7 guilty verdict in the murder of Arias’ boyfriend Travis Alexander. The jury was deadlocked — 8-4 — on a death sentence. Despite having to wade through lies, the jurors did lay some credence in her abuse claims. As the foreman explained, “You don’t put people to death for being stupid. You don’t put people to death for lying.” There’s no date set yet for sentencing but this time, no cameras will stream the penalty phase.
Searchers also gravitated to a case that never made it to court. Beloved for her Southern blunt charms and caloric bombs, celebrity chef Paula Deen made some remarkable missteps when a deposition from discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit (No. 10) surfaced.
Hesitation in downplaying her casual defense of racial epithets, brother Bubba’s use of them as well as porn consumption at work, and her nostalgia for an antebellum plantation theme cost Deen her sponsors and ultimately her Food Network show. Ultimately the lawsuit, filed by a white female who used to manage the Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House, was dismissed, although there may have been a settlement. Deen has had her defenders, but fleeing sponsors might have resulted in a loss of more than $10 million.
[Related: Scroll through 2013 Top 10 Searches on Yahoo]
Not Getting Involved
After years of judicial, political and budget challenges, the Affordable Care Act, more often referred to as Obamacare (No. 2), was due to launch, but not before opponents sunk their teeth two more times: first by tying the debt ceiling vote to defunding the Affordable Care Act, then investigating the beleaguered launch of the national site, HealthCare.gov.
Technical glitches and reports of insurance companies canceling plans led to a House hearing with curious comparisons to the “Wizard of Oz,” which might or might not have been inspired by Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ birthplace of Kansas. Amid grilling that could have been scripted by news parody shows, people soldiered online to look for state exchanges and get a straight quote, once and for all. Nearly 48 million Americans under 65 are not insured.
A different kind of debate about government involvement raged around Syria. Despite reports of chemical weapons, polls showed Americans shied away from military involvement and offered skeptical support for diplomacy in Syria. With more than 100,000 dead and nearly 9 million refuges, peace talks might at last begin in Jan. 22.
That North Korea ranked so highly in news story searches on Yahoo might be surprising. Then again, that there was any teeth to that autocratic regime’s threats surprised many. Nearly half of its population — 24 million — live in poverty and its last supreme leader, the late Kim Jong-Il, didn’t intimidate what with his pompadour, platform shoes and those periodic missile launches that fell miles off-target.
Until this year, when the country — under his son and leader Kim Jong Un — performed successful nuclear tests, called the U.S. a “sworn enemy” and declared war with its southern neighbor. North Korea even disregarded requests from long-time supporter China. Analysts now believe that North Korean missiles exist and pose a threat.
It’s a boy. Make that two of them.
Two institutions — and searchers — welcomed newcomers, one expected for at least nine months, the other a shocker.
On Feb. 11, Pope Benedict XVI decided to call it quits – in Latin, of course. The announcement sent the Vatican scrambling to find a replacements and armchair historians in a tizzy. (First time in 598 years! What do you call a retired pope! Can he even do this!).
Papal watchers expected plenty of time to read signs like the seagull perched atop the Sistine Chapel, but the elderly cardinals pumped out the white smoke declaring “Habemus Papam” in a little more than 24 hours — the kind of speedy decision-making that Americans could envy (but shouldn’t, since envy’s a sin). Out emerged Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Latin America, the offspring of Italian immigrants. Whispers circulated about his connections to the Argentinian church’s failures during the Dirty War, but his famously low-key lifestyle, his homage to St. Francis of Assisi and acts of humility soon endeared him to millions. Pope Francis even won liberal spectators when he urged a shift to relieving poverty instead of decrying homosexuality, premarital sex and abortion. Time magazine named him its person of the year.
For those who feast on fairy tales, the royal baby was that “happily ever after” for the Duchess and Duke of Cambridge. George Alexander Louis, third to the throne, arrived to a great global frenzy. His coming was well-timed, even if baby watchers became a bit restless when the rumored birth date came and went: George emerged in the heat of summer, the same year as the Diamond Jubilee, and at a time when the British economy needed another boost. Those befuddled or downright outraged by royalist worship once again stirred up the issues about class (and Duchess Kate’s “commoner” status), feminism, motherhood and that whole throne thing. Online, George’s coming invited a look back at his namesake forebears as well as interest in the grandmother he would never see, Princess Diana.
Farewell to kings
The global struggle for civil rights, while never ending, had a few milestones to celebrate this year. Americans observed the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the gathering for workers’ rights at the Mall. The other was the 95th birthday of Nelson Mandela (No. 9), the South African freedom fighter who became that country’s first black president.
Mandela’s health had been frail before his July birthday, but he lived long enough to see the global outpouring of heartfelt wishes, as well as a Hollywood movie based on his life. On Dec. 5, he joined the list of key leaders who passed this year, among them Hugo Chavez (March 5) and Margaret Thatcher (April 8). Mandela had never pretended to sainthood, although he took political advantage of his stature. Yet his eye was always for the greater good, the good that would always be bigger than just one man.
[Related: Video: Remembering those we lost]
Boston Strong, America united
As split as we were in our Capitol and our courtrooms, a horrific bombing united Americans.
On Patriot’s Day, more than 23,000 Boston Marathon runners wended through the historic city. Two brothers, whose family immigrated to Massachusetts in 2002, allegedly set down a backpack near the finish line. Homemade bombs created from pressure cookers exploded, ultimately killing three and injuring 264.
The bombers picked the wrong city. Boston is America’s historic backbone, a mix of Yankee pragmatism, working-class toughness and intellectual know-how. It might be ideal symbol in a terror plot, but in reality its pugilistic spirit can’t be cowed. Victims were rushed within minutes to America’s most prestigious hospitals. Within days, police tracked down the brothers in a manhunt that left MIT officer Sean collier and elder brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev dead.
Liberty watchers protested the city shutdown, and social news service Reddit had to apologize when its citizen policing bled into vigilantism. The White House launched an investigation about what happened to Russia’s earlier warnings about Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Families grieved.
But Boston rallied behind its motto, Boston Strong. And in a city wild about its sports, the Red Sox vowed to dedicate its season to its city and won the World Series on its home turf — and broke the curse of the Bambino.
Top 10 News stories (click here for the slideshow)
1. Jodi Arias trial
Unlike the George Zimmerman trial, the criminal case of Jodi Arias was more “classic” courtroom drama — albeit played out on social media and live-streamed. The gory stock and trade of HLN, the trial focused on Arias as a possible sociopath who killed her boyfriend in a jealous rage or an abused woman with a tenuous hold on reality. (Rob Schumacher/Arizona Republic/Reuters)
2. Obamacare (Affordable Care Act)
Americans pay more for health care than other industrialized countries, yet they are afforded less care because of costs. Millions also lack health insurance. Obamacare, though, has been a lightning rod since the president signed the executive order in 2010. The ACA survived a Supreme Court challenge and a presidential election, but it buckled under technical glitches. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
3. Boston Marathon bombing
On Patriots’ Day, as more than 23,000 runners wended through historic Boston, two brothers allegedly set off a homemade bomb near the finish line, killing three and injuring 264. They picked the wrong city. Within days, police tracked down the Tsarnaev brothers, one of whom died in the chaos. The survivor, in solitary confinement, faces trial in 2014. (David L. Ryan/Boston Globe/Getty)
4. Royal baby birth
Britain topped a 30-year high in births in 2012. The Duchess of Cambridge did her part to maintain the momentum this year: Her pregnancy injected an estimated $347 million to an otherwise sluggish economy and taught impatient royalists that babies come when they come. The wee babe carries a big title: His Royal Highness Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge. (John Stillwell/Pool/Getty Images)
5. George Zimmerman trial
The July 13 acquittal of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, charged with second-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, did little to resolve America’s hot-button issues. The trial inflamed issues that run magma-deep in the nation’s foundation, among them race, crime, territorial defense and justice. (John Minchillo/AP)
6. Syria civil war
Fueled by the Arab Spring, Syrian protests have devolved into a brutal civil war with more than 2 million refugees and 120,000 others killed in a country of 21.1 million. The use of sarin, whose prohibition Syria had agreed to in 1993, nearly brought direct U.S. action. Peace talks have been scheduled for January 2014. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)
7. North Korea missile threats
Nearly half of North Korea’s population lives in poverty. Its former leader ill-treated his own people and blustered plenty to outsiders, but the country’s wretched backwardness seemed unlikely to produce any weaponry — until this year. Under Kim Jong Un, North Korea defied sanctions to launch nuclear tests, missiles and threats of war. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
8. Papal transition
Mario Jorge Bergoglio, a former papal candidate, found himself in the Holy See when Pope Benedict opted for a centuries-first retirement package. His homage to St. Francis of Assisi and humility endeared Pope Francis to millions. He won over more liberal spectators with his urgings to relieve poverty rather than decry homosexuality, premarital sex and abortion. (Osservatore Romano/Reuters)
9. Death of Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela died Dec. 5 at age 95, leaving a legacy that extended far beyond ending 46 years of apartheid in South Africa. He inspired generations around the world to fight not just for racial equality, but for inclusiveness. More than 91 world leaders, the largest gathering in the continent’s history, made their way to his memorial. (Thibault Camus/AP Photo)
10. Paula Deen lawsuit
Paula Deen’s jovial Southern charm earned the celebrity chef a following that was tested by revelations in a racial discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former employee against Deen and her brother. They settled in August, but not before the Food Network dropped Deen, after a deposition revealed she implicitly condoned racially charged language. (Peter Kramer/NBC/Getty)
The story has been updated to reflect the search surge that pushed the death of world leader Nelson Mandela to No. 9, displacing the Paula Deen lawsuit. Read about the Aaron Hernandez arrest, originally at No. 10, and other major news stories in Not the top 10 news stories of 2013.