THE MASSIVE GULF OF MEXICO oil spill, triggered by a deadly blast at a rig used by BP, was the top news story of 2010, followed by the divisive health care overhaul, according to The Associated Press’ annual poll of editors and news directors.
The oil spill received 54 first-place votes out of 180 ballots cast for the top 10 stories. The health care bill was next, with 30 first-place votes. The U.S. election was third.
In fourth place was the U.S. economy, which had been voted the top story of 2009.
Here are 2010’s top 10 stories, in order:
1. GULF OIL DISASTER: The April 20 explosion at a BP-leased rig killed 11 workers and unleashed a deep-sea spill that ultimately spewed at least 170 million gallons of crude into the Gulf. Consequences included devastation for fishing and tourism industries, a huge and costly cleanup effort, a management change at BP and creation of a $20 billion fund to pay for damages.
2. HEALTH CARE OVERHAUL: After bitter political wrangling, President Obama was able to sign into law one of his major campaign promises — a $1 trillion health care overhaul intended to expand coverage to more Americans. But Republicans used public misgivings about parts of the plan as a springboard for election gains, and the overhaul faced a welter of lawsuits challenging its constitutionality.
3. U.S. ELECTIONS: President Obama called it a “shellacking” — an election in which the Republicans surged to a majority in the House of Representatives, and gained more governor’s offices and legislative majorities. The Democrats were able to hang on to their edge in the Senate, leaving the U.S. with at least two years of divided government.
4. U.S. ECONOMY: Economists said the deepest recession since the Great Depression was over, and consumers began to spend more as the year neared a close. But the unemployment rate stayed well above 9 percent, and home prices were weighed down by foreclosures and sluggish demand.
5. HAITI EARTHQUAKE: Already the Western Hemisphere’s most destitute nation, Haiti was shattered by an earthquake on Jan. 12 that killed at least 230,000 and left millions homeless. Crucial reconstruction projects were slow to get started; disease and political instability added to the woes.
6. TEA PARTY MOVEMENT: Though it lacked the trappings of traditional political organizations, the tea party movement had a profound impact on the 2010 election, influencing the stances of Republican leaders and enabling some maverick challengers to oust GOP establishment candidates in the primaries.
7. CHILE MINE RESCUE: In a year of disasters and squabbles, this was a miraculous feel-good story. Trapped nearly a half-mile underground for 69 days after an Aug. 5 mine collapse, 33 Chilean miners were freed one-by-one while an entranced global audience watched on television.
8. IRAQ: U.S. forces formally ended their combat role and looked ahead to planned withdrawal, while Iraqis endured months of bitter political haggling after an election that failed to heal Sunni-Shiite divisions.
9. WIKILEAKS: First came the online postings of a huge batch of U.S. military documents from Iraq and Afghanistan, Then WikiLeaks started releasing a cache of classified State Department diplomatic cables, creating embarrassment for Washington in its dealings with other nations.
10. AFGHANISTAN: After months of deliberation, President Obama ordered a troop surge in a major bid to turn the tide of the nearly 10-year-old war. Intense fighting pushed the Taliban out of some longtime strongholds, but the militants remained resilient, and Afghanistan remained beset by corruption and ineffectual government.
IT WAS A YEAR of dramatic and diverse news events. Among the stories that didn’t make the top 10 were Arizona’s enactment of a tough law against illegal immigration, the European fiscal crisis, a Supreme Court ruling freeing corporations and unions to fund election ads targeting candidates, floods in Pakistan that affected 20 million people and the volcanic eruption in Iceland that caused trans-Atlantic air travel chaos.
“We wish we could have voted for a top 15 or 20, there were so many compelling stories this year,” wrote news editor Larry Lockhart of the Casa Grande Dispatch in Arizona.
Jessica Runnels Rourk, an editor at The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., said the health care overhaul was a catalyst for other major political events.
“Conservative anger over the law gave rise to the tea party movement, and the law itself became a symbol of the lack of bipartisanship in Congress that cost incumbents from both parties in November’s elections,” she noted.