U.S. Economy Tops AP’s List As Top News Story of 2009

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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The economy, which has superseded other issues as Americans’ No. 1 concern, received 61 first-place votes out of 117 ballots cast for the top 10 stories.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 black 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.

Here are 2009’s top 10 stories as voted by the 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 was a moving moment for many Americans, as the nation’s first black president took the oath of office. Obama soon confronted the realities of governing as he struggled to 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, was a top priority for Obama and majority Democrats in Congress. Republicans were almost unanimously opposed, leading to complex, bitterly partisan showdowns in both chambers.

4. The auto industry

It was a 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 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 U.S., 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 military base in Texas, before being 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 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 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 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.

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