Top Ten Stories of 2006

While natural disasters dominated the news in 2005, it was the war in Iraq which seized the most headlines in 2006. Noting that what was a "supposedly straightforward drive to topple Saddam Hussein deteriorated during 2006," U.S. editors and news directors picked the lethal conflict as the year's top story in The Associated Press' (AP) annual survey.

The U.S. mid-term elections, which many viewed as a referendum on the war, was voted the second most important story. According to a number of commentators, it was the national unhappiness with events in Iraq that was one of the key factors behind the Democrat party's surge in the Nov. 7 election. Foreign policy concerns, such as the nuclear standoffs with Iran and N. Korea, Saddam Hussein's conviction, fighting in the Mideast, and the disaster in Sudan's Darfur region were prominently featured in the top ten stories.

The Pew Research Center found that the American public paid very close attention to the summer's high gas prices, rating it the top item in its News Interest Index. In May, just before the summer driving season, a full 69 percent of respondents indicated that they were watching prices "very closely." As in the AP survey, foreign-based stories filled most positions in the top ten, with 54 percent indicating that the reported British airline hijack plot that was foiled in August was a definite matter of concern. Other topics attracting attention: North Korea's announcement of a purported nuclear test (45 percent); news about Iraq (44 percent); and the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah (40 percent).

The annual Tyndall Report, which tracks coverage by the three major U.S. TV network nightly news shows, pointed out that a gradual three-year decline in Iraq coverage was reversed in 2006, with networks focusing more intensely on the continuing combat and less on reconstruction prospects. The fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon garnered second place. Last year's top story, Hurricane Katrina, made an appearance at the third spot, as the networks extensively covered the aftermath of the storm along the Gulf Coast.

According to Tyndall, the most "newsworthy" woman of the year was current Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who surpassed Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Rodham Clinton as D.C.’s most powerful female. The most newsworthy man was Sheikh Hassan Nasrullah, leader of Hezbollah, who's prestige grew in the aftermath of the perceived defeat of Israeli ground forces in Lebanon.

Illegal immigration was an issue which appeared on most of the top ten lists. Congress failed to reach a consensus on how to deal with the influx of immigrants from Latin America, as legislative efforts collapsed over disagreements on whether to stress a crackdown or include provisions to help some illegal immigrants work toward citizenship. Stoking national interest in immigration, huge protests — mainly in California — were organized by immigration-rights advocates.

Top Ten Lists

The Associated Press
survey of U.S. editors

1. Iraq
2. U.S. Election
3. Nuclear Standoffs
4. Illegal Immigration
5. Congressional Scandals
6. Saddam Convicted
7. Mideast Fighting
8. Rumsfeld Resigns
9. Airliner Plot
10. Disaster in Darfur

The Pew Research Center: U.S. News Interest Index

1. High Gasoline Prices
2. Airliner Plot
3. WV Miners' Deaths
4. Midterm Election
5. School Shootings
6. N. Korea Nuclear Test
7. Iraq News
8. Immigration Issue
9. Arabs Running U.S. ports
10. Israel-Hezbollah Conflict

The Hankyoreh Shinmun
S. Korea

1. Rise in Female Power
2. Japan's Rightist Government
3. European-Islamic Conflict
4. Democrats Control Congress
5. Africa New Resources Power
6. User-created Content Fever
7. Iraq War
8. China's Rapid Development
9. Latin America's Leftist Leaders
10. Climate Changes

The Tyndall Report: Year in Review 2006

1. Iraq — Combat Continues
2. Israel-Hezbollah Conflict
3. Hurricane Katrina Aftermath
4. Hijacked jets Kamikaze Attacks
5. Oil, Natural Gas, Gasoline Prices
6. Illegal Immigration Legislation
7. Iraq — Sectarian Violence
8. Risk to War-zone Journalists
9. Campaign 2006
10. N. Korea Nuclear Weapons

Time Magazine: Top Ten Underreported Stories — 2006

1. Islamist Takeover in Somalia
2. Tuberculosis Gets Even Scarier
3. Intelligence Community Reforms
4. Congo's Still-ravaged State
5. Civilian Casualties in Iraq
6. Effort to rebuild Afghanistan
7. Number of Americans jailed
8. U.S. troops willing to reenlist
9. Insurgency in India
10. Middle-class Neighborhoods Shrinking

Doctors Without Borders: Most Underreported Humanitarian Crises of 2006

· Somalis Trapped by War and Disaster
· Fleeing Violence in the Central African Republic
· Increasing Human Toll Taken by Tuberculosis
· Consequences of Bitter Conflict in Chechnya
· Civilians Under Fire in Sri Lanka While Assistance is Limited
· Effective Strategies for Treating Malnutrition Not Implemented
· Congolese Endure Extreme Deprivation and Violence
· Living in Fear in Colombia
· Violence Rages in Haiti's Volatile Capital
· Clashes in Central India

It was hardly a banner year for politicians, as scandals and resignations involving such prominent figures as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld garnered a healthy share of interest from both the media and populace. Rumsfeld's departure was tied to the Iraq war, as he was seen by many as a polarizing figure who grossly underestimated the challenges presented by the war.

Congressman Mark Foley, Republican of Florida, resigned after his part in a sex scandal involving House pages was revealed. Another Republican, Randy Cunningham of California, pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from defense contractors. Former Republican House Majority Leader Tom Delay resigned after being indicted on campaign finance charges in Texas, and Ohio's Bob Ney pleaded guilty in connection with the Jack Abramoff probe.

Underreported Stories

Lists from Time magazine and Doctors Without Borders focused on important stories that were not extensively covered in the mainstream media. Among the top items in both lists was the rising death toll around the world caused by tuberculosis. According to Time, "Worldwide, tuberculosis — a bacterial lung disease spread mainly by coughing — kills one person every 18 seconds. And because HIV activates latent TB infection, tuberculosis has become the leading cause of AIDS-related deaths in the developing world. ... One severely resistant strain that emerged in southern Africa this year is virtually impossible to treat."

Doctors Without Borders concentrated on a number of poor countries who's citizens harsh daily existence receives scant mention in the West: Somalia, the Central African Republic, Chechnya, Sri Lanka, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia and Haiti.

Of Somalia, it was reported that: "... it is estimated that life expectancy is 47 years and more than one quarter of children die before their fifth birthday. ... Few aid agencies choose to work in Somalia, though, because violence is so widespread and the country's clan structure so complex."

Time noted that the horrific number of casualties reported by a peer-reviewed Johns Hopkins study, which calculated some 600,000 Iraqis had died from war-related violence since March 2003, was summarily dismissed by the White House. Also reported was a growing Maoist insurgency in India, and the severe shrinkage of middle-class neighborhoods in the U.S.

A View from Outside the U.S.

South Korean newspaper, The Hankyoreh Shinmun, in its "World's top 10 news stories in 2006" paid tribute to the rising power that women wielded in governments around the world. Citing female politicians such as Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal, the U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, and Senator Hillary Clinton, the newspaper posited that, "'Female power' has swept the world."

The list also noted a marked increase in the conflict between European and Islamic cultures, headlined by the Iraq war. The editorial said: "Danish cartoons satirizing the Islam prophet Mohammed, Pope Benedict XVI's controversial remarks regarding Mohammed, and a controversy surrounding the wearing of traditional Islamic dress in European public places have split Europe and Islam."

Africa's projected emergence as a major supplier of oil also made the top 10 list. The long-suffering continent was called "the last 'growth engine' on the Earth." However, the poor infrastructure, high rates of HIV infection, and a corrupt power base were cited as reasons to be cautious about the continent's growth prospects. Other notable 2006 trends included the "frenzy" surrounding user-created Internet content, China's continued rapid growth, the wave of leftist leaders elected in Latin America, and the many manifestations of climate change around the globe.

In other year-in-review lists, "Top Google News Searches, 2006" were: 1) Paris Hilton; 2) Orlando Bloom; 3) Cancer; 4) Podcasting; 5) Hurricane Katrina; 6) Bankruptcy; 7) Martina Hingis; 8) Autism; 9) 2006 NFL draft; and 10) Celebrity Big Brother 2006.

Yahoo's "Top 10 News Story Searches" were: 1) Steve Irwin death; 2) Anna Nicole's son dies; 3) Iraq; 4) Israel and Lebanon; 5) U.S. elections; 6) Fidel Castro stroke; 7) North Korea nukes; 8) JonBenet confession; 9) Saddam Hussein trial; and 10) Danish cartoon controversy.