Monday, September 10, 2007

Top 25 Biggest News Stories

Our final Top 25 list features the biggest news stories of the past quarter-century. They're the ones that generated the largest headlines, the greatest change, the most vivid memories, the most immediate impact. You probably remember where you were when you heard about them. If your list differs, let us know at

1 Fall of communism (1989)

The Berlin Wall, which divided a city into a communist east and a non-communist west, was the most tangible symbol of a Cold War that divided the whole world. When it came down, it was proof that the war was over — and that the communists who built the wall had lost.

Carmen Taylor, AP

2 9/11 terrorist attacks (2001)

Islamic extremists turned four commercial jetliners into weapons of mass murder, obliterating two of the USA’s biggest office towers and punching a hole in its military headquarters. The attacks killed nearly 3,000 people, led to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and ushered in unprecedented national security measures.

3 Iraq war (2003-)

It was a war in two acts. First came a conventional conflict in which the United States and its allies quickly rolled over the forces of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Then came a protracted struggle against an insurgency that frustrated Americans like no war since Vietnam.

4 Hurricane Katrina (2005)

The costliest hurricane in U.S. history flooded New Orleans, scattered its residents and devastated the Mississippi and Alabama coastline. More than 1,700. people were killed.

Eric Draper, AP

5 O.J. Simpson (1994-95)

After Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman were murdered, the former football star was named a suspect and the case became a national obsession. Simpson, riding in a white Ford Bronco, led police on a nationally televised slow-speed chase. His criminal trial ended in a controversial acquittal.

6 2000 presidential election

Election Day 2000 was just the beginning of a five-week struggle to decide who had won. It came down to a 5-4 vote by the Supreme Court that ended a Florida recount and put Republican George W. Bush in the White House over Democrat Al Gore.

7 Clinton impeachment (1998-99)

The revelation of Bill Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky crippled his presidency. He first denied anything improper with “that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” then admitted he’d had a “wrong” relationship with her. The House impeached him on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice; the Senate acquitted him.

8 Afghanistan invasion (2001)

After the 9/11 attacks, President Bush vowed: “The people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” He made good on his promise. In the first stage of the “war on terrorism,” U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban regime that had harbored the al-Qaeda plotters. But terrorist Osama bin Laden has eluded capture.

9 Oklahoma City bombing (1995)

Homegrown terrorism struck the heartland. The truck bomb that destroyed the Murrah Federal Building was the work of Army veterans Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, who sympathized with the violently anti-federal militia movement. The blast killed 168 people and injured nearly 700.

10 Chernobyl disaster (1986)

Science fiction had warned of such an accident. At Chernobyl, fiction became fact when a Ukrainian nuclear power plant exploded, sending radioactive fallout over Europe. More than 330,000 people had to be resettled.

George Kochaniec, (Denver) Rocky Mountain News/AP

11 Columbine massacre (1999)

Most Americans once assumed their kids were safe at school. Then came the shootings at Columbine High School near Denver. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and a teacher, then committed suicide. It was a precursor to 2007’s massacre at Virginia Tech, where 33 people died.

Jerome Delay, AP

12 Death of Diana (1997)

“The people’s princess” was a complex personification of glamour, innocence and tragedy. Her death in a Paris car crash evoked extraordinary public expressions of grief; her funeral at Westminster Abbey drew more than a million mourners and a worldwide television audience.

Roslan Rahman, AFP

13 Asian tsunami (2004)

The peace of Christmas was shattered by tragedy on the other side of the world. A Dec. 26 earthquake — among the largest ever recorded — triggered a devastating Indian Ocean tsunami. Nearly 230,000 were killed or reported missing, and global relief efforts topped $6 billion.

14 Persian Gulf War (1991)

After Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and ignored a deadline to withdraw, a U.S.-led coalition invaded. The ground battle was won in a few days at the cost of 148 American lives. Tens of thousands of Iraqis died. Saddam was driven from oil-rich Kuwait but kept power at home.

15 Rodney King (1991-92)

The video was shocking: white Los Angeles police officers stood around a black man on the ground, pummeling him. Rodney King was a parolee who had kept driving when police tried to pull him over. The acquittal of four officers on brutality charges sparked riots that left more than 50 people dead.

16 Branch Davidians (1993)

At least 80 members of the Branch Davidian sect were killed during a 51-day standoff outside Waco, Texas. It began when federal agents tried to arrest group leader David Koresh for stockpiling guns and explosives. The compound exploded in flames after the FBI sprayed tear gas and the Davidians began shooting; a federal investigation said the Davidians started the fire.

Bruce Weaver, AP

17 Challenger explosion (1986)

Christa McAuliff was going to be the first teacher in space. But 73 seconds after launch, the space shuttle blew apart, killing all seven astronauts. The TV images horrified the world. Disaster hit the program again in 2003, when seven astronauts died aboard the shuttle Columbia.

Jeff Widener, AP

18 Tiananmen Square (1989)

The spirit of China’s student-led pro-democracy protests was dramatized by one scene: a lone man standing defiantly before a column of tanks in the heart of Beijing. But military force prevailed; communist leaders crushed the protests, killing hundreds, possibly thousands.

19 Rwandan genocide (1994)

Neighbor killed neighbor, sometimes with a machete. More than 500,000 people died in about 100 days in government-orchestrated violence that grew out of a civil war. Despite news coverage, the international community did not stop it.

20 Nelson Mandela (1990)

Rarely has anyone suffered so much and for so long with so little apparent bitterness. The South African nationalist, spent 27 years in prison under the white racist regime; his release in 1990 was the beginning of apartheid’s end. Later, as president, he used his position not for revenge, but reconciliation.

21 Iran-contra affair (1986-87)

The biggest scandal since Watergate dogged the last years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Funds from secret U.S. arms sales to Iran were diverted to finance a Central American war run from the White House. The system was an attempt to circumvent Congress, which had cut off aid to the contra rebels in Marxist Nicaragua.

22 Beirut Marine barracks bombing (1983)

It was an early glimpse of what would become a recurrent horror: suicide bombings in the Middle East. A truck bomb destroyed the barracks, killing 241 U.S. servicemembers. The troops had gone to Beirut as peacekeepers; the bombing eventually led to their departure.

23 Terri Schiavo. (2005)

In 1990, Schiavo suffered brain damage that left her in a persistent vegetative state. Eight years later, her husband asked a court to have a feeding tube removed. Her parents objected, touching off a legal battle that culminated in a political and media free-for-all. The tube was removed in March 2005; Schiavo died 13 days later.

24 Gay marriage (2003)

Same-sex marriage took one step forward and several steps back. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s 2003 ruling that granted homosexuals the right to marry sparked a backlash. The next year, 11 states passed bans on same-sex.

25 Pan Am Flight 103 (1988)

Explosives hidden in a suitcase destroyed a jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people. Many of the 189 Americans aboard were students or military personnel coming home for Christmas. A former Libyan intelligence officer was convicted, and Libya accepted responsibility for the bombing.

Source: USA TODAY reporting and writing by Rick Hampson. Photo research by Kate Patterson, Evan Eile and Jud McCrehin USA TODAY.