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 b lack 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.
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 Ari zona 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. 9) 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.
Downfalls in the sports world also set searches afire, from the doping confession of Lance Armstrong to the appalling death of Oscar Pistorius' girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. The one that sent shock waves online, however, was the arrest of Aaron Hernandez. The promising New England Patriots tight end had earned All-American honors in college, although his drug use and suspected gang ties had dragged him down to a fourth-round pick. Still, the Patriots took a chance. Three years later, the organization was offering free exchanges for No. 81 jerseys, after Hernandez was accused of killing his friend, semi-pro player Odin Lloyd. He might face more than one trial, as investigations tie him to other unsolved homicides.
[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.
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.
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, ultimat ely 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 for the slideshow)
1. Jodi Arias trial
2. Obamacare (Affordable Care Act)
3. Boston Marathon bombing
4 Royal baby birth
4 Royal baby birth
5. George Zimmerman trial
6. Syria civil war
7. North Korea missile threats
8. Papal transition
9. Paula Deen lawsuit
10. Aaron Hernandez arrest