Stop the Presses!
With the advent of 24 hour news-channels in the 80’s, starting with Ted Turner’s CNN, the news-cycle essentially began to be referred to as a 24 hour cycle. If there was a political scandal, for example, the people involved in that scandal were often told to just ride out the negativity for a day as that’s about as long as the news would cover it, or at least as long as it would be the their top story. With the internet coming into prominence in the early 90’s but especially after the turn of the millenium, we essentially live in a world where news is non-stop and almost overwhelming. While big stories can still dominate headlines there are so many stories from so many places,unless it’s something huge it’s not going to stay on-top of those headlines for very long. So, with that in mind, let’s delve into those types of stories and cover the top 15 news stories since the beginning of the 20th Century.
15. The Wright Brother’s Take Flight
For about as long as mankind has existed we’ve all looked up in the sky and wished that we could fly while birds condescendingly did so with smirks on their smug beaks. So, when it was announced in 1903 that brother’s Wilbur and Orville recorded the first powered flight, it changed human history forever. Their historic flight took place on December 16th about four miles south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina with what was the first practical fixed-wing aircraft. While they are generally credited with that accomplishment they’re not the first to build and fly an experimental aircraft, they were just the first to invent controls that made all of it possible. Their breakthrough was the invention of the three-axis control which enabled the pilot to steer the aircraft while maintaining equilibrium and it’s the same method used today that’s responsible for a surprising amount of other stories on this list (in wars, delivering atom bombs, 9/11). So, when it was announced that man had essentially learned how to fly, imagine how people reacted. Perhaps not surprisingly some, especially those in Europe (mostly France) openly derided the Brothers and called them liars and bluffers. The Paris edition of the New York Herald said the following after the news broke: “The Wrights have flown or they have not flown. They possess a machine or they do not possess one. They are in fact either fliers or liars. It is difficult to fly. It’s easy to say, ‘We have flown.'”, they had to print a retraction after the Wright Brothers showed up and flew in France in 1908.
14. Election Night – 2000
One of the biggest “What If’s” in history is the outcome of the Presidential Election in the year 2000 between then Vice President Al Gore and Governor of the State of Texas George W. Bush. The election night that year (and the subsequent fall-out that only ended after the Supreme Court got involved) was a complete disaster. The drama that surrounded the State of Florida, the winner of which would win the Presidency. The confusion started that night when multiple news agencies initially predicted that Al Gore had won the state of Florida and thus the Presidency, but after Fox News claimed that W. Bush had actually won, the other news sources retracted their prediction (which had never happened before, or since) and stated that the race was “too close to call”. After a night of humming and hawing, W. Bush was eventually declared as the winner This created a gigantic legal battle which lead to a recount in Florida that was overseen by the Attorney General (who was a Republican) and eventually the Supreme Court. While W. Bush ended up winning by a mere 500 and some votes, according to the Supreme Court; many Gore supporters felt cheated by the process. One thing is for certain though, the winners of the entire kerfuffle (besides Bush) were the news networks whose round the clock coverage was watched by millions more people than usual. Those of us old enough to remember being in school at the time remember different results from different steps in the process being announced over PA systems at our schools, which should go to show you just what a big story this was.
13. Baby Jessica
Probably the least impactful story on this list, the story of Baby Jessica captivated the world back in the fall of 1987. Jessica McClure, who was 18 months old at the time, fell down a well. You know all those jokes about kids/people falling down wells you’ve seen referenced in movies/TV/flip books? That’s because of Baby Jessica. The 58-consecutive-hour rescue attempt was broadcast live and captivated the world. This story was so huge that it essentially created CNN, which was a small, fledgling network at the time but whose 24-hour news style took complete advantage of the non-stop rescue effort. Ronald Reagan, who was President at the time stated “everybody in America became godmothers and godfathers of Jessica while this was going on.” Jessica was eventually rescued with only a few injuries (A scar on her forehead and an amputated toe), she (obviously) has no recollection of the incident, either. The rescue had a tremendous impact on everyone involved and had it happened a few months earlier it could’ve gone the other way as the new technology, waterjet cutting, was a huge part of the rescue operation and had literally just recently been invented.
12. World War I Begins
As it’s been mentioned in this article, WWII totally overshadows WWI and that’s not really fair as WWI was equally horrible. The history behind what lead to the First World War is a very interesting one as there were a ton of alliances over in the old world between European, Middle Eastern and African countries. The start of the war is typically attributed to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the subsequent rebellion in his home country of Austria. Because each European country essentially had a NATO-esque “If you attack one of us you attack all of us” set of alliances, things started to escalate and spin out of control. By the end of it, 32 countries were part of a war that mixed old-school 19th century military strategy with new war technology that included machine guns and chemical weapons. Because military strategy hadn’t caught up with the new technology, countless millions were simply mowed down after riding directly into machine gun fire. That lead to the advent of trench warfare which was equally as horrible. This war changed the map of the world and was essentially the reason WWII started, so you might as well call WWII, World War 1.5.
11. Challenger Explosion
Multiple stories on this list involved students who watched the events live or heard about them on the PA systems of their schools. The Challenger is no different and because of that it’s even more depressing than it otherwise would’ve been. Adults who were students at the time recall watching the Challenger spacecraft (which wouldn’t have been possible without the discovery of the Wright Brothers, another entry on this list) launch and seeing it explode live on the televisions at the front of their classrooms, which was tramatizing for most but not all. By the time the Challenger rolled around in the 80’s, the awe and spectacle of space travel was replaced by boredom and “I’ve seen this before”-itis. So, when the Challenger exploded it has been reported that many children actually cheered and high-fived each other as opposed to being traumatized. While you don’t really hope for children to be traumatized you also don’t want them to be so desensitized that they’re cheering for the death of astronauts (and a teacher who was also onboard). Another part of the story what wasn’t widely reported at the time was that some of the astronauts survived the initial explosion only to die when they hit the ocean. That’s because NASA wanted it that way, but they did eventually concede that at least three of the crew members were alive and conscious after the explosion and during the few MINUTES it took for the ship to fall back to earth and crash into the Atlantic Ocean. The last word heard on the flight recorded was “uh oh” and multiple emergency personal air paks were turned on, which means that once the cabin lost pressure and the crew members lost their ability to breathe openly, which was after the explosion mind you, they manually had to turn on their back-up oxygen. Either way the largest disaster in NASA history to that point was all caught on video and that helped this story blow up (unintentional pun), but considering it was the first disaster of it’s kind as well in America, it would’ve been a huge story regardless.
10. “I’m Not Black I’m OJ”
It’s hard to explain to people that weren’t alive in the 90’s what it was like during the OJ Simpson trial. The affable former NFL running back that was known for his role in comedic movies and multiple television commercials was arrested and charged with the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and a friend/acquaintance of hers, Ronald Goldman, who was a server at a restaurant Nicole frequented. So many things made this such a big story: the two were murdered so gruesomely, Simpson was such a big star, and the races of the accused and the dead were black and white (respectively), the fact that OJ (and AC, Damn it!) lead the police on a slow speed chase throughout LA County AND the trial occurred a few years after the Rodney King beating/Los Angeles Riots. Given all that, the entire process had Trial of the Century written all over it. The proceedings were aired live on television and like the Challenger explosion before it, the verdict for the trial was shown live in the class-rooms of many a student across the country. The trial captivated and divided the nation simultaneously with most white American’s believing that he was guilty, while black American’s believing that he was innocent. The trial introduced the idea of DNA to a ton of not scientifically inclined people and was seen almost as a psuedo-science by many, including the defense who argued that it was either that or a result of tainted samples. Regardless of where you stand on OJ’s innocence, the verdict was completely shocking for everyone. And while it was a complete circus even before , it was the verdict and OJ’s subsequent hunt for “the real killers” that pushed this moment over the top and onto this list. The circus surrounding OJ’s parole hearing (for a different crime) this past week proves that OJ is still a “star.”
9. The Death of Bin Laden
Osama Bin Laden is responsible for two spots on this list for a reason. As the leader of Al Qaeda, Bin Laden was responsible for countless terrorist attacks across the world, but is best known for his role in the terrorist attack that occurred on September 11th, 2001. While we will go into that horrific event below, it’s worth noting that Bin Laden single-handedly changed the future of the world. After the 9/11 attacks, the word is that the US Army had Bin Laden cornered in the hills of Tora Bora, Afghanistan. The US Army, on December 6th through December 17th (2001) had Bin Laden cornered and even intercepted his voice on the radio multiple times. For whatever reason, the US (and Allied) forces defaulted to the Afghan Northern Alliance in terms of actually finishing the job of catching Bin Laden. A truce was negotiated between Al Qaeda and the Northern Alliance and it was during this time that Bin Laden escaped to Pakistan (where he stayed hidden for over a decade). In what will be remembered as President Barack Obama’s finest moment, he ignored advice from Vice President Joe Biden and decided to send a strike team to Bin Laden’s suspected compound in Pakistan. The operation was a success and Bin Laden was killed by Seal Team 6, the news of which almost broke the internet while definitely breaking Bin Laden’s forehead/frontal lobe (good riddance!).
8. Women Win the Right to Vote
Many people look back at the birth of the United States as the first time in human history that Democracy was really perfected. While it obviously took a lot from other countries set-ups, like France, the Constitution is still considered a perfect document. The reality was though that the Constitution, like many things in the world, was set up to only really involve the rich and powerful. Initially the only people in the new country (called America) that could vote were land owning white men. Black men were given the right to vote in the mid-19th century, but even into the 20th century women still weren’t allowed to vote. Groups of women fought for the right to be represented (as they make up half the population) and finally won the right to vote in 1920. This suffrage movement which was lead by people like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul, was thought to have grown out of the Civil War as women were huge advocates of the abolition movement, was a major political force made up of a lot of well to do women. Of course this was a huge deal when it finally happened, and while it’s not really talked about that often these days (unless you get a Susan B. Anthony dollar back as change), it was still a huge deal back at the start of the roaring-20’s. Less than ten years later the economy would implode and the country would go into the Great Depression, so… Thanks, ladies (Kidding!).
7. The Holocaust
You may have noticed that different aspects of World War II dominate this list. A lot of that has to do with the advent of technology as World War I had it’s own share of just, awful news, but because the television hadn’t been invented yet and people weren’t used to sitting around their radios for news/entertainment, WWII was recorded in a way that WWI was not. There was also an incredible increase in military technology so the weapons were simply much, much stronger than they were in the 1910’s. That’s not to diminish how terrible the war or subsequent Holocaust was, it’s just a way of showing why WWII is so omnipresent in our zeitgeist even in 2017. For example, there was a genocide in Turkey before WWI that isn’t even acknowledged by Turkey, if Germany pulled that they’d be out of the EU in seconds. By most objective accounts, Germany was very, very close to winning World War II and if not for a series of military blunders (including invading Russia), the Holocaust was just a taste of what their plan for the world was. There were rumors about the camps that the Germans were setting up, from them being slave labor to being death camps. It turns out that they were the latter, at least as the war wound down and Germany realized that they couldn’t win so instead they decided to implement their “Final Plan” that Hitler and company had been advocating since the release of Mein Kampf (Which is German for “The Reich that Lasts Until I shoot Myself in the Face in a Bunker”). What followed was the worst example of the worst of mankind ever and it directly lead to the creation of Israel as a country. People were horrified, rightly so, when they learned about the concentration camps that Germany implemented and while they were some attempts to deny that the Holocaust even happened, there’s ample proof that it did and it’s something that we need to remember in the hopes that it’ll never happen again.
6. U.S. Drops Atom Bomb
As touched on above, Pearl Harbor lead to the United States’ involvement in World War II on more than one front (some say two, but it was really three : The Pacific/Europe/Africa). The Japanese turned out to be the most battle hardened and difficult to dispatch of all of the troops that the US soldiers faced. Because of that, the US military brain-trust had to balance the decision of invading the Japanese mainland and potentially losing 500,000 to 1,000,000 soldiers against dropping the worst weapons ever created by man. They chose the latter and ended up dropping two atom bombs on the Japanese mainland over the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and absolutely just obliterated those cities, killing over a quarter of a million instantly. People didn’t even know what an atom bomb was so when the news broke of the bombing it took the world by storm and unfortunately created a weapons race between the remaining post-WWII world powers. Since the mid-1940’s we’ve lived in the nuclear era and while recent leaders in the US and Russia (especially) have worked towards lowering their nuclear arsenals, the development of nuclear weapons by rogue states, like North Korea, still dictates global policy and it all started over Hiroshima.
5. Pearl Harbor/US Enters World War II
One of the largest world changing events on this list, Pearl Harbor effectively forced the United States to join World War II against the Axis (Germany/Italy/Japan). World War I was horrible, and really doesn’t get as much “credit” as WWII does in terms of how devastating it was because WWII was more recent and had a lot more potential to re-shape the entire world (it also had a Bond-esque villain in Hitler where as WWI had the Kaiser, sure, but no single person that people could rally against). Some believe that the then-American President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, either knew of the attack in advance or even perpetrated the attack himself (which is nonsense, just ask… THE JAPANESE?) in order to get the public, that was extremely isolationalist at the time, behind the US joining the war. The biggest quote attributed to the Japanese after the Pearl Harbor attack was that they had awakened a “sleeping giant”, and they had a point, as Pearl Harbor lead to the USA dropping not one, but two atom bombs on Japan in order to force a surrender from their emperor. Because of Pearl Harbor, the USA essentially ended up as the largest and most powerful country in the world. So, this was huge news then and is still remembered as one of the worst days in US history.
A lot of younger political analysts have always wondered what it was like to live during the Watergate scandal that occured in Richard Nixon’s second term. If you’re not familiar, the Watergate was a hotel in Washington D.C. that also housed the Democrats offices. A group of Republican operatives broke into the Watergate to find out information about their going’s on, plans in the election against Nixon, etc. They ended up getting caught thanks to a security guard who saw their flash-lights from across the street. The scandal ended up sinking Nixon, who resigned before he could be impeached. The funny thing was that Nixon didn’t even need to do that, he was winning the election handily but his neurotic personality essentially backfired because beyond the break-in, Nixon also recorded everything that happened in the Oval Office. Sound familiar? The US is currently being bogged down by a Watergate-esque scandal involving President Trump and his campaigns collusion with Russia, while that’s actually a lot worse than a break-in (as it involves a foreign government that doesn’t have the United States best interest in mind), it does give those young analysts what they want. But, until Trump is directly implicated in the Russia scandal, Watergate gets the top 5 news spot… For now.
3. Moon Landing
One of the major things that came from the death of President John F. Kennedy was the space program. JFK had announced, famously in one of his speeches, that we had to go to the moon (and “other things”), “not because they’re easy, but because they’re hard”. Some say that the Moon Landing was a hoax meant to bankrupt the USSR who was involved in a space race/Cold War with the US. But either way, the live transmission of Neil Armstrong (and Buzz Aldrin) stepping onto the Moon with the famous “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” line, was a HUGE story. That quote is one of the most famous quotes of all time as well, which helps it’s cause on this list. As a people we’re getting to the point where our household telescopes will soon be able to scour the surface of the moon and we should then be able to see some of the things left over from the time NASA spent on the moon from the late 60’s through the late 70’s. It cost a fortune but it was definitely worth it and it’s something that America has talked about going back to for a very long time. The only way that a space related story (within reason) could top this would be if we ended up stepping on the surface of Mars.
Historians will look back on September 11th, 2001 as one of the most major turning points in world history; perhaps more impactful than even Pearl Harbor. The irony of it, is that Pearl Harbor was a military operation (a pre-emptive strike of sorts) by the Japanese Navy and Air Force. 9/11 was essentially just 19 guys (with more behind it, mostly in Saudi Arabia or connected to Saudi Arabia). Regardless of the limited man-power behind it, everyone remembers where they were when 9/11 happened. It was the millennial generation’s (the older one’s anyway) defining moment, it was… Just incredibly horrific on a scale that people had never seen before. Because of the almost action movie level of horror that transpired that day, people genuinely thought that the entire zeitgeist in the West would change. Everything was questioned, from pop-culture (can sitcoms make people laugh in this new, terrible world?) to the existence of sports teams. Everything was put on hold as the nation/world mourned and it created, essentially, a new world. Beyond the two direct wars that started after 9/11 (Iraq and Afghanistan) the entire Western world is essentially in a perpetual war with Islamic terrorists and because of that a lot of civil liberties that people would’ve rioted over losing before 9/11, are an after-thought. This moment, more than any, changed the way things are and because of that it gets the second spot on this list.
1. Assassination of JFK
Back, and to the left. Back, and to the left. Back, and to the left. Besides 9/11 (and whether or not you believe America would’ve joined the Allies in WWII with or without Pearl Harbor) the death of then-President JFK was responsible for the largest amount of change in the world and news coverage. His death elevated Vice President Lyndon Johnson, whose policies changed America forever. Without JFK’s death, there’s a very good chance that the Civil Right’s bill wouldn’t have passed. It was JFK’s signature legislation and it was passed thanks to LBJ’s political acumen and people’s guilt over the death of Kennedy. Johnson also passed the Great Society, which helped create the largest middle class the world has ever seen. There are countless theories as to who killed Kennedy and why he was killed, whether it was because of his actions in Cuba, his work with his brother (the Attorney General RFK) to break up the mafia, or because of his inaction in Vietnam. The largest change between JFK and Johnson was Johnson’s commitment to the war in Vietnam. Vietnam was such a mess both in Vietnam and in the US that LBJ, who always wanted to be President, didn’t seek another term in office. So, while this shows what a tremendous effect his death had on the world, it also was a gigantic news story that was capped off when his three-year-old son, JFK Jr. saluted his father’s coffin as it passed him by. A tragedy through and through, JFK was the biggest news story of the century.