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Top 10 national news stories of 2018

Shaw newspaper editors rank top stories of the year

A panel of 10 Shaw Media newspaper editors selected the mass shootings that pockmarked 2018 as the No. 1 story of the year.

Dozens of innocent lives were lost in high-profile incidents. A 17-year-old student armed with his father's pistol and shotgun killed 10 people at Santa Fe High School in Texas on May 18. A 38-year-old man killed five people at the offices of the The Capital newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, on June 28. A 46-year-old man murdered 11 at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27. A Marine combat veteran killed 12 people – and himself – at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California, on Nov. 7.

But worst of all was a Feb. 14 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which a former student armed with an AR-15 rifle killed 17 students and teachers, making it the deadliest shooting at a high school in U.S. history.

That incident led to widespread outrage. Students at schools across Illinois and the rest of the country staged walkouts and protests calling for greater security for themselves and their fellow students. Survivors of the Parkland tragedy and others staged a "March for our Lives" rally in Washington, D.C., with many calling for tougher gun control measures and other provisions to keep students safe.  

The rest of our editors' rankings of the year's top 10 stories:

2. Brett Kavanaugh confirmation fight. Kavanaugh, a judge from the U.S.10th Circuit Court of Appeals, looked ticketed for an easy confirmation as the nation’s newest Supreme Court Justice until allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced. Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto (California) University, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Kavanaugh and a friend had assaulted her after a party in 1982, when they were in high school. Kavanaugh adamantly denied the allegations in his own testimony. While some saw the incident as another example of privileged men getting away with bad behavior, others saw a calculated attempt at character assassination. After a one-week delay to allow for a renewed FBI investigation, the Senate confirmed Kavanaugh’s nomination by a 50-48 vote that broke along party lines, with Republicans carrying the day.

3. Record natural disasters. The Camp Fire in northern California’s Butte County was the deadliest wildfire in 100 years, killing 85 people and and burning almost all of Paradise, California, (population 26,600) to ashes after it began Nov. 8. Hurricane Florence made landfall Aug. 31 near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, killing 53 people and leaving behind floodwaters that lingered for weeks. Hurricane Michael, one of the most powerful ever to make landfall on the U.S. mainland, came ashore on Oct. 10 about 15 miles east of Panama City Beach, Florida, obliterating the town of Mexico Beach and killing at least 43 people.

4. Child separation at the border. In April, the Trump administration quietly implemented a policy of separating children and parents who crossed the border illegally. The practice continued until public outrage at images of children living in cages led to it being suspended on June 20. The policy also led to having toddlers appear in court alone during immigration proceedings. A federal judge ordered the administration to reunite children in custody with their parents, giving a deadline of June 27. In court papers, federal authorities said they had reunited 1,820 children with their parents. More than 700 others were not reunited with parents by the deadline, for reasons including parents' criminal history or other safety concerns — or because the parents had been deported. Trump and supporters later claimed that the policy had been used under President Obama without the accompanying anger.

5. Officer convicted in teen’s death. People around the area watched live as a Cook County jury pronounced Jason Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery – one for each shot he fired at 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014. Van Dyke, a 14-year Chicago police veteran, fatally shot McDonald, who was running down the street with a knife. Video footage of the shooting showed that events did not unfold as Van Dyke and other officers claimed in reports. There had been widespread fears of riots in response to the verdict, prompting many downtown businesses to send their workers home. It was the first time in 50 years that a Chicago officer was convicted in connection with an on-duty shooting.

6. Politicians of ‘kinder, gentler’ era die. Americans paid tribute to a pair of politicians known for their service and leadership in 2018. Arizona Sen. John McCain died Aug. 25 at age 81 after a battle with brain cancer. McCain spent more than five years as a prisoner of war at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” during the Vietnam War before going on to serve more than 30 years in the U.S. Senate. George H.W. Bush died Nov. 30 at age 94. Like McCain, Bush was a military aviator who later devoted his life to public service. Bush's body was taken to the Capitol to lie in state, and he was praised by many, including for his deft handling of foreign affairs, such as the collapse of the Soviet Union, driving Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, and ousting Manuel Noriega from Panama during his term as president.

7. U.S. – China trade war. President Trump this year began in earnest his effort to secure better trade deals with partners across the globe, and negotiations with China had the broadest impact. Frustrated with China’s failure to open markets to U.S. goods and protect the intellectual property of American companies, the Trump administration imposed tariffs specific to Chinese-made goods on July 6, putting a 25 percent tariff on hundreds of China-made products. The move would lead to a trade fight between the two world economic powers, but the U.S.’s wide trade deficit with China gives it the upper hand. A temporary truce was declared Dec. 1, with Trump agreeing to suspend more tariff hikes on China-made products for 90 days while the two sides negotiate.    

8. “Year of the Woman” at the ballot box. The fall 2018 election saw a remarkable increase in female candidates for federal, state and local offices. A record 476 women – 356 Democrats and 120 Republicans – filed to run for Congress in 2018. That was a 60 percent increase over the previous high of 298 in 2012. The resulting vote saw 100 women elected to Congress, the most ever. Illinois voters elected four women to Congress, including Democrat Lauren Underwood, a first-time candidate who unseated incumbent Rep. Randy Hultgren in the 14th Congressional District. The election will bring a return to divided government in Washington, with Democrats holding the majority in the House of Representatives, while Republicans control the Senate.

9. Larry Nassar sentenced. Nassar, a former Michigan State and USA Gymnastics doctor who a prosecutor called “possibly the most prolific serial child sex abuser in history,” was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison by a Michigan Judge Rosemarie Aquilina on Jan. 24, after a sentencing hearing in which more than 150 women and girls — including Olympic gold medalists — said they had been abused by him. The case continues to haunt USA Gymnastics. “I just signed your death warrant,” Aquilina told Nassar as she passed sentence. Nassar also faces a 60-year federal sentence for child pornography trafficking.

10. Pritzker rolls to victory. Democrat J.B. Pritzker spent a record $171.8 million of his personal fortune in his successful campaign to unseat Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner.  Pritzker garnered 54.5 percent of the vote in the Nov. 6 election, while Rauner finished second with 38.8 percent. Pritzker touted his success as a job-creator during the campaign. He also pledged to reduce property taxes by instituting a graduated income tax, ensure all Illinois children have access to pre-kindergarten education, and legalize marijuana. Illinois Democrats now control all statewide elected offices and hold veto-proof majorities in the state House and Senate.

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