I suppose I could stand above it all and proclaim with the voice of God and the eye of History (or the other way around, if you prefer) my absolute, ontologically certain, 100 percent definitive list of the most important stories of 2004. But that's impossible to know. The present changes the past. New events have a way of changing the relevance of old events. For example, after September 11 the Bolshevik Revolution - once the most important event of the 20th century - now seems quaint, while the rise of the House of Saud seems suddenly central to the world we live in.
Similarly, this year's launch of the first privately owned space capsule - though it met with little fanfare - may prove to have been an epoch-shattering adventure in space travel, bringing "Star Trek" nerds that much closer to their dream of bedding really hot green women (or men - let's not be judgmental).
So instead, I'm going to stick closer to home and highlight my favorite stories of the year. That means no prison-abuse scandals, no tsunamis or friendly-fire incidents. Nor does my list include the far, far, far more trivial calamities like the cancellation of the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" spin-off "Angel" or the news that Bernie Kerik's confirmation battle for Department of Homeland Security chief was cancelled before we could find out he knows where Jimmy Hoffa's body is buried.
The past year was not kind to the Mainstream Media, nor to the liberals who want to fight the right by creating their own "alternative" media. In 2003 Air America started to much fanfare as the answer to Rush Limbaugh but spent much the year explaining that it could in fact afford to pay Al Franken.
The New York Times continued to slip ever deeper into self-parody. For the umpteenth time it expressed shock that crime drops as prisoners go to jail with the nearly perennial headline: "Despite Drop in Crime, an Increase in Inmates." It leapt to the aid of John Kerry by running the missing ammo story in the last week of the presidential campaign, only to provide context for the allegation after Kerry squeezed all the political advantage he could out of the talking point (which turned out to be not much).
And, of course, there was the headline "New York City Evacuated For Nuclear Bomb Scare; Thousands of Gay Marriages Postponed." Oh wait, that's an item from my 2005 predictions column.
The best media story of 2004, of course, was what has become known as "Memogate," in which Dan Rather insisted that patently forged memos were not forged, that his source was impeccable, and that, should it turn out otherwise, he would love to be the one who broke that story. He also says that he would love to be the one to break the story that bears use the woods as a bathroom.
Rather has always denied that media bias is a serious issue. Which makes it even more fun to point out his interesting perspective on news events. On March 31, for example, when a Fallujah mob killed and mutilated four Americans, the CBS anchor told viewers: "What drives American civilians to risk death in Iraq? In this economy it may be, for some, the only job they can find." So watching Dan dismantle himself like an android ordered to put himself back in the box was simply too delicious for words.
In the area of comeuppance, who could not relish the revelation from the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation that Joe "Which is My Camera?" Wilson had lied when he said that his wife - CIA agent Valerie Plame - had nothing to do with him being sent to Niger to investigate White House claims. It turns out that the Kerry surrogate was merely mugging for cameras and hustling for the man he hoped would be his boss.
Even more enjoyable was the story of Sandy Berger "inadvertently" stuffing classified documents in his pants and shoes. With the help of Lanny Davis, Sandy Burglar managed to bury the story, and it may in fact be it was all an honest mistake. But the best defense of the former National Security Advisor came from his old boss, Bill Clinton, who said "People who don't know him might find it hard to believe. But ... all of us who've been in his office have always found him buried beneath papers." Translation: Sloppiness with classified documents was just the way Clinton's NSA handled things.
There were other good times of course. Howard Dean's head exploded like one of those guys in "Scanners" when it became clear that the much-vaunted Deaniacs couldn't deliver. The Laci Petersen trial ended and ended well. The election ended well, and on election night. Democracy erupted in Afghanistan and Ukraine. The economy rebounded.
But the best story of 2004 was the most underreported. In the spring of 2004, Lucy Tighe Goldberg called her father Daddy for the first time.