The year’s best stories | AspenTimes.com

The year’s best stories

Meredith L. Cohen

If the stockings have been hung by the chimney with care, then it must be the season when newspapers, magazines and TV stations publish and televise their annual lists of the biggest headlines of the past year. Here’s a list of five stories that captured my attention in 2005: The only person on Earth grateful for Hurricane KatrinaAs Paris Hilton must have expressed gratitude to hers when the accidental release of her sex tape made her an instant celebrity, CNN’s Anderson Cooper is undoubtedly thanking his fairy godmother for the recent havoc wreaked by Mother Nature on the Gulf Coast.Cooper’s star began to rise in January during his coverage of the Asian tsunami and it became even brighter when all hell broke loose in the form of severe tropical cyclones in Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Louisiana this fall. Thanks to widespread praise for his “emotive” reporting style, Cooper inherited Aaron Brown’s two-hour nightly newscast from which Brown was ostensibly fired to clear the way for the metrosexual former host of the ABC reality show “The Mole.”His newfound pop idol status has paid off in other ways, too, as it was announced earlier this month on a CNBC show that Cooper was named the 2005 Media Person of the Year in an annual online poll. When asked how he felt compared to 2004’s Media Person of the Year, fake news anchor Jon Stewart, Cooper said he was grateful for the “high praise.” And, as if his year couldn’t get any better, CNN has rewarded Cooper’s elevated profile by having him star in his very own image campaign. The footage of Cooper looking as deep as a J. Crew model in faded blue jeans and a black down jacket scribbling furiously in a reporter’s pad would surely make Edward R. Murrow proud.France hates Lance, but not vice versaIn March, Lance Armstrong endorsed Paris, the birthplace of Freedom Fries, instead of New York to host the 2012 Olympics. Armstrong (ranked No. 6 on Barbara Walter’s 10 Most Fascinating People of 2005 list) called Paris one of the legendary cities in the world that would be a special place for the opening ceremony.A month later, after a slight ripple of protest from the few people who read the story (which was picked up by only a handful of newspapers across the U.S.), he redirected his support to New York, saying the Big Apple deserved it for surviving the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Like the multiple extramarital affairs that led to the break-up of Armstrong’s marriage to the mother of his three children, once again, the Livestrong golden boy got a free pass from the American media. Apparently as far as the press is concerned, it’s only about the bike. Drugs, not deitiesRick Warren’s book on finding the meaning of life through God, “The Purpose Driven Life,” has been a New York Times bestseller for 151 weeks and counting. It got some unsolicited press in March when 27-year-old Ashley Smith told police investigators that she was released as the hostage of Brian Nichols – the man suspected to have killed four people during a shooting rampage in an Atlanta courthouse – by talking to him about her faith and reading passages from Warren’s book aloud. However, when Smith did what anyone in her situation would do – write a book about her ordeal and go on Oprah to promote it – she revealed that giving Nichols methamphetamine may have been more instrumental in her liberation than anything he garnered from Warren’s book.Smith told Oprah (but not the police investigators) that since she wasn’t able to provide Nichols with the marijuana he requested during the seven hours he held her captive, she instead offered him some crystal meth from her stash. Truly, though, the night was a blessing threefold: Smith said it led her to the realization that she was a drug addict. Nichols discovered for the first time the euphoria of snorting a highly volatile, toxic substance. And sales for “The Purpose Driven Life” increased substantially. Amen.Runaway ratingsA bookie isn’t needed to determine the odds of what the cable newscasts will be reporting on any given night: white female disappears (i.e. JonBenet Ramsey, Elizabeth Smart, Laci Peterson, Lori Hacking, and, in 2005, Jessica Lunsford, Natalee Holloway and the Runaway Bride). Police are notified. Volunteers join in on the search. Loved One (i.e. husband, boyfriend, parent) makes tearful statement to the press with friends and family standing nearby. Police name Loved One a Person of Interest. Loved One hires an attorney. Loved One declares absolute innocence and takes a lie detector test. Search is called off. Candlelight vigil is held. Neighbors and second cousins give interviews to Nancy Grace. Extended family makes tearful pleas to Larry King for information and offer reward money. John Walsh, Marc Klass and Jeanine Pirro offer theories on the perpetrator to Greta Van Susteren. Michael Jackson gets caught in bed with another 11-year-old boy holding a glass of Jesus juice and missing (or dead) white female is forgotten.The upside of suicideIn that a human being – Hunter S. Thompson – died, there is justifiable sadness. In that he died of a self-inflicted gun shot wound, deepest sympathies should be extended to his family and friends whose grief and pain is surely incomprehensible. That his suicide and the subsequent blasting of his ashes through a 150-foot cannon received more press coverage in Aspen than a war, the death of a president and a Pope combined, empathy should also be extended to the psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, crises hotlines and mental hospitals that might see increased foot traffic because of would-be patients eager to emulate a man who spent his life writing about and acknowledging his rampant substance abuse and whose suicide has been glorified to the hilt.Meredith Cohen wonders why one of the biggest stories of the year – “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo” taking in a meager $22 million at the box office – has been buried by the press. Yet another cover-up by the vast right wing conspiracy? Questions or comments may be e-mailed to meredith_cohen@hotmail.com.