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Surprises

News of the Year

Issue: "News of the Year," Jan. 2, 2010

It was the almost comeback. The sudden June 25 death of Michael Jackson came only weeks before the megastar was to open "This Is It," a sold-out, 50-show London engagement intended both to cement his legacy as the King of Pop and to pay off his exorbitant debts. Though Los Angeles officials in August ruled the death homicide (with charges against his personal physician pending), Jackson had been self-destructing for over a decade, his eccentricities-the never-ending plastic surgery, the obsession with reclaiming his childhood, and charges of sexual misconduct-metastasizing into an apparent detachment from reality and drug addiction.

Like his erstwhile father-in-law Elvis Presley, he spent almost half of his career as tabloid fodder, and his passing only enhanced his comeback status. While his funeral achieved dizzying depths of gaudiness, it was watched by an estimated 31 million Americans (just shy of the number who watched President Ronald Reagan's 2004 funeral) and cost the city of Los Angeles over $3 million. Meanwhile, sales of Sony BMG's three-disc King of Pop compilation soared, and the screen version of Jackson's tour, This Is It, earned over $240 million after hitting theaters in October.

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Non-coup

Former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya must have been surprised when he awoke to military troops surrounding his presidential palace on the morning of June 28. The soldiers' dramatic entrance came with a dramatic mission: to escort forcibly the nation's leader out of the country.

With Zelaya on a plane to Costa Rica in his pajamas, news outlets and international friends-including the Obama administration-rushed to call the events "a coup." But a closer examination revealed the truth: The process had been constitutional. The Honduran Congress supported the Supreme Court's vote to arrest Zelaya after he attempted to call an unconstitutional referendum aimed at winning another term in office. The country's constitution allows only one presidential term. The Congress appointed its leader, Robert Micheletti, interim president until Nov. 29 elections. When that day arrived, Hondurans elected a new leader, Porfirio Lobo, from the opposing center-right National Party.

Resignation

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was more than two-thirds into a disjointed speech outside her Wasilla home on July 3 before reporters realized the purpose of the press conference: Palin was resigning. After offering a lengthy list of accomplishments, the governor promised to continue to bolster Alaska, but added: "I won't do it from the governor's office."

Though Palin never used the word resign, the governor said she would "transfer authority" to Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell. Stunned friends and foes alike wondered the same thing: Why? Palin cited intense media scrutiny and a barrage of frivolous ethics complaints that she said drained the state's resources, but the specifics of her plans to "effect positive change outside government" remained unclear. A bestselling memoir followed quickly-and earlier than scheduled-but Palin demurred on talk show hosts' most ­frequently asked question: Would she run for president in 2012?

Freedom

After spending 140 days detained in North Korea, and facing prison sentences of 12 years' hard labor, U.S. journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were stunned to see the man standing behind the door in a Pyongyang meeting room on Aug. 4: former President Bill Clinton. "We were shocked, but we knew instantly in our hearts that the nightmare of our lives was finally coming to an end," Ling told a crowd gathered at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif., after the pair's safe return home.

The nightmare began in March when the North Korean military captured the reporters on the China-North Korea border, where the women were working on a documentary. Officials said the women entered the country illegally, and in June a court convicted the pair of an undisclosed "grave" crime. The court offered no hope of appeal.

Hope rekindled two months later when Clinton arrived on a secretive, diplomatic mission to meet with reportedly ailing North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il and to ask for the Americans' release. The government pardoned the women, who called the ordeal the most "heart-wrenching time of our lives," and said: "We are so happy to be home."

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