17 stories that defined 2017
As each year comes to an end, news outlets across the globe inevitably look back on the months that have passed and reflect on the stories that most impacted our lives. In 2016, those retrospectives were dominated by the presidential election and political strife that consumed not only the United States, but the world.
But in 2017, it's nearly impossible to pinpoint any one defining story — or even to remember all the high and low points of this whirlwind of a year. We saw the after-effects of last year play out in real time, at almost too fast a pace to keep up. Not only was the bombardment of news relentless, the headlines quite literally multiplied in magnitude and scope. We witnessed not one massively destructive hurricane, but three in a row; two horrific massacres back to back; a spate of vehicle attacks in Europe and at home; and endless political infighting at the speed of Twitter.
Through it all, we also saw the resiliency of the human spirit. Neighbors and strangers alike stepped in to help someone in need, whether they had lost their home in Houston or a loved one in Las Vegas. And as we head into 2018, we're sure to see more of the same compassion and care.
Here at 17 stories that dominated 2017, and whose impact will continue to be felt in the years to come.
1. President Donald Trump's tweets
"I'm going to be very restrained, if I use [Twitter] at all, I'm going to be very restrained," then President-elect Donald Trump told 60 Minutes' Lesley Stahl in his first TV interview just days after winning the U.S. election. But his activity on the social media site was anything but restrained during his first year in office.
Mr. Trump has poked fun at world leaders including the dictator of North Korea, railed against the mainstream media, and sent out dozens of typos like the infamous "covfefe" to nearly 45 million followers. He implied there might be tapes of his White House conversations, attacked numerous sitting lawmakers, shocked global allies, and announced major policy changes. He's gotten into hot water over retweets from accounts belonging to alt-right activists and anti-Muslim extremist groups.
Each Trump tweet seemed to spark a frenzied media cycle analyzing their meaning and impact. The president says he likes using Twitter because it allows him to speak directly to the American people, without the involvement of the press. "The tweet speaks for itself" became a predictable response from first White House press secretary Sean Spicer and his successor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders. One year in, there are no signs President Trump plans on slowing down.
2. Tensions with North Korea
North Korea has launched 23 missiles in 16 different tests in the months since Donald Trump took office. The most recent test, in late November, was of a ballistic missile that could reach the U.S. mainland. Kim Jong Un appears to be making major strides in his nuclear program, and the uptick in test launches prompted Trump to dub him " Little Rocket Man."
The president has a knack for giving nicknames to his opponents -- Little Marco, Crooked Hillary -- but it is unusual for a sitting U.S. president to openly mock another country's leader, especially on Twitter. Kim has taken his own shots in the war of words, calling Mr. Trump a "dotard" and a "destroyer," while also threatening retaliation for the president's insults.
While the back-and-forth may seem silly, the potential diplomatic consequences are serious. Trump has repeatedly said the U.S. will "handle" the situation, and called on countries like China to place stricter sanctions on North Korea. But defense experts now believe that with the latest test, Kim is closing in on the ability to strike anywhere in the world.
3. "Fake news"
Shortly after the election last year, it became clear that false stories from bogus "news" sites had run rampant on social media. But in 2017, the term "fake news" has taken on a new meaning that seems to apply to any story someone may not like. The president often refers to the mainstream media, specifically CNN, as "fake" when unflattering stories are published.
Just one month after he took office, Trump called the news media the "enemy of the American people." And a poll out in December found that 44 percent of Americans believe news outlets make up stories about the president and his administration "more than once in a while."
4. The Russia investigation
U.S. intelligence agencies determined last year that Russians interfered with the presidential election. But the question lingers, was there any collusion with the Trump campaign? The resulting investigation has been a cloud hovering over the Trump administration since Day 1. Then-FBI Director James Comey was leading a probe into the matter when Trump suddenly fired him. As a result, special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to oversee the investigation.
Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former national security advisor Michael Flynn have both been criminally charged (Flynn pleaded guilty), along with two other campaign aides.
And let's not forget the time Donald Trump, Jr. tweeted out his email exchanges setting up a meeting with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Trump and his team continue to insist there was no collusion with Russia, but the investigation is likely nowhere near over.
5. James Comey's firing and testimony
The former FBI director was fired in May after months of investigating possible Russia connections. It was a nearly unprecedented political drama that left many government figures questioning the president's motives. The White House's first explanation was a letter from deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein saying Comey had poorly handled the probe into Hillary Clinton's emails.
Then President Trump undermined that argument by telling NBC's Lester Holt that he'd planned to fire Comey all along, and he "had the Russia thing" on his mind when he did it.
Shortly after he left the FBI, Comey leaked a memo on his conversations with Mr. Trump about the investigation into Flynn -- leading to speculation about whether or not the president's actions amounted to obstruction of justice.
All of this built up over a matter of weeks, so when Comey was called to testify on Capitol Hill, anticipation was running high. Bars in Washington, D.C. opened early for testimony watch parties. The major networks all carried special reports.
Ultimately, Comey's public testimony didn't reveal any smoking guns, but there were some shocking moments. He explained he took notes during his conversations with the president because he was afraid Trump might "lie about the nature of our meeting." He revealed that the Justice Department asked him to use softer language about the probe into Clinton's emails during the campaign. And he left social media with a one-liner that will be immortalized in meme-dom forever: "Lordy, I hope there are tapes."
6. White House hirings and firings
President Trump's administration has seen a considerable amount of high-profile staff turnover during its first year. The first to go was former national security advisor Mike Flynn in February, just 25 days into the term, after it was revealed he lied about his contact with the Russian government. He was also a registered foreign agent for the government of Turkey. He recently plead guilty to lying to the FBI.
Next was James Comey's firing in May.
Then, a whirlwind series of exits over the course of 10 days in July, when Anthony Scaramucci was brought in as the new communications director and press secretary Sean Spicer and chief of staff Reince Priebus quickly left the White House. Then Scaramucci himself got the boot after an explosive phone call to a high-profile journalist reportedly angered the new chief of staff, General John Kelly.
Chief strategist Steve Bannon resigned in August, returning to his post at Breitbart. In September, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned over his use of private charter planes. Most recently, reality star Omarosa Manigualt Newman left her White House public liaison job, reportedly in dramatic fashion.
7. Violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia
In August, groups of neo-Nazis and white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a park at the University of Virginia. A rally was planned for Saturday, August 12th, but the night before hundreds of men marched through the school's grounds with tiki torches chanting phrases like "Jews will not replace us" and the Nazi slogan, "blood and soil." The demonstration only foreshadowed the dark events of the next day, when the supremacist groups clashed violently with anti-fascists and counter-protesters.
Police called off the event, and as protesters left the scene a white supremacist drove a car into the crowd, injuring dozens and killing a peaceful protester named Heather Heyer.
The events of the weekend left the country shaken and searching for answers. When President Trump finally addressed what happened, his words did little to promote healing. "I think there is blame on both sides," Trump said in a press conference three days later. He soon added there were "very fine people on both sides." His choice of words ignited a firestorm of criticism, and left the country once again grappling with how to talk about race, bigotry, and the legacy of segregation in America today.
8. NFL players kneel during national anthem
Colin Kaepernick's protest on the NFL sidelines had mostly faded from the national spotlight until September, when President Trump spoke about it at a rally in Alabama. "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, "Get that son of a b---- off the field right now,'" Trump asked the crowd, which responded with loud cheers.
Players, coaches, and team owners across the league denounced the president's statement and defended players' rights to express their views.
The next weekend, the national anthem at the start of each game was almost more hyped than the games themselves. More than 200 NFL players kneeled in a show of solidarity. The Pittsburgh Steelers voted as a team to sit out the anthem all together, while the entire Dallas Cowboys lineup kneeled on the 50-yard line before their game began.
In early October, Vice President Mike Pence left an Indianapolis Colts game after some players took a knee. He said it was a matter of patriotism and respect, but critics called it a taxpayer funded publicity stunt.
Supporters of the kneeling protests say the gesture is intended to call attention to police brutality and the unequal treatment of black citizens in America, but detractors believe kneeling during the anthem is disrespectful to those who have fought and died for our country.