If nothing else, 2014 has been a huge year for news. The annexation of Crimea, the worst Ebola outbreak in history, a war in Gaza, the Republican takeover of the Senate and sudden normalizing of US-Cuban relations will all be written about and analyzed for years to come.
But when big news dominates the media for months on end, it’s easy to forget about all the other stories — the ones that made a big splash when first reported, but quickly faded from the public eye as the news cycle kept chugging along. In the name of helping balance the media's microscopic attention span with a slightly longer perspective, here are some of the news stories from 2014 that you may have forgotten about.
The Plethora Of Plane Crashes
You probably remember the Malaysian Airlines flight that mysteriously went missing over the south China Sea in March. You may also remember the other Malaysian Airlines flight, which got shot down over war-torn Ukraine by people who were, by all indications, pro-Russia separatists.
But how about the Air Algerie flight that crashed over Mali, killing 116? Or the 48 people who died when a TransAsia plane went down in Taiwan? Or the Algerian air force plane that flew into the mountains and killed 67 people? There were just a ton of plane crashes in 2014. Many of the most puzzling ones remain unsolved.
But if all this has you nervous to be getting on that plane during the holidays, don’t worry: Historically, 2014 hasn’t been any more dangerous for air travel than average. It’s just seemed like that, due to the sensationalist nature of several of this year’s crashes — as well as the fact that three of them took place within seven days of one another.
A Watershed Year For Marriage Equality
You might have missed this, because gay marriage’s stock has been rising for a couple of years now. It began in 2010, when opinion polls first started showing majority approval for marriage equality. Then, in 2012, Barack Obama became the first sitting president to endorse gay marriage rights, and the Supreme Court knocked down the Defense of Marriage Act the next year.
But from a legal standpoint, 2014 was the watershed year. Since June, gay marriage has become the law of the land in no less than 20 states that didn’t offer it before, bringing the grand total to 36. Sometimes, this was the result of legislative action; more often, the decision came from a judge knocking down a marriage equality ban. Either way, the end result is that more states legalized gay marriage in 2014 than in every previous year combined.
To be sure, the US still has a way to go before it achieves true gender equality, and gay marriage is only one fraction of that fight. But that’s all the reason why this year’s progress should be celebrated: As the trajectory of gay marriage seems more or less undeniable, there’s now more room to focus on less publicized issues (mandating insurance coverage for gender reassignment surgery) providing military benefits for LGBT spouses, ensuring workplace protection for trans Americans) that have, to this point, been crowded out by the gay marriage debate.
It wasn’t just the US, either: England, Scotland, Luxembourg and Finland all either passed gay marriage laws or saw gay marriage legalization go into effect in 2014, which means there are now 20 countries around the world that have decided not to discriminate.
The Department of Veteran’s Affairs Scandal
In late spring, CNN reported that veterans seeking health care at the Veteran’s Health Administration had been subject to unfathomably long wait times — so long, in fact, that 40 of them died while waiting for care. That turned out to be not quite accurate: Later analyses showed that the number of veteran deaths directly attributable to wait times was around six, not 40.
That’s still six too many, of course, and the director of the VA soon resigned. On a broader note, the scandal hit relatively soon after the HealthCare.gov debacle of last year; in combination, the two left some questioning whether the government really has what it takes to be involved in health care administration.
The South Korean Ferry disaster
In April, the cruise ship Sewol capsized off the coast of South Korea. Over 300 passengers died trying to escape the sinking vessel, while the captain — far from going down with the ship — abandoned the ship and fled to safety (a violation of South Korean law).
The captain and three other crew members were charged with murder, while 11 others faced lesser charges of negligence for leaving the ship during the disaster. The owner of the cruise ship company, who was expected to face charges as well, committed suicide, and the country’s prime minister resigned after the government was criticized for not responding soon enough. So, awful things all around.
If nothing else, the fact that such a widespread catastrophe has faded from western press is an indicator of just how heavy of a news year 2014 has been. There’s only room for so much gloom and doom — which brings us to our next overlooked story.
Colorado’s Legalization Windfall
While Washington and Colorado voted to legalize recreational marijuana back in 2012, it wasn’t until 2014 that the laws actually went into effect. Soon after they did, however, violent crime skyrocketed, economic activity hit a standstill and local students started dropping out of school.
Just kidding! It was actually the exact opposite. Colorado reaped over $45 million in tax revenue from marijuana sales throughout the year; that money will fund construction projects and substance abuse programs at schools (get high, it’s for the kids!). Violent crime in Denver, where the state’s marijuana industry is centered, was down across the board, including a 42% (!) drop in murder rates and an 11% decrease in property crimes. Oh, and legalization will free up around $12 and $40 million in funding for law enforcement by the end of the year.
Colorado (and Washington, which has enjoyed many of the same benefits) proved the naysayers wrong, and its positive experience with marijuana legalization may well have played a role in convincing Oregon and Alaska to pass similar ballot measures later in the year.
The (New) Secret Service Scandal
In 2012, several Secret Service agents were caught soliciting prostitutes while on duty. That was bad, but it seems almost quaint in retrospect when compared with the scandals that hit the agency this year.
There was the guy who successfully jumped the White House fence, ran across the lawn, and made it inside the actual building with a knife in hand before agents could take him down. There was the time the Secret Service allowed an armed man with a criminal record on an elevator with the president. There was the agent who was found drunk in a hallway while responsible for protecting the president in the Netherlands.
The backlash was immediate and bipartisan, and culminated in the resignation of Secret Service Director Julia Pierson — who had been tasked with reforming the agency in 2012 after the prostitution scandal.
The Botched Executions
In January, convicted rapist and murderer Dennis McGuire was executed in Ohio using an experimental new lethal injection formula. It went horribly wrong: McGuire spent 10 minutes clenching his fists, gasping for air and fighting his restraints, and the entire process took almost a half hour. An anesthesiologist later testified that it “was not a humane execution,” and McGuire’s family filed a civil suit against the state.
It happened again in Oklahoma a couple of months later, when the state executed convicted murderer Clayton Lockett. After being declared unconscious, Lockett started convulsing on the table, then spoke few words and attempted to stand up. He died 43 minutes into the process.
Both states were criticized for using untested lethal cocktail formulas. President Obama ordered the Justice Department to review death penalty protocol at the federal level, and Oklahoma halted all executions in the state until 2015 while it retools its own policies.