As the U.S. continued to toil in war, the world kept turning in the year '04. With pictures of Mars and an NBA brawl, there was something this year to interest us all. From elections to recounts — and recounts some more, take a look back at 2004.

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Anxiety and political division dominated a year that saw more troops, not fewer, headed to Iraq; an economy that nudged, rather than raced forward; and unprecedented advances for, then against, the movement to grant gays and lesbians the right to marry.

In the presidential election, reds rejoiced and blues brooded.

Families buried those who died in war and the wounded came home. No one could predict an end to the suffering.

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There were escapes, too. Science excited us, as Spirit the robot snapped pictures on Mars, and Mount St. Helens rumbled and spewed.

Athletes thrilled us, none more so than the Boston Red Sox, who reversed their curse, and Ichiro Suzuki, whose all-time hits record made Mariners fans forget the win-loss column.

When escape didn’t work, denial pacified.

The world mostly looked away as genocide and cannibalism continued in Sudan. The Bush administration minimized the nascent insurgency in Iraq. Sen. John Kerry came to think he could beat an incumbent in wartime.

Dino Rossi embraced the title of governor-elect, before the final count.

Despite evidence to the contrary, many Americans still believed Iraq and Saddam Hussein were linked to the 9/11 attacks.

Playing to the public’s willingness to forgive and forget at the same time, President Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the nation’s highest civilian honor — to former CIA Director George Tenet, who helped build the case for war by saying it was a “slam dunk” that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction

Euphemism and spin helped justify the most obvious of fictions.

Justin Timberlake called ripping Janet Jackson’s blouse during the Super Bowl halftime show a “wardrobe malfunction.” Joe Lieberman labeled his fifth-place finish in the New Hampshire presidential primary a “three-way split decision for third.” Barry Bonds said he didn’t know what was in the cream.

Mary K. Letourneau and Vili Fualaau said there was no denying their love.

Millions tuned in each week to watch Donald Trump fire somebody, even though The Donald has filed for bankruptcy. And why hasn’t he fired his hairdresser?

It’s unclear whether the Bush administration was in denial or just failed to Google Homeland Security nominee Bernie Kerik. Turns out, talk of mob ties and a Ground Zero love nest were just a couple of clicks away.

And what’s denial without our ongoing mission to protect the children? TV executives ordered that replays of Jackson’s strip show be digitally altered to obscure her bare breast but felt no such compunction to censor the relentless slo-mos of last month’s Indiana-Detroit basketball brawl.

Here’s a look at the year’s undeniable events, from the somber to the silly.

— Beth Kaiman