Top newsmakers of 2021 included leaders, losers, killers, entertainers and a GOAT

The time that was 2021 saw a violent transition of power in Washington, D.C., while the sports world witnessed an aging leader change towns and prove he’s still the greatest. A pop princess in her prime made a statement — one that lasted 10 minutes on “Saturday Night Live” — while her once “Toxic” predecessor gained independence. Even newscasters made news.
These are the movers and shakers who represent the good, the bad and the ugly of the 365 days sandwiched between 2020 and 2022.
Leave it to New York City to answer the Black Lives Matter and the Blue Lives Matter movements by electing a Black former police captain to move the city forward. Brooklynite Eric Adams is also a vegan and a night owl. And, for the first time in 20 years, the Big Apple’s leader won’t be a Boston Red Sox fan.
No one better personifies the nation’s division than Fox News star Tucker Carlson. Thanks to wild “reports” aiming to undermine the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, lifesaving vaccines and the rise of fascism, Carlson’s ratings skyrocketed as his journalistic credibility hit rock bottom. Rejected by MSNBC, CNN and “Dancing with the Stars,” the entertainer — who has no problem telling lies — found his audience at Fox News.
Love him or hate him, you’ve probably listened to Joe Rogan. The nation’s leading podcaster reaches a massive audience he’s as likely to confuse with questionable medical information as he is to tell those same people they shouldn’t look to him for such advice. Rogan, who pushes unproven remedies like ivermectin to battle COVID, has also been sporting enough to welcome guests like CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta on his show to reach an audience that might not otherwise consume a lot of science.
The teen gunman who killed two Black Lives Matter protesters in 2020 overcame a double-homicide charge in 2021 and became a hero to the alt-right. After beating the rap, Rittenhouse went on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and took some verbal shots at NBA great LeBron James.
The former “Empire” actor accused of staging an attack on himself for publicity purposes, then trying to pin the assault on Donald Trump supporters, is a gift to white supremacists who believe racism is a hoax. Smollett’s trial, where he was convicted for lying to investigators, didn’t do actual hate-crime victims a lot of good, either.
On Nov. 21, career criminal Darrell Brooks Jr. allegedly drove his SUV through a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wis., killing six people, including elderly members of a beloved dance troupe called the Dancing Grannies. His apparent actions, which came days after the Rittenhouse verdict in Kenosha, Wis., fueled the national debate on race.
Chris Cuomo went from reporting news to making news when a report from the New York attorney general revealed he’d used his influence and contacts as a TV journalist to help his brother, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, battle sexual misconduct allegations. Chris Cuomo, too, has become the target of sexual harassment claims. Andrew Cuomo abdicated Albany on his own. CNN canned Chris, and then he left his SiriusXM Radio show. Both unemployed Cuomos defend their actions.
Road-trippers Brian Laundrie and Gabby Petito will both be remembered for the violent death of the latter, which appears to be the fault of the former. The manhunt for Laundrie kept the nation hanging on edge for days, even though his death by suicide indicates much of the search was likely for a man who was already dead.
Tenacious New York Attorney General Letitia James — whose probe spurred the resignation of Andrew Cuomo — toyed with seeking the governor’s job, then decided to stay right where she is to continue her investigation of Donald Trump’s financial dealings. The former president — a former New Yorker — sued to stop James’ pursuit. She vowed to “continue undeterred.”
The actor found himself involved in the killing of a cinematographer on the set of the movie “Rust” when a round of live ammo was fired from a prop gun he was holding. Supporters of Trump, whom Baldwin skewered on “Saturday Night Live” for four years, reveled in Baldwin’s troubles. Donald Trump Jr. sold T-shirts mocking the liberal showman. Baldwin’s attempt to mitigate the situation with a mushy ABC interview may have been a misfire, too.
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of the 2020 murder of unarmed store patron George Floyd in June. The verdict was met with cheers by civil rights activists, but criticized by some on the right, including Carlson, who saw Chauvin as the victim and even invoked the word “lynching” in describing the officer’s consequences.
Billionaire rocket men were all the rage in 2021 and Bezos, Musk and Branson all saw their companies’ space crafts — and their own egos — reach new heights in a space race for the ages. Forbes ranks Musk and Bezos the richest men on Earth, in that order. Branson, worth just under $4 billion, does OK, too.
Two weeks after after insurrectionists falsely claimed his election was illegitimate, Joe Biden became the oldest U.S. president ever sworn into office in January when, at 78, he took the oath during a pandemic. When he sneezes, it’s news.
Well-armed and conspiracy believing freshman congresswomen made 2021 interesting with their MAGA manifesto. MTG’s behavior had her stripped of her committee assignments in February. Anti-Islamic comments made by Boebert have the spelling-challenged representative from Colorado possibly facing punishment, too.
The year could be called “2021: Taylor’s Version.” As if rerecording her own music to retake ownership of those songs from her recording company weren’t badass enough, Swift went on “Saturday Night Live” last month to perform a jaw-dropping version of her 2012 tune “All Too Well.” In December, that tune broke the record for longest song to crack the Hot 100 chart.
Former New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady left the team he’d led to six Super Bowl titles to win a seventh championship with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in February. At 44, he has rightfully been dubbed the Greatest of All Time. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t get the GOAT of people who root against the ageless athlete.
Infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci has braved endless criticism for trying to guide the U.S. through both a pandemic and a rabid anti-intellectualism movement that has turned the Brooklyn native into a bogeyman among science deniers. The 80-year-old brainiac has managed to stay on the high road, despite having haters in very low places.
Like Fauci, “Sesame Street” star Big Bird came under siege by right-wingers who object to the giant puppet’s efforts to get people vaccinated during a pandemic. Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz accused the fictional character of championing government tyranny. Jokers including comic Seth MacFarlane accused Cruz of being bird-brained. Cruz faced similar scrutiny when he took off to Mexico while his constituents were freezing, then blamed his daughters.
QAnon Shaman Jacob Chansley became the painted face of the Jan. 6 insurrection after he stormed the U.S. Capitol, falsely believing the 2020 election was rigged. Despite his lawyer’s insistence the Arizona man is easily manipulated, Chansley was sentenced to more than three years in prison. His mom worries her son is being deprived of the organic diet to which he’s accustomed.
Turn-of-the-century pop star Britney Spears successfully sued to be freed from a conservatorship that she claimed kept her heavily medicated and under the control of her father throughout her adult life. Buoyed by the #FreeBritney movement, the 40-year-old “Toxic” singer became a symbol of independence and a poster girl for mental health in her second act.
Yes, ex-President Donald Trump is still out there somewhere trying to overturn the election he lost in 2020. The former reality TV performer started 2021 by becoming the first president in the modern era to upend the nation’s longstanding tradition of peacefully transferring power to his democratically elected successor.



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