The Best of 2008: Counting Down ABC News' Most Popular Stories

From public scandals to the presidential race, the most-read stories of the year

Dec. 22, 2008— -- The year 2008 was one for the history books.

It was a year of incredible highs, numbing lows, new household names and countless surprises along the way.

The following represent some of the most popular stories on from the past year.

The list includes exclusive interviews and investigations, new trends in health and lifestyles, breaking economic news and feature stories focusing on everything from Hollywood stars to chefs' secrets.

John Edwards Admits Sexual Affair; Lied as Candidate

John Edwards admitted to ABC News in an interview with Bob Woodruff that he repeatedly lied about an extramarital affair with Rielle Hunter, a 42-year-old campaign employee. The news broke on, resulting in the most-read story of 2008.

Edwards strenuously denied being involved in paying the woman hush money or fathering her newborn child. The former Democratic U.S. senator and presidential candidate from North Carolina said he would be willing to take a paternity test and divulge the results publicly.

"Two years ago I made a very serious mistake, a mistake that I am responsible for and no one else," Edwards said. "In 2006, I told Elizabeth about the mistake, asked her for her forgiveness, asked God for his forgiveness. And we have kept this within our family since that time."

Read the story: Edwards Admits Sexual Affair; Lied as Presidential Candidate.

Watch the full interview: Edwards Admits to Affair With Rielle Hunter.

Read the full transcript: Excerpts of Edwards Interview with Bob Woodruff .

Another political scandal involving an affair also ranked among the most-read stories. U.S. Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-Fla., whose predecessor resigned in the wake of his own sex scandal, agreed to a $121,000 payment to a former mistress who worked on his staff and was threatening to sue him, according to current and former members of his staff who had been briefed on the settlement, which involved Mahoney and his campaign committee.

Read the story: Congressman's $121,000 Payoff to Alleged Mistress.

Sarah Palin Says She's Ready to Be Vice President

Gov. Sarah Palin sat down with ABC News' Charlie Gibson for her first interview after being selected as Sen. John McCain's running mate.

In three interviews in her home state of Alaska, Palin discussed national security as well as energy policy and climate change.

Palin, 44, said she knew immediately that she was prepared to run as vice president when McCain offered her the job. It is a core of shared values and drive that made them a good team, she said.

"I answered [McCain] 'yes,' because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can't blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we're on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can't blink."

"I thought yes right off the bat. ... When he offered me the position as his running mate, the first thing I said to him was, 'Do you really think that I could help the ticket? Do you really think that I could help this country? Absolutely, I want to do this with you.'"

Read the story: Palin Takes Hard Line on National Security, Softens Stance on Global Warming.

Watch the full interview: Gov. Sarah Palin's Exclusive Interview with Charles Gibson.

Read the full transcript: Full Excerpts: Charlie Gibson Interviews GOP Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin.

Palin was the subject of a number of the most popular stories of the past year.

Responding to media reports first publicized on "The Drudge Report" claiming there was turmoil at Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Studios about whether to book Palin on the popular talk show, Winfrey's representatives said that while she had nothing against Palin, the veep hopeful wouldn't appear on the show during the campaign.

"At the beginning of the presidential campaign, when I decided that I was going to take my first public stance in support of a candidate, I made the decision not to use my show as a platform for any of the candidates," Winfrey wrote in a statement provided to "I agree that Sarah Palin would be a fantastic interview, and I would love to have her on after the campaign is over."

Read the story: Is Oprah Biased? Host Won't Interview Palin.

And after the election was over, longtime Palin staffer Meg Stapleton lashed back at anonymous critics within the McCain-Palin presidential campaign, telling ABC News they were attacking the former vice presidential candidate with distortions and blaming her for the Republican National Committee's own missteps.

Read the story: Palin Aide Fires Back at Reported McCain Camp Slams.

Randy Pausch, 'Last Lecture' Professor Dies

Randy Pausch, the charismatic college professor who chronicled his battle with pancreatic cancer in a remarkable speech widely known as the "Last Lecture," died at the age of 47. Pausch's lecture and subsequent interview was one of the most powerful accounts of hope, grace and optimism ABC News has ever featured, and it drew a worldwide response.

If you had only six months to live, what would you do? How would you live your life? And how can all of us take heart from Pausch's inspiring message to live each day to its fullest?

Pausch's answers to these questions, both in the lecture and in three separate interviews over a series of months with Diane Sawyer, are moving, funny, thought-provoking and extraordinary.

Last spring, Sawyer asked Pausch what was the best thing that had happened to him that day. He replied, "Well, first off, I'd say the day's not over yet. So there's always a chance that there will be a new best."

The family requests that donations in Randy's behalf be directed to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, 2141 Rosecrans Ave., Suite 7000, El Segundo, Calif. 90245, or to Carnegie Mellon's Randy Pausch Memorial Fund.

Read the story: Randy Pausch, 'Last Lecture' Professor Dies .

Watch the full interview: VIDEO: The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch.

Get the full coverage of The Last Lecture.

Stars Who Died Young

It's as common in Hollywood as the rags-to-riches tale: stories of stars who died young.

Actor Heath Ledger, who died Jan. 22 in New York, and Brad Renfro, who died one week earlier, joined the ranks of artists, actors and musicians who died before their 30th birthdays, often during the prime of their careers.

Ledger was found dead in his Manhattan apartment. The actor, who had recently separated from actress Michelle Williams, his former fiancee and mother of his 2-year-old daughter, is expected to be remembered as one of the best of his generation. He got an Oscar nomination for playing a gay cowboy in "Brokeback Mountain" and is generating Oscar buzz again for his role as Joker in the Batman movie, "The Dark Knight."

Other stars who died young include singer Aaliyah, rap star Tupac Shakur and actors James Dean and River Phoenix.

Read the story Gone Before 30: Stars Who Died Young.

Obama's Pastor: 'God Damn America'

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who was President-elect Barack Obama's pastor for 20 years at the Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's South Side, has a long history of what even Obama's campaign aides conceded was "inflammatory rhetoric," including the assertion that the United States brought on the Sept. 11 attacks with its own "terrorism."

Wright married Obama and his wife, Michelle, baptized their two daughters and is credited by Obama for the title of his book "The Audacity of Hope."

An ABC News review of dozens of Wright's sermons, offered for sale by the church, found repeated denunciations of the United States based on what he described as his reading of the Gospels and the treatment of black Americans.

"The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people," he said in a 2003 sermon. "God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme."

Read the story: Obama's Pastor: God Damn America, U.S. to Blame for 9/11.

Obama: McCain Scoring 'Cheap Points'

Then-Sen. Barack Obama told ABC News' Charlie Gibson that the personal attacks levied against him by the campaign of his presidential rival, Sen. John McCain, particularly references to his association with 1960s anti-war radical Bill Ayers, were an attempt to "score cheap political points."

"Why don't we just clear it up right now," Obama told Gibson in an exclusive interview for "World News". "I'll repeat again what I've said many times. This is a guy who engaged in some despicable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8 years old. By the time I met him, 10 or 15 years ago, he was a college professor of education at the University of Illinois. ... And the notion that somehow he has been involved in my campaign, that he is an adviser of mine, that . . . I've 'palled around with a terrorist,' all these statements are made simply to try to score cheap political points."

Obama said that the McCain campaign is making personal attacks "the centerpiece of the discussion in the closing weeks of a campaign where we are facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and we're in the middle of two wars."

Read the story: Obama: McCain Scoring 'Cheap Political Points' .

Watch the video: Obama Speaks on Market Turmoil.

Read the full transcript: Full Excerpts: Charles Gibson Interviews Barack Obama.

List of Troubled Banks Worries Wall Street

The economic crisis and recession received a great deal of coverage at the end of 2008, and one popular story focused on banks in Colorado, Maryland, Georgia and California that topped privately prepared lists of troubled banks being circulated on Wall Street and in Washington.

While the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) kept secret its official list of 90 troubled banks, ABC News obtained other lists prepared by several research groups and financial analysts.

The lists use versions of the so-called "Texas ratio," which compare a bank's assets and reserves to its non-performing loans, based on financial data made public by the FDIC in March.

Analysts say banks with a ratio more than 100 percent would be the most likely to fail, based on what happened to Texas savings and loans during the 1980s.

Read the story Who's Next? List of Troubled Banks Worries Wall Street, DC.

Another popular economic story addressed the Senate vote on the $700 billion bailout. Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain left the campaign trail so they could return to Washington in time for the vote.

It was the first time the presidential candidates were back in Washington after McCain "suspended" his campaign to concentrate on the economic crisis, when both he and Obama met with President George W. Bush on the issue.

Shortly after that meeting, the bailout deal unraveled amid bitter accusations that each side had politicized the issue and contributed to the shocking House vote to defeat it.

Read the story: Candidates Leave Campaign Trail, Head to DC for Bailout Vote.

10 Cosmetic Procedures You Should Avoid

While consumers continue to flock to doctors in the hopes of improving their appearance, plastic and cosmetic surgeons and dermatologists say there are a number of procedures of which consumers should be especially wary.

A report suggested that despite worries over an economic downturn, Americans are still spending money on procedures intended to make them look better. The annual report, issued by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, showed that the number of cosmetic procedures performed continued its steady rise last year to a total of nearly 12 million.

The list of procedures that are least likely to offer results that justify their risks include mesotherapy, lipodissolve, cosmetic foot surgery, buttock implants and tattoed makeup.

Read the story: 10 Cosmetic Procedures You Should Avoid.

Natalee Holloway Suspect: 'I Know What Happened'

Joran van der Sloot, a former suspect in the disappearance of American teen Natalee Holloway, said on surveillance recordings aired on a Dutch TV special that Holloway appeared to be lifeless on an Aruban beach three years ago during a romantic tryst and "she'll never be found."

"I know what happened to that girl," van der Sloot announced during 20 hours of private conversations secretly recorded by crime reporter Peter R. de Vries.

Her body, van der Sloot said, had been dumped in the ocean by a friend with a boat.

"We're on the beach," he said on the recordings, according to the Dutch TV show. "Suddenly, she wasn't moving anymore."

Van der Sloot claimed he was lying in the secretly recorded conversations with Patrick van der Eem, a person he thought was a friend, but who was secretly working undercover for de Vries and his team of Dutch crime reporters.

Read the story: Holloway Suspect: 'I Know What Happened'.

Leibovitz Defends Provocative Miley Cyrus Pics

Annie Leibovitz, the photographer who shot provocative photos of Miley Cyrus for the June issue of Vanity Fair, defended her depiction of the 15-year-old star.

"I'm sorry that my portrait of Miley has been misinterpreted," she said in a statement released by Vanity Fair. "Miley and I looked at fashion photographs together and we discussed the picture in that context before we shot it. The photograph is a simple, classic portrait, shot with very little makeup, and I think it is very beautiful."

Cyrus said she was "embarrassed" by the photos and apologized to her fans.

"I took part in a photo shoot that was supposed to be 'artistic' and now, seeing the photographs and reading the story, I feel so embarrassed," she said in a statement. "I never intended for any of this to happen and I apologize to my fans who I care so deeply about."

Read the story: Leibovitz Defends Provocative Miley Cyrus Photos.

Fritzl Daughter of Incest Like the 'Walking Dead'

The gruesome details made headlines in European papers when Elizabeth Fritzl was found in an Austrian basement after 24 years of imprisonment.

Allegedly raped by her father at age 11, drugged and cast in a dungeon-like cellar at 18, and for months tied to a pole and offered the choice of sex or starvation, the daughter of Josef Fritzl paid a heavy price.

In her underground prison, Elisabeth Fritzl bore seven children through alleged incest and was never allowed to see daylight or interact with anyone other than her tormentor father and her children.

Read the story: Elisabeth Fritzl's Trauma Like 'Walking Dead'.

10 Baffling Medical Mysteries and Health Conditions

Persistent sexual arousal syndrome. An allergy to cold temperatures. Music-induced seizures.

They are conditions that you may be hard-pressed to find in the medical literature. Bring them up in front of a physician, and in some cases you may get little more than a blank stare. But they exist. And while such rare conditions are cocktail-party fodder for some, they can be a source of difficulty and shame for those who experience them firsthand.

This top 10 list of medical mysteries includes syndromes such as an inability to open one's eyes for days, a never-before-seen resistance to cold temperatures, an extremely rare condition called chiari malformation that prevents sleep, an inability to remember, and an inability to forget.

Read the story: 10 Baffling Medical Conditions.

Teens Experiment With Anal Sex, Risk Health

Experts say that as social mores ease, more young heterosexuals are engaging in anal sex, a behavior once rarely mentioned in polite circles. And the experimentation, they worry, may be linked to the increase in sexually transmitted diseases.

Recently, researchers at the Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Center in Rhode Island suggested that anal sex is on the rise among teens and young adults, particularly those who have unprotected vaginal sex.

Experts say girls and young women are often persuaded to try such sexual behavior for the wrong reasons -- to please a partner, to have sex without the risk of pregnancy or to preserve their virginity. But many don't understand the health consequences.

Read the story: Study Reports Anal Sex on Rise Among Teens.

Emeril's Best Mac 'n' Cheese Ever Challenge Recipes

In February, chef Emeril Lagasse announced the winner of his Best Mac 'n' Cheese Ever Challenge: Laura Macek!

Thousands of "Good Morning America" viewers submitted their recipes, and we narrowed it down to five worthy challengers. You voted and helped to pick the winner. Macek joined Emeril live on the show, along with semifinalists Princess Thompson and Gwen Richardson.

After winning the official cheese trophy, Macek showed Emeril how to recreate her decadent cavatappi, gruyere and cheddar creation.

Get the recipe: Emeril's Best Mac 'n' Cheese Ever Challenge Recipes.

Get more GMA recipes .

Florida Teen Live-Streams His Own Suicide

A Florida teenager who used a webcam to live-stream his suicide was reportedly encouraged by other people on the Web site, authorities told

"People were egging him on and saying things like 'go ahead and do it, faggot,' said Wendy Crane, an investigator at the Broward County Medical Examiner's office.

Abraham Biggs, 19, of Pembroke Pines, Fla., had been blogging on an online bodybuilding message board and had linked to his page on, a live video-streaming Web site, where the camera rolled as he overdosed on prescription pills, according to Crane.

Biggs, who had reportedly been discussing his suicide on the forums, also posted a suicide note on a bodybuilding forum, which was taken down, in which he wrote, "I hate myself and I hate living."

Read the story: Florida Teen Live-Streams His Suicide Online.