'The Five' looks back: From Rittenhouse to Afghanistan to inflation - the biggest stories of 2021

The biggest story of the year is 'COVID', 'as much as we want to ignore it,' says Geraldo Rivera.

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As 2021 comes to a close, several major news events left long-lasting footprints that were nearly impossible to ignore. "The Five" panel looked back on the biggest and most consequential stories during Friday's New Year's special. 

One unforgettable moment was the verdict in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse on Nov. 19, when a nation watched a Kenosha, Wis. jury find the 18-year-old not guilty of all counts in the fatal shootings of two people and the wounding of a third person during the second night of civil unrest on Aug. 25, 2020. The case had made Rittenhouse a household name, and the verdict capped off an intense trial that illustrated both media bias and a disturbingly growing tendency to prejudge.

Kyle Rittenhouse pulls numbers of jurors out of a tumbler during his trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis., on Nov. 16, 2021.

Kyle Rittenhouse pulls numbers of jurors out of a tumbler during his trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis., on Nov. 16, 2021.

That made the Rittenhouse case one of the top stories of 2021.

"Mine is the Kyle Rittenhouse trial," said "Five" co-host Jesse Watters. "We had cameras in the courtroom for this trial. If there had not been cameras in the courtroom, this country would have perceived what happened that scary day very, very differently. So it was almost like a formal education in prosecutorial misconduct in constitutional law and everything that the media tried to spin one way ended up being a complete disaster. So, we saw the trial in real-time. We saw a jury deliberate methodically, and people at this table believe that was pretty cut and dry self-defense… and it opened people's eyes." 

This undated photo made available by Blue Origin in October 2021 shows, from left, Chris Boshuizen, William Shatner, Audrey Powers and Glen de Vries. (Blue Origin via AP)

This undated photo made available by Blue Origin in October 2021 shows, from left, Chris Boshuizen, William Shatner, Audrey Powers and Glen de Vries. (Blue Origin via AP) (Blue Origin via AP)

Dana Perino thought the emergence of civilian spaceflights was a big story in 2021. The nation watched the rich, famous and affluent - celebrities such as Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, William Shatner and Michael Strahan, among others - take trips into orbit. Perino suggested spaceflight companies taking civilians into space will have an "impact for many decades to come." 

"When you had Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin basically get up there and take civilians into space – and it might have only been an 11-minute ride, but you think about what could happen," she said. "There's so many ambitious goals that are coming out of these programs, and Time Magazine named Elon Musk the man of the year. And it's not just because of electric vehicles. …  I think that it's much more about the vision and the pioneer spirit and the next frontier, which is space." 

Bill Hemmer, co-anchor of "America's Newsroom," chose the chaotic evacuation in Afghanistan as his top story, adding that it was an "international embarrassment" and a memory "you cannot erase."

"The US military deserve better than this after 20 years serving in that war. And this was a C-17 US Air Force rolling down the tarmac in Kabul, with 20-year-old men bouncing off the side," he said. "The scene was bad. I don't know where it leads, I don't know what happens as a consequence. Dan Hoffman was with us on 'America's Newsroom' earlier in the month, and he talked about dictatorships being on the march in 2021 into 2022. And what he talked about was perhaps at a rate that we have not seen since World War II."

"I don't know if he's right about that between Putin and Xi and Iran," he continued. "It's been since the 1980s since we had a president with a bully pulpit who was talking the way that Ronald Reagan did. I think we're a long way from that right now in this current White House. We had a democracy summit earlier in the month of December. There are fledgling democracies right now in places like Ukraine and Taiwan that we hope will hold on into the New Year and beyond. And we'll see what comes as a result of this because, as I said, the scene was bad. I don't know where it leads. I just hope it leads to a good place." 

For other members of "The Five," the economy – specifically inflation – was the biggest story of 2021 because it impacts all Americans. Inflation, co-host Dagen McDowell said, is "huge hardship" for so many Americans.

"Consumer prices are surging at the fastest pace in almost 40 years. Wages are falling for many Americans when adjusting for that inflation, as price increases," she said. "So the Federal Reserve and the Democrats screwed up in unison in both monetary and fiscal policy, respectively. Fed Chief Jay Powell and his cronies at the Fed, they were way too cavalier starting in 2020, letting prices get hot, hot, hot, deciding to kind of let it run, ignoring the signs even in the spring that prices were getting out of hand."

"They kept buying $120 billion worth of government securities every month and have kept interest rates at zero all year," McDowell added. "And then the liberal spendthrifts in Washington were loving it because the Fed was sopping up more than half of their spending. So the central bank bought more than half of the Treasury debt issued this year. And now the White House is trying to push this giant new welfare monstrosity, making matters worse, and they don't even know what to say about it."

Fox News correspondent-at-large Geraldo Rivera concluded by choosing COVID as his biggest story of the year. 

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"I think maybe the biggest story of our lifetimes is COVID. As much as we want to ignore it, as we want to make it go away, it's here," he said. "We're on the verge of another surge from this omicron. It's just now spreading like wildfire through our country. We have 50 million Americans infected, 799,000 dead Americans. California the most dead, 75,600. Texas, 75,000. Florida, 62,000."

No one in the U.S. will escape COVID, Rivera observed.

"Almost everybody is going to get this. It is so very serious," he said. "I think that the municipalities and the mask mandates and the travel mandates and the vaccine mandates, all the rest of it –  think that they're part of our life for another year."