The five most popular stories on CNN.com in the last 24 hours, according to NewsPulse:
TV meteorologist accused of filing false sexual assault report: An on-air meteorologist for New York's WABC-TV has been arrested, accused of falsely reporting an attempted sexual assault to police, a story she later recanted, according to the New York Police Department.
Object shot out of sky above Israel: The Israeli Air Force shot down an unidentified flying object over the Dimona nuclear plant in the Negev Desert Thursday, the Israel Defense Forces said.
Opinion: Marriage gap is bad for America: A retired chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court writes about a growing, class-based marriage gap in the United States.
David Arquette: 'I've been drinking a lot': David Arquette is heartbroken and has been using alcohol as a way of coping with the trauma of his recent separation from Courteney Cox, he said Wednesday, according to People.com.
Sex ed in the age of Snooki: A sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author says parents need to help boys look at girls differently.
A look at higlights from the day's business news headlines:
Stocks hit 2-year highs
Stocks closed at two-year highs Thursday, with two of the three major indexes hitting their highest levels since September 2008. Investors looked on the brighter side of mixed reports on housing and jobs that came out before the opening bell.
The Dow Jones industrial average closed 41 points higher, or less than 0.4%, to end at 11,499.25 - the highest close since Sept. 8, 2008. The S&P 500 gained 8 points, or 0.6%, to 1,242.87, its highest closing level since Sept. 19, 2008. The tech-heavy Nasdaq rose 20 points, or 0.8%.
Oklahoma death row inmate John David Duty was executed Thursday using a drug commonly used to euthanize animals because of a nationwide shortage of the sedative normally employed in Oklahoma's lethal injections.
Pentobarbital is an anesthetizing drug widely used to euthanize dogs, cats and other animals. Duty, who was pronounced dead at 6:18 p.m. CT, is believed to be the first condemned inmate to be executed using pentobarbital as part of the three-drug cocktail.
Lawyers for Duty, who was sentenced to die for strangling his cellmate with a shoelace, claimed that pentobarbital is risky and unproven in humans.
The Celtics weren't the only winners filing out of Madison Square Garden Wednesday night. Although the Knicks fell to streaking Boston, their performance showed the vast improvement that they've made, says SI.com's Chris Mannix.
Granted, the sting of Amar'e Stoudemire's off-the-rim miss in the final seconds of the game is not likely to fall by the wayside immediately, but the Knicks' back-and-forth scuffle with the Celtics provided undeniable proof that this is not the same team that Knicks fans have watched over the last few years. Instead of being blown out by a team pegged as one of the championship front-runners and a group coming off 11 straight wins, the Knicks came within just a shot of the win. As Mannix points out: "Indeed, lost in the constant Carmelo Anthony watch in Manhattan is one inescapable fact: This Knicks team is already pretty good."
With Stoudemire, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton and Landry Fields, the Knicks have a stacked team able to contend with some of the league's best. Would the addition of all-star forward Anthony be nice? Of course. But the simple fact is that this Knicks team has improved leaps and bounds over some of its recent predecessors. "These Knicks, these Carmelo-less Knicks, are for real," Mannix writes. "They are young, hungry and have a winning-starved fan base emphatically behind them. The team has suddenly given the city a reason to watch."
San Francisco 49ers vs. San Diego Chargers (8:20 p.m., ET)
With both teams still in playoff contention, look for the 49ers and Chargers to battle it out in the NFL's Thursday night face-off at Qualcomm Stadium.
BY THE NUMBERS
266 – Number of games legendary baseball Hall of Famer Bob Feller won during his 18-year career. The former pitcher died Wednesday night at age 92 after battling leukemia.
5 – Number of inactive players Jets strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi instructed to form a wall on the sidelines during the now infamous game between the Jets and Dolphins. Alosi has been suspended indefinitely for his actions.
13 – Number of points Blake Hoffarber scored in Minnesota's 66-58 victory over Akron. His performance put Hoffarber over the 1,000 points scored mark.
Information circulating on Twitter on Thursday alleging CNN reported that actor Morgan Freeman had died is a hoax.
CNN tweeted the following statement Thursday evening in response to the rumors: "CNN did not report Morgan Freeman death. Rumor is false. CNN will aggressively investigate this hoax."
Meanwhile, Freeman "is very much alive," his publicist Stan Rosenfield told CNN.
A security officer who wounded a gunman holding six Florida school officials hostage this week says he thought he intervened too late to save the district superintendent, who he thought had been killed moments beforehand.
When the gunbattle was over and the gunman had fatally shot himself, Mike Jones, chief of security for Bay District Schools in Panama City, was in for a surprise, he said Thursday.
"The next thing (that) happened was the superintendent came across the desk and (showed) that he was OK, and that’s when I lost it," Jones told reporters at a news conference.
Police and school officials have hailed Jones as a hero for shooting Clay Duke, 56, after Duke fired his gun Tuesday in the direction of Superintendent Bill Husfelt, who was seated behind a desk with five school board members in the board’s meeting room.
The coming South Korean military exercise risks a reaction from North Korea that would escalate out of control, a top general at the Pentagon said Thursday.
South Korea has publicized its intentions for the exercise on the same island that was shelled by North Korea last month in order to avoid misunderstanding, Gen. James Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said.
Still, he said, there is the potential for North Korea to react.
"If North Korea were to react to that in a negative way and fire back at them, those firing positions on the islands, that would start potentially a chain reaction of firing and counter firing," Cartwright told reporters at the Pentagon.FULL STORY
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proclaimed Thursday "Larry King Day" in honor of the final broadcast tonight of CNN's "Larry King Live."
"Larry King has transformed himself into a household name. An indisputable legend in both the entertainment and media industries, King has changed the concept of the talk show within his lifetime," a proclamation signed by Schwarzenegger reads.
"King’s unique and direct interviewing style quickly transformed his show into one of the most renowned and celebrated talk shows on cable. From politicians and celebrities to musicians and athletes, it became an honor to publicly share important news first on 'Larry King Live.' "
After 25 years, King's record-breaking run as CNN's prime-time, talk-show host ends Thursday night with a grand finale staffers are calling "Larrypalooza."
The proclamation also describes King, whose show is filmed in California, as "a valuable friend, dependable supporter and well-wisher" of the state, noting that he is a Dodgers fan who enjoys many famous California restaurants, including the Beverly Hills deli, Nate 'n Al.
"Larry King has done much more than provide fantastic interviews, profiles and news coverage over the last 53 years. He has used his fame and influence to raise money and awareness for many worthwhile causes and charitable organizations. His departure from “Larry King Live” is an important milestone and turning point in the history of broadcast television."
King will hang up his suspenders after tonight's show at 9 p.m. ET.
The first lady of Zimbabwe has filed a defamation suit demanding $15 million from a newspaper that quoted a 2008 diplomatic cable alleging she profited from the illegal diamond trade.
The Standard, a Harare-based Sunday newspaper, this week quoted WikiLeaks-released U.S. cables saying rumors that Mugabe and Gideon Gono, the Reserve Bank governor, were profiting off of the diamonds are true.
In short, the paper alleged the cables show that Gono made thousands of dollars each month off diamond dealing and funneled money to Mugabe, her sister-in-law and members of Zimbabwe’s ruling party.
“The diamonds that are sold to regime members and elites are sold for freshly printed Zimbabwean notes issued by the (Reserve Bank),” The Standard quoted British mining executive Andrew Cranswick as saying in a 2008 document.
According to Britain’s The Guardian, the Marange district of Zimbabwe has been the “scene of a frenzied diamond rush in recent years.”
In court papers, Mugabe called the allegations printed in The Standard false and malicious and said they damaged her credibility, Al-Jazeera reported.
“Whatever it prints is regarded as gospel truth by those people in Zimbabwe and abroad,” the network quoted court documents as saying.
Mugabe, in the past, has been the subject of media reports questioning her lavish tastes as first lady of a country where inflation has soared and a majority of citizens live below the poverty line.
Time for a party on Mars.
NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft has been exploring the Red Planet for 3,340 days as of Wednesday evening, making it the longest-serving craft in that neighborhood of space, NASA said.
Odyssey broke the record set by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, which orbited Mars from 1997 to 2006.
After its launch in 2001, Odyssey detected hydrogen on Mars in 2002. That prompted NASA to launch the Phoenix Mars Lander mission, which confirmed the presence of water ice on the planet in 2008, NASA said.
Odyssey serves as the data storage post and communications relay for several Mars exploration programs, and it will do likewise for the planned landing of the Mars Science Laboratory in 2012, NASA said.
[Updated at 1:32 p.m.] Two leading House Democrats indicated Thursday the House of Representatives is set to approve the controversial $858 billion tax deal largely negotiated by the White House and top Senate Republicans.
However, a procedural snafu delayed consideration of the measure, as Democratic leaders held it back over concerns they lacked support on how the debate would proceed, according to a senior Democratic aide. It was unclear if the House Democrats would muster enough support to proceed Thursday or have to change the rules.
The bill, which cleared the Senate 81-19 on Wednesday, was expected to eventually win approval despite strong objections from both the left and the right. Among other things, House liberals remain strongly opposed to what they argue is a deficit-exploding giveaway to the rich in the form of a lower estate tax.
It is "pretty clear the handwriting is on the wall (that) this is going to pass," said Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-New York, a vocal critic of the agreement.
It "seems that the momentum is with a bill that is unchanged," added Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland.FULL STORY
Los Angeles police are trying to identify women in photographs whom they believe may have been held captive by the notorious serial killer The Grim Sleeper.
The photos, reportedly found in the suspect's home, were revealed Thursday.
Lonnie Franklin Jr. is charged with 10 murders and one attempted murder in slayings which occurred over two decades - as far as back as 1985. The bodies of victims, many working as prostitutes, were all found in close proximity to each other in a neighborhood formerly known as South Central L.A.
Franklin, a mechanic who once worked for the LAPD, was arrested in July after police say they matched his DNA with DNA left on some of the victims. Police were led to Franklin after his 28-year-old son got arrested and gave a DNA swab, authorities said.
Director Blake Edwards, best known for his "Pink Panther" film series and "Breakfast at Tiffany's," has died at the age of 88, his publicist said Thursday.
Edwards passed away Wednesday night of complications from pneumonia at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, publicist Gene Schwam said.
Edwards' wife, actress Julie Andrews, and other members of his family were beside him, Schwam said.
Edwards was the recipient of an honorary Oscar in 2003, when he was praised for establishing himself as one of Hollywood's true comedy auteurs.
Edwards is credited with directing 46 titles, including "Victor Victoria," "S.O.B.," "10," and the Pink Panther series.
[Updated at 1:04 p.m.] Julian Assange, the editor of WikiLeaks, walked out of London's High Court after being freed on bail Thursday, nine days after he was arrested for questioning about alleged sex crimes in Sweden.
Assange was kept in solitary confinement in Wandsworth Prison in London, he confirmed Thursday after being freed on bail.
He said his time in solitary confinement gave him time "to reflect on the condition of those people around the world also in solitary confinement... in positions that are more difficult than those faced by me. Those people... also need your attention and support."
He also hailed the British justice system Thursday saying "if justice is not always an outcome ... at least it is not dead yet."
[Updated at 8:39 a.m.] WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange was granted bail by a court in London Thursday.FULL STORY
President Barack Obama asserted Thursday that the United States is making significant progress in the nine-year war in Afghanistan, but warned that the conflict "continues to be a very difficult
We are "on track to achieve our goals" of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda and its Taliban allies, he said. The gains, however, are fragile.
The president noted, among other things, that there has been a "successful increase" in the recruitment and training of Afghan forces due partly to the July 2011 deadline set by the administration to start withdrawing
the U.S. military.
Temperatures were slowly warming Thursday across the South, where freezing rain glazed roads with ice, but a sprawling winter storm system remained in place across the upper Plains states.
The National Weather Service issued winter storm warnings and advisories for more than a dozen states. The brunt of the system is poised to hit Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia, but several inches of snow are forecast for portions of Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and North Carolina, as well as Minnesota and the Dakotas. Winter weather advisories stretched into Wisconsin and Minnesota.
In Kentucky, up to a quarter-inch of ice could accumulate on roadways, the weather service warned, in addition to previously fallen snow. Three to six inches of snow were forecast for eastern Virginia.FULL STORY
Ed Sands, owner of a big wine and liquor store in Washington, D.C., is wondering what the House of Representatives will do to the new estate tax provisions in the compromise deal worked out between the White House and Republicans.
Some House Democrats are howling for the wealthy to pay more, targeting the estate tax for changes.
"I've spent 45 years building a business; and I wouldn't like to give it away in taxes," Sands said.
Whittled down to nothing over the life of the Bush tax cuts, the estate tax would revive at a rate of 35%, but with the first $5 million of an individual's estate exempted. Liberals in the House will likely push to lower the exemption, while raising the tax rate. On the Senate side, Republicans vow to scrap the deal if the House makes those kinds of changes. The White House is pushing hard to keep the compromise intact.
But for people like Sands, the tax deal shouldn't be about the bickering, it should be about hardworking Americans "feel[ing] like we've accomplished a lot."
"And I would very much like to see it remain in the family," he said.
CNN's Bob Costantini reports on Sands story.
Listen to the complete story by clicking the audio button:
"He could throw that Speedo on you, make you look like a fool."
Come spring, New York Daily News baseball writer Andy Martino could inspire Bruce Springsteen to rewrite his "Glory Days" lyric that way.
"Lots of information swirling around the Twitter, some of it questionable. For example, if the Phillies sign Cliff Lee, I'll cover spring training in a Speedo."
Well, guess what? Lee, the hottest item on Major League Baseball's free-agent market, signed on the dotted line with Philadelphia this week, turning down an offer from the New York Yankees that was two years and $30 million fatter.
At a news conference Wednesday, Lee said he just likes playing in Philadelphia better.
"You can feel the volume," Lee said, according to The New York Times. "Every game has got an elevated feel compared to everywhere else. They don't need a teleprompter to tell them to get up and cheer. The feeling of playing on the field feels different than anywhere else."
And so Martino, being a man of his word, promises to cover spring training while wearing a swimsuit that doesn't cover much. But he's given himself an out:
"This holiday season, I am grateful for one thing above all else," he wrote. "I didn't say I'd cover spring training in only a Speedo, without any clothing to cover it."
House takes up tax deal – The House of Representatives could vote to extend the the Bush-era tax reductions Thursday after the Senate overwhelmingly adopted it.
The Senate approved the controversial $858 billion tax cut package Wednesday despite a series of objections from both the left and the right. The measure passed 81-19.
The House will take up the bill some time Thursday, according to Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland.
WikiLeaks founder granted bail – WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange was granted bail by a London court Thursday, meaning he is free to leave jail until his next scheduled court hearing in January.
Assange must stay at the mansion of a supporter outside London, report to the police daily, wear an electronic tag to monitor his location and put up 200,000 pounds (about $310,000) in bail money, plus two further 20,000-pound sureties (about $31,500 each), the judge ruled.