The five most popular CNN.com stories during the last 24 hours, according to Newspulse:
Vilsack, White House apologize to Sherrod: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday he apologized to Shirley Sherrod for forcing her to resign from her government job in Georgia based on incomplete and misleading reports of a speech she gave. Vilsack also said he offered Sherrod another job in the department, and she was taking a few days to think about it.
Missing teen's body found: A body found near where a California teen vanished last week on her way home from summer school was confirmed Wednesday to be that of 17-year-old Norma Lopez, a Riverside County Sheriff's Department spokesman said.
Breaching whale crash lands on sailing boat: A sailor described her "miraculous" escape after a whale leapt out of the water and crash-landed on the deck of her boat off the coast of South Africa.
Astronomers discover monster star: Astronomers use a Very Large Telescope - the instrument's official name - to detect the most massive star discovered to date.
The many faces of Mel Gibson: Given recent tapes allegedly featuring actor Mel Gibson's voice - a voice that alternately threatens, rages, recoils and aches - the edgy, borderline fury often embodied by Mel Gibson the artist is all too closely entwined with the image of Mel Gibson the person.
A look at highlights from the day's business news:
Stocks slump on Bernanke comments
Stocks tumbled Wednesday after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress that the outlook for the economy is "unusually uncertain," adding to worries about the pace of the recovery.
The Dow Jones industrial average lost 109 points, or 1.1%, the S&P 500 index dropped 14 points, or 1.3%, and the Nasdaq composite tumbled 35 points, or 1.6%.
Stocks were slightly lower through the early afternoon as
better-than-expected quarterly profit reports from Apple, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo were countered by disappointment about results from Yahoo and others.
But the selling picked up steam in the afternoon following the 2 p.m. ET
release of Bernanke's prepared testimony for a Senate committee. The Fed chief told lawmakers that, despite ongoing signs of weakness in the economy, central bankers expect gradual recovery over the next few years, although the labor market healing will be slower than previously thought.
The executive board of the International Monetary Fund approved Wednesday the cancellation of Haiti's $268 million debt to the fund.
The board also approved a three-year request by authorities to support Haiti's reconstruction and growth program.
The decisions are part of an effort to support Haiti's longer-term reconstruction plans after the January 12 earthquake, which killed more than 200,000 people and destroyed much of the country's infrastructure.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says he has apologized to Shirley Sherrod, who resigned from her Agriculture Department position under pressure this week over a video showing her making comments about a white farmer.
"I started off by extending to her my personal and profound apologies for the pain and discomfort that has been caused to her and to her family over the course of the last several days," Vilsack told reporters late Wednesday afternoon in Washington, D.C.
"She was extraordinarily gracious," Vilsack added. "I wanted to make sure that she understood that I regretted the circumstances, and that I accepted full responsibility for that."
Vilsack said he told Sherrod by phone that the USDA would have another position for her should she want it. Sherrod answered that she needed some time to think about it, Vilsack said.
It's not exactly a new word, but when's the last time you heard it - "snooker"?
According to Merriam-Webster, it means "to dupe."
NAACP "snookered" - On Wednesday, the president of the NAACP said his organizationÂ had been snookeredÂ into thinking that ex-U.S. DepartmentÂ of AgricultureÂ worker Shirley Sherrod had made racist remarks at a NAACP dinner in March.Â In a headline-dominatingÂ drama that began Tuesday morning andÂ continued Wednesday, NAACP President Benjamin JealousÂ said heÂ regretted first-blush criticism of Sherrod.
Conservative bloggerÂ Andrew BreitbartÂ was the first toÂ postÂ a video clip of Sherrod over the weekend, which Fox thenÂ picked up. CNN devoted all day and night Tuesday on the developing story, which has sparked reaction everywhere.Â The Dallas Morning News is mad about the whole thing.Â And so are Facebookers who created aÂ page called "Give Shirley Sherrod Her Job Back Now!"Â Thing is, she might not want it.
Bad photoshop, bad!Â -Â BP admitted to alteringÂ an imageÂ of the company's oil spill control center.Â A staff photographer manipulatedÂ pictures of engineers looking at three blank screens atÂ the control center, making the screensÂ appear as if they were displaying underwater shots, to "enhance the quality of the photo," BP said.Â The photographer had no intentionÂ of misleading anyone, the company stressed.Â Tweets abounded aboutÂ what seemed like a poor paste job. Let's hope BP has better command of stopping the oil spill thanÂ it does with Photoshop.
"Jersey Shore"Â connection? - Oh, this transition could not have been more convenient for Web Pulse. "Snooki'" and the spray-tanned gang from the MTV show "Jersey Shore" will be back for season three,Â the network said.Â Jenni "J-Woww" Farley told Steppin' Out magazine that the rumblings of a strike were "very untrue."Â Reports had beenÂ circulating that kids wereÂ angling for $30,000 per episode.
The man who oversaw the CIA's counterterrorism efforts in Pakistan will now be in charge of the agency's spy operations.
John Bennett, one of the CIA's most experienced spies, was named Wednesday by Director Leon Panetta to be the next head of the National Clandestine Service. He replaces Michael Sulick, who is retiring after three years in the job. FULL POST
By the end of the summer, the US will switch from combat operations to what the Gen. Ray Odierno, the outgoing commander there, calls "stability operations." The change on September 1, 2010 will bring in a new name. Gone will be Operation Iraqi Freedom. The final phase of the US presence in Iraq as they prepare to withdraw all troops by 2012 is Operation New Dawn.
At a briefing at the Pentagon on Wednesday, Gen. Odierno ticked through the numbers that underscore the mammoth task of leaving Iraq.
16 – US bases still to be handed over to Iraq
500 – US bases closed or turned over since 2007
20,000 – vehicles sent to Afghanistan
50,000 – anticipated troop level on Sept 1, 2010
70,000 – current troop level
75,000 – Troops who have left Iraq since January 2009
1,200,000 – pieces of equipment removed from the country
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced tougher sanctions Wednesday against North Korea, including freezing some assets in an attempt to keep the Communist dictatorship from buying and selling arms.
The announcement came as Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited South Korea, part of a rare high-level meeting with members of the government of the key Asian ally.
The U.S. delegation arrived in Seoul this week to show support for South Korea over the sinking in March of the warship Chenonan. FULL POST
British troop numbers in Afghanistan could start falling as soon as next year, British Prime Minister David Cameron said Wednesday.
"But it should be based on the conditions on the ground," Cameron said in response to a BBC reporter.
"I don't want to raise expectations about that, because that transition should be based on how well the security situation is progressing," he said.
The United Kingdom has the second-largest contingent of international forces in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban, after the United States. FULL POST
Faisal Shahzad, the 30-year-old Pakistani-American who has pleaded guilty to the botched Times Square terror attack, altered the composition of the bomb he intended to use in order to avoid being detected by authorities, according to the head of the New York City Police Department.
Shahzad "tried to lessen the explosive nature of the fertilizer that he used because he thought that he would get a higher profile if he went to buy it," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told CNN Tuesday. "So he sort of dumbed that down."
At the same time, Shahzad "substituted explosives by using (more readily available) firecrackers. ... He was concerned about surfacing in that regard" as well, Kelly said. "He went to Pennsylvania to buy them. So those two things - the explosive and the fertilizer - did not follow the initial plan, so to speak." FULL POST
A New York City Fire Department emergency medical technician has been arrested and charged with armed sexual assaults, including
sodomizing an 11-year-old in an elevator, police said.
Angus Pascall, 33, of Brooklyn, was charged Tuesday in connection with five sexual assaults. One assault dates back to 2001, when a woman was raped after a man approached her with a gun as she entered her apartment building, New York City police said.
Two of the victims were minors, including the 11-year-old girl, who was attacked in her apartment building elevator earlier this month, police said. The other was a 14-year-old girl who was attacked in 2009 at the rear of her apartment building by a man with a knife and gun. The girl fought back and the attacker fled the scene.
The fire department told CNN Pascall has been suspended without pay.
A staff photographer altered pictures of BP engineers looking at three blank screens at the company's oil spill control center, making the screens look as if they were displaying underwater shots "to enhance the quality of the photo," BP told CNN Wednesday.
A BP spokesman said the photographer had no intention of misleading anyone, and the altered photograph was taken off the company's website as soon as the issue was discovered.
Several U.S. politicians have criticized BP for trying to put a positive spin on the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster in the three months since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana and sank.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates visiting the â€śtruce villageâ€ť of Panmunjom at the Korean Demilitarized Zone Tuesday, under the watchful gaze of a North Korean soldier outside the room. The â€śtruce villageâ€ť is home to the Joint Security Area, where negotiations between the North and South have been periodically held.
Tuesday was all about ex-USDA official Shirley Sherrod, who said she was pressured to quit her job after she was accused of making racist comments. Those remarks were part of a video clip that was posted over the weekend on a conservative bloggerâ€™s website and subsequently aired on Fox.
CNN picked up the story Tuesday morning, telling Sherrodâ€™s side of the story, and by Tuesday night there had been a complete 180 in the matter. Those who initially criticized her, including the NAACP, have now said they were duped by the clip. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday that heâ€™s reviewing Sherrodâ€™s case.
- Last week, the NAACP accused the Tea Party of protecting racist elements in its movement.
- Over the weekend, conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart published part of a video of Sherrod giving a speech at a March 27, 2010, NAACP dinner. In the 2 1/2-minute video, she appears to be talking about how she treated a white farmer in a 1986 case. At the time, she was not employed by the USDA. Her remarks seem racist.
- Fox News picks up the video, airs it and writes about it on itsÂ site.
- Monday, Sherrod resigns. She says she was pressured by at least four phone calls from her superiors telling her the "White House" wants her to leave her job as the head of the Department of Agriculture's rural development office in Georgia.
- Tuesday morning, CNN breaks the story about Sherrod's resignation.
-Â Sherrod defends herself on CNN, saying her comments have been taken out of context. She urges everyone to watch the full video of her speech in which she goes on to tell the audience that she learned from working with the farmer that all people must overcome their prejudices.
[Update 10:58 a.m.] BP said Wednesday the cap on the sunken well in the Gulf of Mexico is still keeping the oil inside. No oil is leaking into the water as pressure slowly rises, it said.
Critical tests on the capped well in the Gulf of Mexico will continue Wednesday as scientists work on the ultimate solution to end the oil disaster.
Pressure testing on the capped well was extended for another 24 hours Tuesday, said Thad Allen, the federal government's point man on the spill. The tests on the new, tightly fitting containment cap began Thursday and are designed to determine the effectiveness of the cap.
Though the new cap has stopped the incessant flow of oil into the Gulf, government officials and BP have said that the cap on the well is only a temporary fix for the oil disaster that started on April 20.
Twenty-fourÂ hours of Shirley SherrodÂ - What a difference a day makes for the former U.S. Department of Agriculture official who resigned under pressure after a video clip surfaced of her discussing how sheÂ treated a white farmer more than 20 years ago.Â Initially the comments, given at a recent NAACP dinner, seemedÂ toÂ suggest Sherrod withheld services from the farmer. But Sherrod defended herself on CNN, saying there was more to the story, and the fullÂ tape should be shown. The white farmer also defended Sherrod.Â HeÂ called accusations that she's racist "hogwash."
And on Wednesday morning,Â Agriculture SecretaryÂ Tom Vilsack pledged to review whether the department had treated Sherrod fairly.
SherrodÂ said that decision is "bittersweet" but hinted that she has moved on and doesn't want to go back to work for the Agriculture Department.
The UnitedÂ States is going all out this week to show support for its key Asian ally, SouthÂ Korea, in the wake of one of its warÂ ships being sunk, asÂ President Barack Obama dispatched the secretaries of State and Defense to the KoreanÂ peninsula.
The U.S. delegation of DefenseÂ Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will hold aÂ first-ever meeting with their South Korean counterparts in Seoul to discuss numerousÂ diplomatic and military issues concerning NorthÂ Korea.Â While the high-level meeting has long beenÂ planned in accordance with the 60th anniversary of the start of theÂ Korean conflict, both countries are using the opportunity to send a message toÂ North Korea during heightenedÂ tensions between Seoul and Pyongyang.
Gates said the meetings are "a gesture of solidarity with our KoreanÂ allies and recognition that the issues of missile and nuclear proliferation inÂ the North continue to be serious challenges for us and for our allies and weÂ intend to take them seriously." FULL POST
Taliban militants beheaded six Afghan police officers during a raid in northern Baghlan province, officials said Wednesday.
The militants had attacked a school, clinic and the district governor's office in Dahanah-e Ghori. They overran a police checkpoint and killed the six police officers, according to NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Munshi Abdul Majid, the governor of Baghlan.
In all, eight police officers were at the checkpoint, Munshi said. They defended themselves for two hours during the skirmish before the beheadings.
The agriculture secretary said early Wednesday that he will review the case of a former Agriculture Department official who resigned after a video clip surfaced of her discussing a white farmer.
Shirley Sherrod - an African-American - resigned this week under pressure after the video clip first appeared on a conservative website and later on Fox News. In the video, she seemed to say she withheld services from a white farmer.
However, Sherrod later said the clip only shows part of her comments and that she tells the story of her experience - from nearly a quarter century ago when she was not a federal employee - to illustrate the importance of moving beyond race.
The video initially brought condemnation from the NAACP, which it later retracted after the context of the clip became clear.
Vilsack said Tuesday that the controversy, regardless of the context of her comments, "compromises the director's ability to do her job." He said, "She's a political appointee, and her job is basically to focus on job growth in Georgia, and I have deep concern about her ability to do her job without her judgments being second-guessed."
Before his appointment by President Obama, VilsackÂ was governor of Iowa forÂ two terms, the first Democrat elected to that office in more than 30 years.
According to his official biography, Vilsack, a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was born into an orphanage and adopted in 1951. He received a bachelor's degree from Hamilton College in 1972 and earned his law degree from Albany Law School in 1975.
Ongoing coverage - BP webcam of Gulf oil disaster
10:00 am ET - Gulf oil disaster hearing -Â The House Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on helping the victims of the Gulf oil disaster.
10:00 am ET - Tea Party Caucus briefing -Â Members of the Tea Party Caucus speak with reporters following a members-only meeting on the state of the country.