AP Top News at 12:09 a.m. EST

Romney not running: Former GOP nominee out of 2016 race
WASHINGTON (AP) - Mitt Romney ended his rollercoaster return to presidential politics on Friday, declaring his party would be better served by the "next generation of Republican leaders" and concluding his unlikely comeback as suddenly as it began. Aides said it was a deeply personal and even painful decision for the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. He insisted he could win the next election if he ran, but his announcement followed a three-week fact-finding effort that revealed significant resistance to a third campaign.


Rap music mogul 'Suge' Knight arrested in fatal hit-and-run
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Marion "Suge" Knight, the impresario of gangster rap, has long been a perpetrator and victim of the violent life he promoted in song. On Friday, he was portrayed as both.


Jordan awaits proof hostage is alive after swap deadline
TOKYO (AP) - The fates of a Japanese journalist and Jordanian military pilot were unknown Friday, a day after the latest purported deadline for a possible prisoner swap passed with no further word from the Islamic State group holding them captive. Jordan has said it will only release an al-Qaida prisoner, Sajida al-Rishawi, from death row if it gets proof the pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, is alive and so far has received no such evidence from the hostage-takers.


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White House grapples with fraught terrorism language
WASHINGTON (AP) - Twice this month, the White House has publicly grappled with the politically fraught language of terrorism. In the days after a deadly terror spree in Paris, President Barack Obama was criticized for purposely avoiding calling the attacks an example of "Islamic extremism," settling for the more generic "violent extremism." This week, the White House struggled to explain why the administration sometimes classifies the Afghan Taliban as a terrorist organization - and sometimes does not.


IS hostage drama shows change in propaganda technique
BEIRUT (AP) - The latest Islamic State hostage drama involving a veteran Japanese war correspondent and a young Jordanian pilot marks the first time the group has publicly demanded prisoner releases. It also signals a change in the extremist group's propaganda technique. Far from the high-tech, slickly edited videos involving beheaded Western hostages through which the group impressed supporters and terrorized opponents, recent messages purporting to be from Japanese hostage Kenji Goto have been through digitized, audio dispatches featuring either still photos or text.


Murder trial begins 35 years after 6-year-old vanished in NY
NEW YORK (AP) - Thirty-five years after the disappearance of a 6-year-old boy in Manhattan ushered in an era of protectiveness for America's children, trial began Friday for a mentally ill man with a low IQ who confessed to his murder and kidnapping. Etan Patz (AY'-tahn PAYTS') was a "tiny man with a big heart" whose life was snuffed out by a worker in the corner candy store on the first day he was allowed to walk alone to catch his bus to school, a prosecutor said.


Balloon crew makes history crossing Pacific Ocean
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A pair of American and Russian pilots has traveled farther and longer in a gas balloon than anyone in history, trying to eliminate any remaining debate over a century of records in long-distance ballooning. The Two Eagles pilots surpassed the distance and duration records that have held since the 1970s and 1980s, and were aiming Friday for a safe landing somewhere on a beach in Mexico's Baja California peninsula.


What slowing economy? US consumers are in a mood to spend
WASHINGTON (AP) - There's a good reason the U.S. economy is impressing the world right now despite a slowdown in the final three months of 2014: In a word, steadiness. Companies have been hiring at healthy rates for the past year. Layoffs hover near historic lows. Auto sales are strong. Gas prices have sunk. Congressional budget fights have faded. Americans are increasingly confident.


Bill Cosby's show in Ohio draws a few protesters
SANDUSKY, Ohio (AP) - Bill Cosby's stand-up tour has stopped in northern Ohio, where it drew several protesters before the show. Police in Sandusky had extra officers at the theater while Cosby performed Friday night.


10 Super Bowl ads that everyone will be talking about
NEW YORK (AP) - It's almost show time. When the Super Bowl kicks off on Sunday, 40-plus advertisers will be hoping to win over the more than 110 million viewers tuning in. After paying $4.5 million for a 30-second spot, advertisers are hoping to have the ad everyone will be talking about Monday morning.