Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2008 | 2:11 a.m.
Canadian psychologist Hank Davis studied the front pages of newspapers from eight countries dating from 1701 to 2001, looking for sensational and scandalous stories. In his research, he noted that the themes of the stories were identical, no matter the century or the country in which they appeared.
Davis told The Washington Post nearly all the stories — some important, some not — touched on basic human themes of lying, cheating, altruism, heroism, loyalty and disloyalty.
That is no surprise to Davis and evolutionary psychologists, who say the human brain has been wired to pay attention to such things.
And that is certainly no surprise to political operatives, who have used the sensational to misdirect voters from real issues as a way to get their candidates elected.
For example, four years ago Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry’s service in Vietnam three decades prior became a major “issue” in the campaign. Despite being awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts, Kerry spent much of the campaign trying to defeat scurrilous rumors that his service was less than honorable.
As a result, there was less focus on President Bush and his dismal record and important issues facing the country, including the war on terrorism, the economy and health care.
This year there have already been sensational stories about both Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain. It will be up to the voters to weigh how much, if at all, those stories reflect the candidates’ character and fitness for office.
We hope that voters, before they get deluged by irrelevant sensational stories, remember that the issues of the campaign four years ago are the same unresolved issues facing the country today. This election the stakes are too high to let a sensational story, trumped up by political operatives, hijack the issues. The candidates should be engaged in a wide-ranging debate about the issues, and voters should demand such discussion.