Can We Blame Oprah for Putting Charla Nash on TV?

Charla Nash appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show yesterday. Nash is the victim of the horrific attack by a 200-pound adult chimpanzee owned by her friend and employer Sandra Herold in my hometown of Stamford, Connecticut. Nash deserves a world of credit for the appearance, as it took a tremendous amount of courage for her to appear. The disfiguration to her face is shocking.

Paramedics responding to the February 16, 2009 911 call said they found pieces of Nash’s fingers strewn on the floor and her hands looked as though they had been through a meat grinder. “The monkey had ripped off her entire upper jaw, had ripped off her nose, which as hanging by a thread,” said Dr. Kevin Miller, who treated Nash when she taken to the emergency room. “We found extensive dirt, chimp fur, and chimp teeth implanted in her bone.” Nash is missing both hands, but had a thumb surgically replaced on her left hand. Doctors removed her eyes and grafted a piece of her leg to where her nose used to be.Chimpanzee Attack

Nash could have attempted to continue to avoid the spotlight and nobody would blame her. Her every move is followed by cameras as the community gathers for a digital glimpse. Many people, certainly those of us who live in Stamford, were curious to view her injuries. I have to admit feeling embarrassed and shamed, however, for being drawn to watch the interview and I wish I never did. It is quite a spectacle to display this tragedy on national television, regardless of the fact that it has been done with Nash’s permission. It’s like a massive international rubber necking delay on the electronic interstate.

What does it say about a society which insists on marveling at pain and suffering? And that the tragedy happened in the prosperous suburban City of Stamford? That same City that had to rescue a bankrupt center for the arts with trash talking daytime television?

What have we become? Today is not a proud day for broadcasting, for journalism or for Stamford. It’s not a proud day for any of us, me included, who did not have the self discipline to stay away.


5 thoughts on “Can We Blame Oprah for Putting Charla Nash on TV?

  1. Well written piece, Jim, and very true. The “bond” that people seek by not being as “deviant” as the handicapped and injured can often make “normals” (as Erving Goffman called them) behave pathetically.

  2. True. People have a fascination with this sort of thing (one of society’s vices), but maybe at a minimum it will spread awareness so that it (or something similar) won’t happen again. This is a truly horrifying event that happened, and was a dark, dark day for Stamford.

  3. She had at least one point she wanted to make: wild animals don’t belong in residential neighborhoods.

    I wonder if she knows about the small zoo on the Greenwich/Stamford border. I wonder what she’d ask of her Representative in Stamford, or of Greenwich’s town government, knowing what she knows.

    Would she say that rich people, rich enough to keep exotic species, will police themselves and protect their neighbors, or might she have reason to recommend that the laws against housing exotic animals here be strengthened and enforced?

    Will we listen? Or should we wait for another “anecdote” before we act?

    1. Thanks for your post. There is no doubt that laws regarding dangerous pets need to be strengthened, and that this case will ensure a new outlook on enforcement and regulation within existing laws. Unfortunately it will all come late for Charla Nash, who is an innocent victim.

  4. Great piece Jim! I could not get myself to watch Charla and I am still not clear as to why she went on the Oprah show except to say I hope they paid her a lot of money. This poor woman and the horrific life she now lives should not be exposed the way it was.

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