In a move that's stirring heated debate, Oprah Winfrey unveiled the mutilated face of chimp attack victim Charla Nash on Winfrey's television show this week. Nash, 56, lost her nose and lips (and eventually her eyes) after she was mauled by a friend's 200-pound chimpanzee last February. She normally covers her disfigured face to avoid scaring people, but she let Winfrey lift the veil. Did Oprah go too far in her quest for ratings? (Watch the "Oprah" segment)
Oprah crossed the line: Although Winfrey is "a genius in the art of the interview," says Buck Wolf in Sphere, and her compassionate talk with Charla Nash "may go down as one of her finest moments," the unveiling was a bad call: Charla Nash's face will become an eternal freak-show online — "and the dignity Oprah found in Nash' courage will be lost."
"Did Oprah go too far?"
The unveiling made an inspiring point: Nash's deformed face is a "far cry from [that of] the bright-eyed, rosy-cheeked" woman in photos taken before the chimp attack, says Chase Wright in the Stamford, Conn., Times, but, judging from the interview, "only Nash's appearance seems to have changed." We can all learn from Nash's ability to live through this with her best qualities intact.
"Chimp-attack victim shows face, courageous spirit on Oprah"
Oprah is making a habit of exploiting such women: You may remember, says Amelie Gilette at the Onion A.V. Club, that Oprah recently interviewed Connie Culp, the first successful face tranplant patient in the U.S., or "as Oprah so delicately put it, "Connie Culp, the woman whose husband literally shot off her face." Oprah insisted upon "saying 'shot off your face'" almost every time she asked a question. But "that's just good sensationalist, exploitative television," right? Poor Charla Nash is just Oprah's most recent victim.
"Oprah's favorite thing: Exploiting horribly disfigured people"
It was Nash's decision, not Oprah's: "We're saddened and horrified by this heartbreaking story," says Hanh Nguyen in Zap2It, but "we're always amazed by human resilience." Charla Nash is "choosing how she'd like to be seen by the world and how she's going to proceed with her life," and for that she deserves our profound respect.
"'Oprah': Chimp victim Charla Nash reveals face, life since attack"
SEE OUR COVERAGE OF THE ORIGINAL FALLOUT FROM THE CHIMP'S ATTACK:
• "Effects of Travis the chimp's attack: Washington wastes no time deciding primates aren't good pets" (February 25, 2009)