That chimp attack in Connecticut? Startling, upsetting story, to say the least.

200-pound pet chimpanzee in Stamford, Connecticut severely mauls a woman. Owner stabs chimp repeatedly but fails to stop the attack. Chimp goes after police when they arrive on the scene. Police officer fatally shoots chimp. You may know chimp from Old Navy ads (the ones with Morgan Fairchild). Chimp knew how to use a computer, drink wine “from a stemmed glass,” bathe himself.

Really, no need to sensationalize this story. Just the basic facts (the first sentence or two above, really) should suffice to grab folks’ attention. (Not to mention a woman is critically injured, so some restraint and tastefulness are in order).

But….. no. That urge to sex up the story prevails. How’s it done? A few examples courtesy of cable and the tabloids.

Emphasize that the “rampage” occurred in a nice neighborhood, as on CNN ‘s American Morning this morning:

…this all unfolded in the upscale community of Stamford, Connecticut.

Inspire nightmares by invoking a popular children’s character, like the New York Post on its cover today: “FURIOUS GEORGE!”

Play up the chimp’s “star” status (not your average ape), as in these two story teases on CNN this morning:

A celebrity chimp goes after police and leaves a woman clinging to life.

And:

Gap commercial chimp on a rampage.

(As well as this New York Daily News front-page headline: “ATTACK OF THE TV APE.”)

Or, while emphasizing the ape’s acting career, also cast it as some sort of simian Hannibal Lecter. Fox & Friends’ Gretchen Carlson (emphasis mine):

Very, very serious story about this TV chimpanzee. Did you hear about this? 200-pound chimp, once a star, goes on a rampage in Connecticut and tries to eat a woman alive.

Really. You had us at chimp attack.


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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.