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Harding Tells Connie Chung That She Deserves to Skate in Olympics

By Verne Gay

After weeks of being battered in the media, Tonya Harding finally came out swinging Thursday night.

In an interview with Connie Chung that aired on the CBS News program "Eye to Eye," she defended her right to compete in the Winter Olympics and vigorously denied having any prior knowledge of the attack on skating rival Nancy Kerrigan.

In response to a question from Chung about whether she deserved to go to the Olympics, Harding replied that "I've worked 20 years for it," she said. "It's my dream and I think I deserve it."

The syndicated tabloid TV show "Inside Edition" also begins a wide-ranging two-part interview Friday that has been billed as a "personal" chat with the skater. Among other things, Harding talks about her weight ("the hardest thing is when people put you down for your weight"), her need for money ("sure money is a big thing but it really doesn't matter that much to me"), and her self-enforced silence ("I don't like to not be able to say anything to anybody.")

Despite the "exclusives," the TV industry Thursday was swirling with speculation over how the interviews came about and what sort of conditions were demanded of both news operations in exchange for the interviews.

According to some industry sources, "Inside Edition" was said to have paid as much as $700,000 for its two-part interview, which is to air Friday and Monday. Other tabloid shows, "Hard Copy" and "A Current Affair," also were believed to have made major financial bids to interview Harding.

Sources confirmed Thursday that "Inside Edition" paid to get Harding, but there were widely varying estimates on how much, ranging from a high of $800,000 to a low of $100,000. The record amount paid for a TV interview was set in 1977, when David Frost paid $600,000 for an extensive interview with former President Nixon.

John Tomlin, executive producer of "Inside Edition," would not discuss how the show got the interviews, or whether the show paid for them.

But tabloid-show sources confirmed Thursday that Harding's legal team had demanded cash in exchange for interviews. A call to Harding's attorney, Robert Weaver, was not returned.

CBS News said it did not pay for its interview with the skater, even though there was widespread speculation that the network had promised the skater financial support in other areas, such as paying for the rights to her life story, which would be used as a basis for a TV movie.

Andrew Heyward, executive producer of "Eye to Eye With Connie Chung," called the reports "absolutely false. There were no quid pro quos, no conditions, no privileges, no perks, no movie deal, no book deal, no limo, or any other consideration." He added, "This is a tribute to Connie's persistence."