The Tonya Harding controversy: An analysis of image restoration strategies
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This article was downloaded by: [Memorial University of Newfoundland]On: 31 July 2014, At: 20:18Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UKCommunication QuarterlyPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rcqu20The Tonya Harding controversy:An analysis of image restorationstrategiesWilliam L. Benoit a & Robert S. Hanczor ba Associate Professor in the Department of Communication ,University of Missouri , Columbia, MO, 65211b Doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication ,University of Missouri , Columbia, MO, 65211Published online: 21 May 2009.To cite this article: William L. Benoit & Robert S. Hanczor (1994) The Tonya Hardingcontroversy: An analysis of image restoration strategies, Communication Quarterly, 42:4,416-433, DOI: 10.1080/01463379409369947To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01463379409369947PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLETaylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information(the Content) contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor& Francis, our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warrantieswhatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of theContent. Any opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions andviews of the authors, and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. Theaccuracy of the Content should not be relied upon and should be independentlyverified with primary sources of information. 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HanczorThis essay critically analyzes Tonya Harding's defense of her image in Eye-to-Eyewith Connie Chung, applying the theory of image restoration discourse (Benoit,1994). The principle strategies employed on her behalf are bolstering, denial, andattacking her accuser (defeasibility plays a relatively minor role). While thesestrategies are generally appropriate, they were not developed very effectively in thisinstance. The discourse portrayed Harding in a fashion that was inconsistent withthe audience's probable impression of her. Her lie about when she first learned ofthe attack severely undermined her credibility, and the discourse did not remedythis obstacle. Several others contradicted her assertions, and she did not challengeapparently incriminating evidence. Accordingly, we evaluate this as ineffective, andpublic opinion polls confirm our judgment. Finally, we discuss implications of ouranalysis.KEY CONCEPTS Tonya Harding, Eye-To Eye with Connie Chung, Nancy Kerrigan,image restoration, Olympic skatersWILLIAM L. BENOIT (Ph.D., Wayne State University, 1979) is an Associate Professor in theDepartment of Communication, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211. ROBERT S.HANCZOR is a doctoral candidate in the same department.Communication scholars have displayed a keen interest in sports generally, and sportsand the media particularly. A variety of studies have been conducted into therelationship between communication and sports (see, e.g., Brummett & Duncan,1990; Bryant, Brown, Comisky, & Zillmann, 1982; Bryant, Comisky, & Zillmann, 1977;Gantz, 1981; Hocking, 1982; McDermott, Hocking, Johnson, & Atkin, 1989; Parente,1977; Prisuta, 1979; Reid & Soley, 1979; Trujillo & Ekdom, 1985; Wanta & Leggett, 1988).However, relatively little work has been conducted on image restoration discourse (apolo-gia) by sports figures.Kruse (1981) examined the occurrence of apologia in team sport, concluding thatapologia of sports figures "do not differ strategically from the character defenses offered bythose in the sociopolitical wor ld" (p. 280). She identified bolstering (attempts to offsetnegative feelings by portraying oneself in a favorable light) and expressions of regret orremorse as recurrent features of the relatively brief image restoration discourses of sportsfigures.After disclosure of Billie Jean King's affair with her former secretary, Nelson (1984)analyzed defensive discourses by King and her husband, her peers, and the media. Kingused bolstering and differentiation (she may have been a lesbian in the past, but she was notan active lesbian). Both her peers and the media tended to use bolstering and transcen-dence (arguing that her privacy is a more important issue than her sexual practices).Thus, scholars have shown an interest in communication and sports generally, and only416 Communication Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 4, Fall 1994, Pages 416-433Downloaded by [Memorial University of Newfoundland] at 20:18 31 July 2014 modest interest in apologia by sports figures specificallydespite multiple opportunities forsuch work (e.g., the "Black Sox" scandal, Mike Tyson's conviction for rape, Pete Rose'sgambling on baseball, Michael Jordan's huge losses betting on golf). Nevertheless, sportsfigures, when engaged in defensive rhetoric, do dominate the news. As such, their rhetoricprovides a venue for image restoration that is deserving of close analysis. Understandingrhetoric's functionwhat works and what doesn'tmay be gained from a close analysis ofcelebrity discourse as well as from political discourse. Thus, this study examines TonyaHarding's image restoration efforts following the attack on Nancy Kerrigan.The 1994 Winter Olympic Games were indelibly marked by the tumultuous contro-versy over the possible involvement of American figure skater Tonya Harding in the attackon her teammate and rival, Nancy Kerrigan. This story, which dominated the discoursesurrounding the Olympic Games, continued to surface in the popular press and inmade-for-television dramas long after the Olympics were over.1 Harding has emerged asone of the most notorious figures in America today. On February 10, 1994, Hardingpresented her side of the story on Eye-to-Eye with Connie Chung.This particular controversy merits scholarly attention for several reasons. First, the factthat the Olympic Games are a cultural spectacle guarantees enormous public exposure.Katz (1980) characterized the Olympics as a media spectacle, a "high holiday" in televisionbroadcasting. Farrell's (1989) description of the Olympic Games as a "social drama"suggested how public emotion can be stoked by the media to raise ratings. Rothenbuhler(1988) developed a "celebration" hypothesis, in which viewers see the Games as a holidayor celebration where they attend to the schedules and rituals of the Games, watch theevents with groups of close friends and family, and share in the Olympic ideology ofsportsmanship, self-sacrifice, and competition. Rothenbuhler (1989) also described how theOlympics became a "civil religion" that enables spectators to overcome their inherentcynicism of most televised sports and approach the Games with reverence. Riggs, Eastman,and Golobic (1993) argued that resolution of the political conflict between the United Statesand the Soviet Union has forced the media to contrive new and unnecessary conflicts toperpetuate the social drama of the Olympics.During the 1994 Winter Olympics, the media shamelessly exploited the suspicions thatTonya Harding was involved in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan to fuel conflict and interest inthe Games. A Gallup poll on January 26 found that 73% had seen or heard a great dealabout "the controversy surrounding Tonya Hardingthe Olympic figure skater whoseex-husband was arrested for attacking another figure skater," and 20% had seen or heardsome about it. Only 2% said that they knew nothing about it.2 This is hardly surprising,because in addition to the many newspaper articles on the topic, Harding's possible role inthe attack was the topic of 16 stories on the major television networks news programs in thesecond half of January.3 The February 10 episode of Eye-to-Eye with Connie Chung waswidely watched, garnering a 17.4 rating and a 28% share, the highest rated show in its timeslot ("Ratings Week," 1994, p. 31). This controversy buoyed the ratings of the Olympics:"Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan combined with the gold medals of Tommy Moe,Bonnie Blair, and Dan Jansen to produce the highest-rated Olympics in the history of U.S.television" ('"94 Winter Games," 1994, p. 1B). Thus, the possible involvement of TonyaHarding in the attack on Nancy Kerriganinteresting in itself but hyped by the mediawasin the forefront of the American consciousness.A second reason for studying this controversy is that it is possibly the first and certainlythe most prominent example of a sports figure accused of involvement in the deliberateinjury of a rival. Athletes have been disqualified before, as Eye-to-Eye pointed outandHarding was threatened with disqualification ("Harding Suffers Setback," 1994)for use ofTonya Harding's Image 417Downloaded by [Memorial University of Newfoundland] at 20:18 31 July 2014 drugs or felonious actions. Never before, however, has an Olympic athlete been suspectedof attempting to injure a teammate. Such action, if it occurred, jeopardizes American (andOlympic) ideology concerning sportsmanship and fair play in competition. Consequently,this controversy is significant because it disturbed the social order and violated the ideals ofsport.A final reason for critically analyzing Harding's self-defensive discourse is to add to ourknowledge of this pervasive persuasive phenomenon. Investigations of political imagerestoration discourse are fairly common (see, e.g., Benoit, 1982, 1988, 1994; Benoit,Gullifor, & Panici, 1991; Brummett, 1981; Cold, 1978; Harrell, Ware, & Linkugel, 1975;Heisey, 1988; Rosenfield, 1968; Vartabedian, 1985a, 1985b). Research has recently begunto examine corporate image repair efforts (see, e.g., Benoit, 1994; Benoit & Brinson, 1994;Benoit & Lindsey, 1987; Dionisopoulos & Vibbert, 1988; Foss, 1984; Sellnow, 1993). Apartfrom occasional work in other areas such as scientists (Holloway, 1988), religious figures(Burke, 1988), or legal battles (Lessl, 1988), relatively little effort has been made to see if ourunderstanding of self-defense discourse is useful beyond these realms. Therefore, weinvestigate Harding's self-defensive discourse amid the controversy following the attack onrival skater Nancy Kerrigan.This essay critically analyses Tonya Harding's image restoration discourse broadcastduring her interview on the network television show Eye-to-Eye with Connie Chung. First,the literature on image restoration discourse will be reviewed. Then the method used in thisstudy will be described. Next, the allegations made against Tonya Harding will be sketchedto provide a background for understanding and evaluating her defense. This will be followedby an analysis of Harding's image repair efforts. Her defense will be evaluated and, finally,implications of this analysis will be discussed.Image Restoration DiscourseA common form of rhetoric is designed to restore image, face, or reputation afteralleged or suspected wrong-doing. By "image" we mean the perceptions of the source heldby the audience, shaped by the words and deeds of that source, as well as by the actions ofother relevant actors. Brown and Levinson (1978) observe that "people can be expected todefend their faces if threatened" (p. 66). Goffman (1967) explains that "When a face hasbeen threatened, face-work must be done" (p. 27). Similarly, Schlenker (1981) writes thatpredicaments "can damage his or her identity . . . adversely affecting relationships with theaudience" (p. 131). Therefore, when our image is threatened, we experience motivation tooffer explanations, defenses, justifications, rationalizations, apologies, or excuses for ourbehavior. These utterances are an important form of persuasive discourse, image repairrhetoric.Various approaches have been devised for understanding verbal self-defense, somedeveloped in the discipline of rhetoric and some in sociology. The works of Burke (1970),Ware and Linkugel (1973), and Scott and Lyman (1968) lay out several verbal imagerestoration strategies, but each of these theories includes options neglected by the others.Benoit (1994) sets forth a typology that is based on this early work, but goes beyond specificorientations, such as Ware and Linkugel (1973) to provide a more comprehensive theory(for a more complete discussion with several applications, see Benoit 1994; Benoit &Brinson, 1994; Benoit, Gullifor, & Panici, 1991). Image repair strategies are organized intofive broad categories, three of which have variants or subcategories: denial, evadingresponsibility, reducing offensiveness, corrective action, and mortification.418 Benoit and HanczorDownloaded by [Memorial University of Newfoundland] at 20:18 31 July 2014 DenialOne option for restoring a tarnished image is to simply deny performing the wrongfulact, as Ware and Linkugel (1973) suggested. Goffman (1971) observed that the accusedmay either deny the act occurred or deny that the accused committed it (see alsoSchonbach, 1980; Schlenker, 1980; Semin & Manstead, 1983; Tedeschi & Reiss, 1981).Whether the accused denies that the offensive act actually occurred or denies that he or sheperformed it, either option, if accepted by the audience, should absolve the rhetor ofculpability. Therefore, one possibility for responding to persuasive attack is simply to denythe offensive act.A second option is to shift the blame. Burke (1970) discussed victimage or shifting theblame (see also Schonbach, 1980). This option may well be preferable to simple denial,though. First, it provides a target for negative feelings the audience may have. Second, itanswers an important question that may occur to auditors upon hearing a simple denial:"Well if you didn't do it, who did?" So, another variant of denial generally is shifting theblame.Evasion of ResponsibilityRhetors who cannot (or do not wish to) deny performing the offensive act may be ableto repair their image by evading or reducing their apparent responsibility for it. Four variantsof this general strategy exist. Scott and Lyman's (1968) version of scapegoatingwhich werename provocationsuggested that the rhetor may claim that the wrongful act was aresponse to another offensive act, and argues that the rhetor's act can be seen as areasonable reaction to that provocation. Here, the provocateur may be held responsibleinstead of the actor, helping to restore the rhetor's image. Schonbach (1980) and Semin andManstead (1983) also discussed provocation as an option.A second variant of evading responsibility is defeasibility (Scott & Lyman, 1968). Here,the rhetor claims a lack of information about or control over important elements in thesituation. Other writers (Schonbach, 1980; Semin & Manstead, 1983; Tedeschi & Reiss,1981) identify a number of variants of defeasibility, in which the rhetor attempts to claimthat lack of information, volition, or ability means that he or she should not be heldcompletely responsible for the offensive act. This claim, if accepted, should reduce theperceived responsibility of the accused for the offensive act and help restore the tarnishedimage.A third possibility is to claim the wrongful act occurred as an accident (Scott & Lyman,1968; Semin & Manstead, 1983; Tedeschi & Reiss, 1981). We tend to believe that othersare responsible only for factors that are reasonably under their control. If the accused canpersuade the audience that the failure event occurred accidentally, this should lessen his orher apparent responsibility and ameliorate the damage to his or her reputation.Fourth, the accused can suggest that the offensive action was done with good intentions(discussed by Ware & Linkugel, 1973, as a part of denial). In this option the audience isasked to relieve the actor of some responsibility for the act because it was done with goodintentions. People who do bad while trying to do good are usually not held as accountableas much as those who intend to do bad.Reduction of OffensivenessRather than deny or reduce responsibility for a wrongful act, a rhetor who is accused ofmisbehavior may attempt to reduce the perceived offensiveness of that act. This generalTonya Harding's Image 419Downloaded by [Memorial University of Newfoundland] at 20:18 31 July 2014 image repair strategy has six variants: bolstering, minimization, differentiation, transcen-dence, attacking one's accuser, and compensation. Each one will be briefly explained here.First, bolstering (Ware & Linkugel, 1973) attempts to strengthen the audience's positiveaffect for the rhetor, hoping to offset the negative feelings associated with the wrongful act.People accused of wrong-doing could describe positive characteristics they possess orpositive actions they have taken in the past. While the amount of negative affect from theaccusation remains the same in this variant, increasing positive feeling toward the actor mayhelp offset those negative feelings, creating a net improvement in the rhetor's reputation.A second possibility is to minimize the negative feelings evoked by the wrongful act. Ifthe audience comes to believe that the act is not as bad as it first appeared, the amount of illfeeling associated with that act is reduced, and the damage to the rhetor's reputation shouldsimilarly abate. Sykes and Matza (1957), Scott and Lyman (1968), Schonbach (1980),Schlenker (1980), Tedeschi & Reiss (1981), and Semin and Manstead (1983) all discussdenial or minimization of injury and/or victim.Third, one can engage in differentiation (Ware & Linkugel, 1973). Here the rhetordistinguishes the act he or she performed from other similar but more offensive actions. Incomparison, the act in question may seem less offensive, reducing the audience's negativefeelings toward the actor.Transcendence is a fourth option for reducing offensiveness (Ware & Linkugel, 1973). Itfunctions by placing the act in a different, and more favorable context. Ware and Linkugelspecifically discuss placing the action in a broader context, but it can also be useful to simplysuggest a different frame of reference. For example, a person accused of wrong-doing mightdirect the audience's attention to other, allegedly higher values, to justify the behavior inquestion (Schlenker, 1980; Schonbach, 1980; Scott & Lyman, 1968; Semin & Manstead,1983; Sykes & Matza, 1957; Tedeschi & Reiss, 1981). A positive context may lessen theperceived offensiveness of the act and thereby improve the accused's reputation.Fifth, those accused of wrong-doing sometimes attack their accusers (see Rosenfield,1968; Schonbach, 1980; Scott & Lyman, 1968; Semin & Manstead, 1983; Sykes & Matza,1957; Tedeschi & Reiss, 1981). If the credibility of the source of allegations can bedamaged, the damage to the rhetor's image may be reduced.Compensation is the sixth strategy for reducing the offensiveness of an action (Schon-bach, 1980). Here the rhetor offers to reimburse the victim to help nullify the ill feelingarising from the offensive act. This redress can be valued goods or services as well asmonetary reimbursement. If the inducement is acceptable, the negative affect from thewrongful act should be eliminated, restoring the rhetor's reputation.Corrective ActionIn this image repair strategy, the rhetor promises to correct the problem. Such correctiveaction may take the form of restoring the state of affairs existing before the objectionableaction or promising to take action to prevent the recurrence of the offensive act or both.Goffman (1971) mentions this as a component of an apology. However, rhetors may takecorrective action without confessing or apologizing, as Tylenol did when it introducedtamper-resistant containers for their product after the poisonings (Benoit & Lindsey, 1987).Willingness to correct and/or prevent recurrence of the problem is likely to improve therhetor's reputation (this differs from compensation in that corrective action offers tocorrect/prevent the problem, while compensation seeks to pay for it).420 Benoit and HanczorDownloaded by [Memorial University of Newfoundland] at 20:18 31 July 2014 MortificationAs Burke (1970, 1973) recognizes, another option for those accused of wrong-doing isto confess to committing the wrongful act and to beg for forgiveness, which he labelsmortification. If we believe the apology is sincere, we may choose to pardon the wrongfulact. Schonbach (1980) also discusses concessions, in which one may admit guilt and expressregret. It may be wise to couple this strategy with plans to correct (or prevent recurrence of)the problem, but these strategies can occur independently.Thus, the rhetor who desires to restore an image through discourse has five basicoptions: denial, evasion of responsibility, reducing offensiveness, correction, and mortifica-tion. Several of these basic strategies have variants. These strategies for restoring sulliedreputations are summarized in Table 1.TABLE 1 Image Restoration StrategiesDenialSimpleShift BlameEvade ResponsibilityProvocationDefeasibility/BiologicalAccidentGood IntentionsReduce Offensiveness of EventBolsteringMinimizationAttacking One's AccuserDifferentiationTranscendenceCompensationCorrective ActionMortificationThe Allegations Against Tonya HardingOn January 6,1994, Nancy Kerrigan was practicing at Cobo Arena in Detroit, Michigan.A man struck her just above her right knee on the leg she uses to land from jumps. FrankCarroll, Michelle Kwan's coach, had just pointed out Kwan and Kerrigan to a stranger, andCarroll said that "the next thing I heard was Nancy screaming, screaming, screaming"(Adler, 1994, p. 19). The world was shocked as the meaning of this event began to sink in:someone had "tried to fix the Olympics" (Adler, p. 19).It took a while for the conspiracy to begin to unravel. However, as Adler explained,"The person who stood to benefit from the attack, obviously, was her longstanding rival"Tonya Harding. She was "23 and this year would almost certainly be her last shot at herlifelong dream of an Olympic gold medal" (Adler, p. 19). The United States was onlyallocated two slots in 1994 because it had not done well at the 1993 world championships.Thus, it may have appeared that Harding had a motive for participating in the attack.As the drama unfolded, allegations began to surface in the press linking Harding to theattack. In an interview published on January 20, Shawn EckardtTonya Harding's body-guardnot only implicated Harding in the plot but declared that she complained about thedelay. According to Eckardt, Harding said "You know, you need to stop screwing aroundwith this and get it done" ("Guard," 1994, p. 12A). Four days later, Jeff Cillooly, Harding'sex-husband, reportedly "told investigators that he could serve her [Harding] up on a silverTonya Harding's Image 421Downloaded by [Memorial University of Newfoundland] at 20:18 31 July 2014 platter" ("Harding's Ex-husband," 1994, p. 4A). On January 30, Cillooly's brother, John,reported that Jeff "implicated his former wife, Tonya Harding, in the attack on rival NancyKerrigan only after the FBI proved to him that Harding had double-crossed him in an alibipact" ("Harding Broke Pact," 1994, p. 10A). Thus, not only was Harding alleged to be aconspirator, but a double-crosser as well. On February 1, Jeff Gillooly's attorney joined inthe attack on Harding: "The truth is, Tonya was in on it from the beginning. . . . That's whatJeff has said, and I believe that to be the truth" ("Lawyer," 1994, p. 1 A). Thus, accusationsthroughout the end of January and into February accused Harding of participating in theattack.There also appeared to be some physical evidence corroborating Harding's involve-ment in the plot. Although Kerrigan was actually attacked at Cobo Arena, it was revealedthat "investigators in Detroit reportedly have information that Harding asked for Kerrigan'shotel room number before the attack and made several calls to her bodyguard, ShawnEckardt, the day of the assault" ("Harding Broke Pact," 1994, p. 10A). On February 3, welearned that some paper scraps found in the trash at a restaurant had been turned over tothe FBI including an envelope addressed to Gillooly and notepaper with "Tony Kent Arena,Cape Cod," written on it. Gillooly said that Harding had called the Tony Kent Arena to learnKerrigan's practice schedule ("Paper Scrap," 1994, p. 6A). Thus, there seemed to bephysical evidence in support of the accusations against Harding.Thus, at the time of her televised interview with Connie Chung, it appeared thatHarding had a motive for attacking Kerrigan. Those implicated in the attackincluding herbodyguard and ex-husbandaccused her of being a co-conspirator. Finally, tangibleevidence appeared to link her to the planning of the attack. Given the shocking nature of theallegationsone Olympic athlete possibly involved in an attack on anotherHarding'simage was clearly at risk.Harding's Image Repair Efforts on Eye-to-Eye With Connie ChungAs indicated earlier, Tonya Harding's image restoration efforts in Eye-to-Eye withConnie Chung5 were widely watched. Our analysis reveals that she employed three primaryimage restoration strategies: bolstering, denial, and attacking her accuser. Defeasibility alsoappeared in one passage. Her use of these strategies in the interview will be described in thissection.6BolsteringHarding's interview with Connie Chung bolsters her reputation in five ways. First, shereports that her ex-husband and her mother had verbally and physically abused her, andthat she had had a hard time growing up. Second, she describes her long, hard work onbehalf of her dream: to compete at the Olympics. Third, she expresses concern for NancyKerrigan and sorrow over the attack. Fourth, Harding embraces the ideals share by many inher audience: to have children and make a better life for them. Finally, Harding promises tocontribute to the Special Olympics. Each of these attempts to place Harding in a favorablelight will be described briefly.Connie Chung reported that "Over the years Tonya has filed police reports charging Jeffwith abuse and harassment but she later retracted her complaints." She then asked howTonya could think that staying with Jeff was "the right thing to do if he was beating you andabusing you?" She replied "1 thought I must have been doing something wrong, and so I'dtry even harder to be good, you know, to be nice . . . ask permission to go places, askpermission to spend money." Harding also alleged that her mother had been both verbally422 Benoit and HanczorDownloaded by [Memorial University of Newfoundland] at 20:18 31 July 2014 and physically abusive to her. Later, she reported that her "life was not easy growing up,"and she explained that she and her parents had collected bottles and cans to pay for skatingexpenses. Harding revealed that she had had few friends and moved frequently: "1 nevergot to sleep the night at anybody's house. You know, go to slumber parties or dances oranything." When asked what she would do if she was not allowed to compete at theOlympics, Harding replied, "I don't know. Cry." In fact, Harding explained that even at herage she wanted new parents, and that her friend "Stephanie's parents are gonna adopt mesoon." These statements, if accepted, may have earned Harding some sympathy from theaudience, encouraging them to bolster her image.Chung asked Harding whether she had "tried hard enough to express to Nancy Kerriganhow you feel about this incident?" Harding replied that "I feel really sorry. I really do. I evenwrote her a small letter and I don't know if she received it or not. But I tried to say I'm sorrythat this all happened." If accepted by the audience, these statements portray Harding asconcerned about Kerrigan's well-being, helping to bolster Harding's image.When asked why she wanted to skate at the Olympics, Harding replied that "I'veworked twenty years for it. I mean, it's my dream and I think I deserved it. I mean I went tonationals and I . . . I won." Later, she repeated both that it was her lifelong dream and thatshe had worked twenty years for it. Her determination to work hard and succeed shows inher continued work ethic: "I just go out and do the best that I can. Do the best that anyoneexpects me to do." Working long and hard for one's dreams is an American ideal, andtherefore these statements function to portray Harding in a favorable light.During the latter half of the program, Harding revealed her dreams for after theOlympics. "You know, I just want to have a good life for myself, and maybe someday afamily. I just want to not have to worry. I don't want it to be the same when I was growing upfor my children." This not only reminds the audience of Harding's difficult childhood, butstrikes a chord that many share: the desire to have children and to secure a better life forthem.At the end of the report, Chung reported that "Harding. . . intends to use some of themoney she receives from her current notoriety to set up a trust for Special Olympicschildren." This is obviously a worthy cause, and this statement suggests that Harding is notgreedy and wants to help needy children.Thus, this program attempted to bolster Harding's reputation in five ways. First, itargued that she had endured a hard life, seeking sympathy. Second, Harding discussed herlong and hard work to realize her Olympic dream. Third, Harding expressed sorrow forNancy Kerrigan. Fourth, she mentioned her long term dream of having children. Finally, itwas revealed that she planned to use part of her earnings to help the Special Olympics.DenialHarding's defensive strategy repeatedly denied wrongdoing. She rejected accusationsby Gillooly and Eckardt. She reiterated the claim that she had not violated the Olympic codeof conduct. Furthermore, she asserted that she had no prior knowledge of the attack. Each ofthese instances of denial will be described in this section.First, she specifically denied allegations by her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly and ShawnEckardt: "What Jeff and Shawn say is not true. Anybody who knows me knows it's not true."This latter statement seems to be an attempt to suggest, without actually providing,corroborating testimony for her denial.Chung reported that "You said in your statement I have done nothing to violate thestandards of excellence and sportsmanship that are expected in an Olympic athlete."Tonya Harding's Image 423Downloaded by [Memorial University of Newfoundland] at 20:18 31 July 2014 Harding responded that "I said what I believe . . . what I believe to be true," agreeing withChung's quote. This is clearly another instance of denial.However, the exact nature of Harding's denial had shifted from her initial stance.Chung observed that "What may keep Tonya Harding off the ice are her own words afterthe attack. Then a video-tape of an earlier statement by Harding is played: "I didn't doanything wrong, and neither did anybody else. I don't know anything. I don't know for sureanything about what's going on, at all." This is clearly a blanket denial of wrong-doing.Chung then observed that these were "words she later contradicted with her own damagingadmission." Again, a video tape of another, later, statement by Harding is played: "OnNancy Kerrigan. I am responsible, however, for failing . . . for failing to report things Ilearned about the assault when I returned home from nationals." Chung then askedHarding, "Did you have prior knowledge of the planned attack on Nancy Kerrigan?" Again,the skater used denial: "No, I did not. . . . Absolutely not."Thus, Harding specifically rejected accusations by Cillooly and Eckardt. She reaffirmedher statement that she had not violated the Olympic code of conduct. While she no longerflatly denied all knowledge of wrong-doing, she still maintained that she was unaware of theattack before it happened and that she had not helped plan it.Attacking Her AccuserHarding's principal accuser was Jeff Cillooly, her ex-husband. In four separate places,he was explicitly or implicitly made to look bad. This could have the effect of undermininghis charges against Harding, thus helping to restore her image.First, when Harding denied accusations against her, she stated that Gillooly and Eckardtwere lying. "What Jeff and Shawn say is not true. Anybody who knows me knows it's nottrue." Accusing them of falsehood puts her accusers in an unfavorable light.Second, when Chung described the hardships Harding had endured, these includedalleged abuse from Jeff Cillooly. In addition to attempting to reinforce Harding's image(discussed above as a form of bolstering), that information tended to attack Gillooly. Shouldwe believe the accusations of someone who abused his wife? Indeed, if it is true that Cilloolytried to hurt Harding before, perhaps his accusations in the Kerrigan attack are simplyanother attempt to hurt her, rather than the truth.Third, early in the program, Harding said: "I just want to know why. I never didanythingto hurt him. If I ever did anything it was to stick up for him and protect him. And hedoes this to me." This was said with tears in Harding's eyes. If these statements are accepted,Gillooly's image suffers. If his reputation is damaged, his accusations against Harding may bediscounted.Finally, Chung asked why Harding didn't "go to the authorities immediately?" Hardingresponded that she "was scared" and afraid of "being hurt" presumably by Gillooly andpossibly others. Again, these statements tend to place Gillooly in an unfavorable light,possibly lessening the impact of his allegations.Thus, Harding's statements attacked her accusers in four places. First, she chargedGillooly and Eckardt with lying. Second, she reported alleged abuse by her ex-husband.Third, she claimed he treated her unfairly despite the fact that she was always good to him.Fourth, she reported that she was afraid some person or persons (and the audience probablywould think of Gillooly here) would hurt her if she reported what she learned after theattack. If she can make the audience dislike and not trust her accusers, the accusations maybe undermined.424 Benoit and HanczorDownloaded by [Memorial University of Newfoundland] at 20:18 31 July 2014 DefeasibilityAs mentioned previously in the discussion of denial, Chung pointed out that Hardinghad lied when first asked about knowledge of the attack. She asked Harding "Why didn'tyou go to the authorities immediately?" Harding offered two excuses to justify her inaction.First, she suggested that "Everything just happened so fast." In other words, she claimed thatshe felt that events were out of her control. Second, as discussed in attacking her accusers,she reported that she wasn't forthcoming because "I was scared" of "being hurt." Both ofthese excuses suggest that events were out of her control, that she couldn't act freely, and assuch are instances of defeasibility.Evaluation of Harding's Image Restoration AttemptsThis section will return to the strategies identified in our analysis of Harding's defensivediscourse, and develop arguments to support our evaluation. We make no attempt toanswer the question of whether she was telling the truth about her innocenceher pleabargain probably means that the truth will never be known ("Harding's plea," 1994)although we will consider whether she probably appeared to be telling the truth to theaudience. Furthermore, it is important to acknowledge that Harding has much fewerresources for presenting her side than the media has to report the accusations against her.First, we consider whether the three image restoration strategies Harding relied uponwere well chosen. Then we evaluate how effectively she developed these three strategies inher defense. Next, we consider whether she could have developed her image repair effort inother ways that might have been more effective. Finally, we examine public opinion polldata on Harding to see if it is consistent with our evaluation.These three strategiesbolstering, denial, and attacking one's accuserare clearlyappropriate. Those accused of committing heinous acts may help their reputations throughdenial (assuming, of course, that they are innocent). Similarly, showing oneself to be a goodperson (bolstering) may counterbalance any residual negative feeling, and it could alsoreinforce one's denial (a good person isn't likely to do bad things). Attacking one's accuser(s)may lessen the effectiveness of the accusations, thereby helping to restore one's goodreputation. Defeasibility makes the claim that events beyond one's control are actuallyresponsible for offensive actions, and is a plausible way to avoid blame. Previous researchhas established that, when operationalized appropriately, denial (Benoit, 1994; Benoit &Lindsey, 1987), bolstering (Benoit, 1994; Benoit & Brinson, 1994; Benoit & Lindsey, 1987),and attacking one's accuser (Benoit, 1994) can be effective image repair strategies.7Thereforeagain, unless Harding was guilty, a possibility beyond the scope of thisanalysisshe selected appropriate strategies for repairing her image.Having discussed her choice of strategies, we now consider how well they weredeveloped. Harding's development of her defense was generally weak for two reasons. First,the picture of Harding built in the interview clashes with the impression most audiencemembers probably have of her. To those who have followed her careerand those exposedto brief recapitulations of it in recent media treatments and in ye-to-ye with Conn/eChungTonya Harding was a brash, independent rebel. She was headstrong and proud, astrong competitor who went her own way regardless of what others may have thought. Inthis regard she may be considered somewhat similar to other sports figures, like tennis starJohn McEnroe. However, the impression created in the interview was one of a meek,tentative, frightened person who tried her best to meet the expectations of her husband"I'd try even harder to be good, you know, to be nice . . . ask permission to go places, askpermission to spend money"and fans"Do the best that anyone expects me to do." OfTonya Harding's Image 425Downloaded by [Memorial University of Newfoundland] at 20:18 31 July 2014 course, we can never know which is the "real" Tonya Harding, and some viewers may havefelt sympathy for the Harding portrayed in this show. However, the impression of Hardingcreated in the interview was dramatically at odds with what most viewers probably thoughtof her, and its effectiveness was probably undermined for them as a result.The second reason we consider these strategies to be ineffective is that virtually all ofHarding's defense rested (only) on her words. Consider her attempts at bolstering. Herapparent attempts to gain sympathy rested on her assertion that Gillooly and her mother hadabused her. No corroborating evidence was presented (she even withdrew complaints tothe police about Gillooly). She claimed to feel compassion and sorrow for Kerrigan,butother than Harding's assertion that she sent a "short letter" that Kerrigan might nothave receivedthe audience had to take her word for this. Even displaying a copy of thenote could have provided some support. She said she wanted to have children, and to makea better life for them. She promised to contribute to the Special Olympics. If she had made aspecific commitment, like a dollar amount, that could have helped. But, again, the audienceonly had Harding's word for these things.Should we expect her audience to accept her assertions? It seems unlikely that mostviewers would believe her, for several reasons. First, several others contradicted herstatements. Both Gillooly and Eckardt implicated her in the plot. After Harding alleged thather mother abused her, her mother was shown in the program saying "I wouldn't call myselfan abusive mother. Not abusive, but corrective, maybe." Harding disagreed here, sayingthat "there's a lot of people out there that know different." However, because she doesn'tname any of them, ultimately it becomes Harding's word against Gillooly's word, Harding'sword against Eckardt's word, Harding's word against her mother's word. While Harding'saccusers may not have uniformly high credibility, several people disputed her assertions.Should the viewers be expected to believe Harding?Harding's audience probably had serious reservations about her credibility for reasonsother than the fact that several people contradicted her statements. When Gillooly's allegedabuse of Harding was discussed, Chung explained that "over the years, Tonya has filedpolice reports charging Jeff with abuse and harassment but she later retracted her com-plaints." This may have led the audience to wonder whether Harding was telling the truthwhen she charged Gillooly with abuse, or when she retracted the complaints? Why retractthe complaints if they were true? Although Chung did not report how many times thishappened, she did state that it happened repeatedly "over the years." This information doesnot create the impression that Harding tells one story, the truth, and sticks with it.Even worse, as Chung points out, Harding's initial blanket denial was later "contra-dicted with her own damaging admissions," surely the single biggest threat to her credibility.Early in the controversy, Harding denied all knowledge of the attack. Later, she was forcedto admit that she had lied, and she changed her denial from "I knew nothing about theattack" to "I did not know about the attack before it happened." Chung brought up herinitial denial, and a videotape of Harding uttering it was played on the show. Incontrovert-ibly, Harding had lied about her knowledge of the attack on Nancy Kerrigan before. Whyshould viewers believe her now?Furthermore, the audience may have believed that evidence was available to contradictHarding's statements. Harding's telephone calls and the scrap of paper about the Tony KentArena were both reported in newspapers as indicated earlier. Furthermore, the Eye-to-Eyeprogram brought up both of these points. Harding may not have known that these ideaswould be included in the programbut she clearly knew that they had been reported in themedia and she failed to offer any explanation for them in her defense.4 2 6 Benoitand HanczorDownloaded by [Memorial University of Newfoundland] at 20:18 31 July 2014 Finally, it is not clear why Harding waited until February 10 to present her defense. Ourbrief summary of the allegations suggests that her reputation was significantly threatenedduring late January. It is possible that she was constrained by the production or broadcastschedule of ye-to-Eye with Connie Chung, although she was not forced to rely on thatparticular television show to present her defense. The public's interest in the story, coupledwith media attention to it, surely would have provided her with a choice of media forums.Thus, a variety of factorsthe statements of others, Harding's own statements, andevidence that might have appeared to prove her guiltcombined to undermine Harding'scredibility. Could Harding have been more persuasive? Given the retracted police reports,her retracted blanket denial, and the (apparent) physical evidence, it would not have beenan easy task to win the audience's trust. But could she have done a better job?We think this defense could have been developed more effectively. Her first mistakewas to deny all knowledge of the attack. This lie seriously damaged her credibility. However,even after this error it was possible that she could have developed her image repair effortsmore effectively.Harding might have denied that she had a motive to participate in the attack onKerrigan. Two skaters would advance from the United States (Adler, 1994), and it seemedunlikely that Harding would place third. Harding could thus have argued that she had noreason to try to injure Kerrigan. She might have even tried to reinforce this claim bydeclaring that not skating against Kerrigan would have cheapened her success at thecompetition, thereby playing into the sports ideal of "winning on the field." Thus, ratherthan simply denying that she did anything wrong, she could have also denied that she hadany reason for wrong-doing, and in fact that she had reason to want Kerrigan to competeagainst her. This could have reinforced her denial and made it sound somewhat moreplausible.Second, she could have coupled this denial of motive with an attack on her accuser,suggesting that unlike Harding, Eckardt did have a motive to attack Kerrigan, because hehoped to get rich as a bodyguard to other athletes who became fearful as a result of theattack on Kerrigan (this could have been an actual motive; see "Three Men Plead," 1994).This may have appeared more plausible than simply calling her accusers liars and claimingto be afraid of them. It could have allowed her to explain why her accusers had motive toharm Kerrigan even though Harding did not.Third, she could have attempted to bolster her image by stressing her skating ability.Notice that pointing out that she was able to perform a triple axel jump could be seen toreinforce her claim that she had no motive to injure Kerrigan (Adler, 1994). Furthermore, ifshe had ever contributed to any charities or donated her time or name to good causes,Harding should have brought that up. Then, her promise of a donation to the SpecialOlympics could have been made in a more convincing manner. It would have helped tospecify the amount of the donation she planned to make. It is possible that some of the morecynical members of the audience might have thought, "Well, even if she isn't lying aboutthis donation, Harding will probably make $10 million on a TV movie and donate $10."Thus, Harding's attempts at bolstering could also have been more effective.Finally, when Chung brought up the fact that Harding had lied in her initial flat denial,Harding could have engaged in mortification, expressing remorse. She did admit that "I amresponsible, however, for failing to report things I learned about the assault when I returnedhome from nationals," and she tried to excuse her behavior with defeasibility ("Everythingjust happened so fast," "I was scared"), but she never said she was sorry for lying.Tonya Harding's Image 427Downloaded by [Memorial University of Newfoundland] at 20:18 31 July 2014 Of course, had Harding attempted to restore her image with these strategies rather thanthe defense she actually used, it would not have convinced all viewers of her innocence.Nevertheless, we believe other choices would have been more successful in repairing herimage than the defense she presented in the interview.How did the public react to Harding after her defense? Most people did not believe herdenials. According to a CNN/US/\ Today national poll on February 24, 31 % of respondentsbelieved Harding was involved in the plot from the beginning and 35% believed she knewabout it before it happened (but did not help plan it). Only 20% believed that she learnedabout it after it happened. While we cannot know for certain why the public rejected herdefense, it may well be significant that Harding's credibility was very low prior to thebroadcast. A CBS News national poll of February 6 (just prior to the broadcast) reported thatmore people believed Gillooly than Harding: 43% believed Jeff Gillooly was mostly tellingthe truth (32% believed he was mostly lying), while 63% thought Tonya Harding was mostlylying (only 19% thought she was mostly telling the truth). Our analysis reveals that she didlittle to enhance her damaged credibility in her defense.Implications of the AnalysisIn this section we will discuss what insights can be derived from our analysis. Specifi-cally, we draw seven implications from our critical analysis of Harding's image restorationefforts, each of which will be discussed separately.First, this approach to image restoration was better suited for displaying the full range ofimage repair strategies than previous analyses of such discourse. Burke (1970, 1973) onlydiscusses mortification and shifting the blame (victimage), and thus would not have beenable to identify any of the strategies Harding employed. Ware and Linkugel (1973) dodiscuss both denial and bolstering, although attacking one's accuser is not included in thefour strategies in their theory of apologia.8Second, especially in relatively recent years as sports have become an increasinglyimportant part of the American social fabric, athletes are often called upon to defendthemselves. Michael Jordan was accused of gamblingand losingwhat seemed to manyto be preposterous amounts of money. Pete Rose was accused of betting on games in whichhe participated. Vince Coleman threw a firecracker into the stands. The New EnglandPatriots engaged in behavior toward a female reporter considered by many to be sexualharassment. O.J. Simpson currently stands accused of a brutal, double murder. Thus, sportsfigures frequently need to defend their images, and the discourse they produce is alegitimate object of study.Third, in some of these cases, the "truth" may never come out. This means that ourjudgments of these figures is dependent upon the discourse that they generate. In thisanalysis, we do not believe she was successful at creating the belief that she was innocentwith most of her audience. The notion that rhetoric is epistemic, or constitutive ofknowledge, is hardly a new one (see, e.g., Brummett, 1976; Cherwitz & Hikins, 1986;Farrell, 1976; Gregg, 1984; Leff, 1978; Railsback, 1983; Scott, 1967, 1977; Weimer,1981). Nevertheless, the concept that rhetoric is epistemic is reinforced in incidents such asthe controversy over Harding's alleged involvement in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan: thepublic's "knowledge" of the attack was shaped by the media discourse. Harding's defenseattempted to create a different set of understandings of this event, so as to repair her image,although she was largely ineffectual in her bid to shape our knowledge of her involvement inthe attack.428 Benoit and HanczorDownloaded by [Memorial University of Newfoundland] at 20:18 31 July 2014 A fourth implication of this analysis is that it is possible that in some circumstances it iscounterproductive to attempt to establish a new and different impression of oneself. Manyof her viewers had an image of Harding as a brash, outspoken, "bad girl" of ice skating. Thisclashed sharply with her portrayal in the interview as a tentative, dependent, frightened andhelpless person. Of course, if the audience believes that she is not truly in control of heractions, they may tend to hold her blameless. However, if that picture is rejected as false, itwill quite possibly backfire (i.e., viewers could think, "Not only did she help plot to injurepoor Nancy, but then when the truth starts to come out, she lies about it").Fifth, when one commits wrong-doing, it is often better to admit it and express remorsethan attempt to lie about it. The truth often comes out, and when it does, the accused isdoubly to blame: once for the offensive act and once for lying about it. President Nixoncontinued to deny involvement in Watergate and eventually was forced to resign (Benoit,1982). President Reagan denied knowledge of the Iran/Contra affair, and his approvalratings slipped until the Tower Commission Report forced him to admit that he had made amistake and take corrective action (Benoit, Gullifor, & Panici, 1991). AT&T initially blamedlow-level workers for the long distance service interruption, and later apologized (Benoit &Brinson, 1994). Similarly, Harding lied about when she became aware of the attack, and webelieve she would have been better off admitting that she had erred, expressing remorse,and apologizing.A sixth implication concerns a rhetor's credibility. When a person has an obviouscredibility problemthe program revealed that she lied about when she had first learnedabout the attackit is imperative to effectively address that problem. Harding ineffectuallyattempted to claim that fear kept her silent. Apologizing for making a mistake and asking forforgiveness (mortification), as suggested above, as well as making a commitment to fullycooperate with the investigation (corrective action) might have helped her image with someof her audience.It is unwise to permit important allegations or incriminating evidence to go unchal-lenged, a seventh implication of this analysis. Newspaper stories mentioned the evidence oftelephone calls to determine Kerrigan's hotel room and practice schedule and telephonecalls to Shawn Eckardt on the day of the attack. These were reiterated in the televisionprogram. The paper scraps found in the trash were also mentioned in newspapers and in thetelevision. Both of these seemed to be serious enough that Harding could not afford toignore them, but she did. It is possible that some allegations will be forgotten if ignored, andthat rhetors would be better advised not to bring them up. However, apparently "hard"evidence like this, evidence that is clearly in the audience's mind, should not be ignored.ConclusionWe critically analyzed Tonya Harding's image repair effort in her interview on Eye-to-Eye with Connie Chung, applying the theory of image restoration discourse. She primarilyused bolstering, denial, and attacking one's accuser, although defeasibility also appeared inher discourse. While the strategies she selected were generally appropriate, the defense sheconstructed to operationalize them was not very well developed. The discourse created animpression that was inconsistent with the picture most people probably had of Harding, andthus was relatively ineffectual. The fact that she lied about when she first learned of theattack severely undermined her credibility, and she did not rebuild it in this discourse.Several others contradicted her statements, and she left apparently incriminating evidenceunchallenged. Thus, we evaluate her defense as ineffective, and public opinion poll dataTonya Harding's Image 429Downloaded by [Memorial University of Newfoundland] at 20:18 31 July 2014 confirm this assessment. In sum, this instance of rhetoric from a sports celebrity providesinsight into the effectiveness of image restoration discourse.NOTES1 From October 1, 1993 to May 1, 1994, 138 different Associated Press articles containedreferences to Harding and the attack on Kerrigan (Grollier's CD Newsbank [CD-ROM database],1994).2 All public opinion poll data were obtained from "Public Opinion Online" (on-line database)from the Roper Center at the University of Connecticut via Nexis/Lexis.3 This information from the Vanderbilt television archives was obtained via Gopher (tvnews.vanderbilt. edu). See also Television News Index and Abstracts, 1994.4 Burke discusses the purgative-guilt cycle, in which humans inevitably violate the social order,requiring redemption. Burke (1970) sees two primary methods of purification, mortification andvictimage. They have an important similarity in the way in which they deal with guilt: symbolically"killing" it. Burke suggests that they are both a form of death: mortification a kind of suicide, andvictimage a kind of homicide (1970, p. 248). For our purposes, we separate them because of thedifferent effects: mortification places the blame on one's self (the "bad" self) and begs forgiveness;while victimage shifts the blame elsewhere, to a scapegoat. Hence, we see victimage, or shifting theblame, as closer in effects to denial than mortification.5 We have no reason to believe that Tonya Harding had complete control over the content of thistelevision program. She could well have made other utterances that attempted to develop the imagerestoration strategies we found in this program in other ways or that employed other image repairstrategiesbut that were edited out before broadcast. Similarly, Connie Chung may have made somestatements or asked certain questions that tended to undermine Harding's image restoration efforts.The visuals presented before, during, and after Harding's statements may not have reinforced herdefense. In other words, it may be best to consider that her defense was mediated by the televisionshow. Nevertheless, the show that was broadcast served as her defense, whether it was entirely toHarding's liking or not. Even if Harding had wished to alter it, this program was the defense she wasable to present.It is also important to realize that Harding may well have had several different purposes. Althoughwe cannot know for certain, she presumably wanted (1) to avoid being prosecuted in the Kerriganattack, (2) to skate at the Olympics, (3) to gain sympathy from her judges at the Olympics, and (4) torestore her reputation with the public. Harding engaged in other actions to secure her ends (e.g., shesued the American Olympic Committee for $10 million to force them to let her compete; see Duffy,1994), and her utterances during this interview could have been intended to achieve several goals. Inour analysis, we focus only on how her appearance on this television program functioned to repair herimage with the public, while acknowledging here that she may have had other goals as well. Looking atthe statements Harding made in the television program, it is difficult not to agree with Connie Chungthat "this interview was obviously Tonya Harding's attempt to make her case to the American public"(1994).Finally, while Harding's appearance on Eye-to-Eye with Connie Chung was not the only statementshe made on her behalf (and video-taped quotations from Harding's previous statements are played inthis show), she limited her appearances and interviews, as indicated by a T-shirt with "No Comment"on it. Thus, her discourse on this television program was the single most important image restorationattempt Harding employed.6 We do not claim to have insights into Harding's thoughts and intentions. However, we will useconstructions like "Harding used three image repair strategies" as more felicitous than "Whether sheintended it or not, Harding's discourse may well have been interpreted as including three imagerestoration strategies."7 ln other instances, however, when operationalized inappropriately, these strategies have beenfound to be ineffective. See, e.g., studies of Exxon (Benoit, 1994), Nixon (Benoit, 1982), Pepsi-Cola(Benoit, 1994), Reagan (Benoit, Gullifor, & Panici, 1991), Union Carbide (Benoit, 1994).8 Ware and Linkugel (1973) mention the fact that Clarence Darrow vilified his accusers in "TheyTried to Get Me." 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