Larry King, the veteran American talk-show host famous for his brightly-coloured braces and fawning interview technique, was himself the focus of a frenzied story about his soaring salary – set to make him one of the highest-paid broadcasters in history.
Reports said that Mr King, 68, was negotiating a new contract that would earn him about $14m (£10m) a year – double what he currently earns. The New York Post said Mr King had negotiated a deal that would bind him to his present employers, CNN, for a further four years, for a salary of $56m (£40m) plus perks.
The newspaper said that among the fringe benefits, negotiated to prevent Mr King switching to a rival such as NBC or Fox News Channel was the use of a private plane.
But almost as soon as news of the deal emerged, other reports said the size of the contract had been vastly inflated. One item filed on the news/gossip Drudge Report website said the actual contract was worth half the sum reported and "CNN insiders were furious".
The rumour and counter- rumour is typical of the gossip-mongering that surrounds the contracts negotiated by America's most high-profile television celebrities. Last month, there was similarly frenzied speculation over the presenter Katie Couric, who was said to have signed a deal with NBC news that paid her $13m to $16m a year (£9.2m to £11.3m). Such a sum – if correct – would make the 44-year-old Today presenter the highest paid television personality.
King has long been considered one of CNN's star attractions. His interviews with leading newsmakers and celebrities – usually conducted in a highly-deferential manner – are broadcast internationally, while at home in the US he attracts the network's largest regular audience.
King's spokeswoman was unavailable for comment yesterday.
A spokesman for CNN said negotiations about the broadcaster's contract were still continuing and no final figure had been agreed. The spokesman said: "We know that Larry King is extremely popular."