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Kerrigan's words speak louder than her actions

At the Nancy Kerrigan School of Broadcasting, they're having a little trouble with the more advanced concepts found in the course called Microphone 101.

When the microphone is off, you are safe. When the microphone is on, you generally, as a rule, try to be discreet and NOT SAY SOMETHING STUPID.

On. Off. This is not a difficult concept.

Being a good sport may be difficult. Refraining from catty comments when you want a gold medal might be.

But learning to play nice, even when you aren't, is the first rule of television.

When she was attacked by a hitman out to help her rival Tonya Harding, Kerrigan wailed "Why me?" America and the world rallied around her. In the following weeks, she remained silent and stoic as she signed endorsement deals and shyly smiled in Campbell's soup commercials.

But as soon as the girl got the silver medal, America learned its sweetheart had a heart of steel and a mouth like a stevadore.

"Why does she need to fix her face, she'll just come out here and cry again," she snapped last week, while waiting for gold medalist Oksana Baiul at the awards presentation. Rolling her eyes, she was also overheard ridiculing the 16-year-old Ukranian skater.

After skipping the closing Olympic ceremonies for a parade at Disney World, her $2-million sponsor, Kerrigan also spoke freely.

"This is so corny," she was heard saying, as she rode on a fire engine with Mickey Mouse. "This is dumb. I hate it. This is the most corniest thing I have ever done."

Both incidents took place on television, spoken into a microphone Kerrigan didn't know was on. The Disney World remarks were carried on NBC's Today Show and CNBC's Tom Snyder, and were part of David Letterman's late-night monologue Wednesday. "She put Mickey in a terrible position," joked Letterman. "I mean, what's he going to say. "Hey Nancy, let's go get a beer.' "

Do not pity her technological slips. She's been fooling us for too long. While silently smiling before the Olympics, then grinning with delight next to Mickey Mouse, Kerrigan projected one image, while (she thought) protecting another.

This cannot please her savvy managers, who have negotiated million dollar deals for her. "Dupe" is a strong word, but whatever Kerrigan did, it was in the tradition of Hollywood stars who know image is everything. At least they knew when to shut up.

Be it gold or silver, this television reputation may be tarnished for good.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT: A master of the silent treatment finally will speak out. Oregon Sen. Robert Packwood will defend himself against charges of sexual misconduct in an exclusive interview with Barbara Walters on tonight's 20/20 at 10 on WTSP-Ch. 10. In the extended segment, he discusses the charges against him, his drinking problem and therapy. He admits he was a "binge drinker" who would abstain for weeks then "would sit down and drink a lot." Packwood is facing a Senate Ethics Committee investigation that stems from allegations made by 29 women who used to work for him. In the interview, he promises Walters he'll never resign. "If I resign now without chance of a hearing, 30 years of a public career ... are totally forgotten."