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Did Paris really learn her lesson? And why do we care?

by Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline correspondent

This will be Paris Hilton's eighth night behind bars, probably the most-discussed jail term ever.

Monday on "The View," Barbara Walters talked about the phone call she received from Hilton, who's in the medical ward of the L.A. County jail.

Harvey Levin, TMZ.com: She's doing better.  She's adjusting to it.  She's still fragile.  But I think, just psychologically, from what I'm hearing, she's not this ping pong ball anymore.  She knows she's going to be at this facility for awhile. 

Last week, Harvey Levin's TMZ.com was reporting Hilton was disintegrating under the pressures of incarceration...saying she'd become sullen, withdrawn...a train wreck....and being visited by her psychiatrist.

That set up last Friday's tug-of-war between a sheriff who sent her to home detention and a judge who wanted this Hilton back in the crossbar hotel.

What's also astonishing about this case is not just the attention it has received, but the venom it's generated. Browse any Internet board—you'll find a legion of posters wishing Ms. Hilton a long, unpleasant stay in the hands of the law.

It's not just the blogosphere—one Web site is selling "Paris Go Away" T-shirts.

And while she's a familiar target in the late-night cross hairs,  the huge audience reaction to any mention of her plight is so enthusiastic, it's become predictable.

Why do people care so much about her fate? Is it because she's seen as an emblem for young Hollywood, living fast, loose, and out of control? Or is it simple class warfare, a rage against the rich? Either way, a simple legal two-step, a release from custody into home detention, Became, in the public's mind, a deal with the devil in a city of angels.

Harvey Levin: It was like throwing stones in, you know, the old Roman town.  Everybody felt part of it.  Yeah, she's getting it.  I mean, there was a lot of anger toward her because they've seen her get away with things.  That's wrong, but that's the way a lot of people felt. 

Over the weekend, the heiress issued a statement saying she would not appeal her sentence, even after she and her family, and her attorney first protested it as being unfair.

Harvey Levin: This judge was a jerk.  There was absolutely no basis for what he did.  Nobody gets this kind of punishment for what she did.  He punished her for who she is, not what she did. 

But keep in mind Hilton's original sentence of 45 days follows this arrest by the LAPD last September for driving under the influence, for which she received probation, a fine, DUI classes, and lost her right to drive.

Then there were two more police stops, each when she was driving under a suspended license. To top it off, she was late to court.

Attorney Lawrence Taylor, who literally wrote the book on DUI legal-defense work says Hilton's attitude is what really worked against her.

Lawrence Taylor, lawyer: She came in and instead of being contrite and suggesting that she might be sorry for what she did and that it will never happen again, instead said essentially that it was not her fault and blamed some other people, her handlers, whoever those were.  That's not the kinda thing you say to a judge after you've just violated probation three times.

Hilton has regularly been depicted as being neither especially virginal nor cerebral. Today Barbara Walters quoted her as saying she's no longer going to play dumb.

That act, if that's what it was, was on full display two years ago when the LAPD interviewed Hilton as a witness in an unrelated criminal case.

So tonight, Paris Hilton is on a prison diet, and says she's learning a bitter, important lesson.  She also says she's shocked that so much public and media attention is being paid to her...instead of to the soldiers serving this country in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It's probably the first time she's ever asked for the world's attention to be focused elsewhere.

Click here to watch the video of the Dateline report.