Mel Gibson isn't denying that he muttered "a**hole" under his breath during a testy interview with Chicago entertainment reporter Dean Richards -- but his vulgar outburst wasn't directed at Richards.

On Wednesday, Gibson, 54, sent a text message to journalist Sam Rubin of KTLA, explaining that the "*a**hole" in question was his publicist. During the TV interview, the actor's rep was "making faces" at him off-camera. The Edge of Darkness star didn't realize he was still on camera when he tossed off the insult to his colleague.

During a Wednesday appearance on French TV show Le Grand Journal, Gibson smiled when a reporter asked if he came prepared with "French curse words for French journalists."

"No," he replied jovially. "It usually comes out in English if I'm angry. I have a short fuse. I'm trying to work on it."

During his talked-about Friday appearance on WGN-TV, Gibson seemed to get annoyed when Richards asked if the public might perceive him differently "after all that's been in the news," referring to Gibson's drunken anti-semitic rant during a 2006 DUI bust.

"That's almost four years ago, dude," Gibson snapped at the time. "I've done all the necessary mea culpas. Let's move on."