Paula Deen claims to be victim of ‘hurtful lies’ on ‘Today’ show

Paula Deen gave a tearful interview on the “Today” show this morning, several days after her deposition in a lawsuit revealed that the celebrity chef had made racist comments:

“I’ve had to hold friends in my arms while they’ve sobbed because they know what’s been said about me is not true and I’m having to comfort them,” she said.

Deen told [host Matt] Lauer she could only recall using the “n-word” once. She had earlier said that she remembered using it when retelling a story about when she was held at gunpoint by a robber who was black while working as a bank teller in the 1980s in Georgia. In a deposition for the lawsuit involving an employee in a restaurant owned by Deen and her brother, she had said she may also have used the slur when recalling conversations between black employees at her restaurants.

Looking distressed and her voice breaking, Deen said if there was someone in the audience who had never said something they wished they could take back, “please pick up that stone and throw it as hard at my head so it kills me. I want to meet you. I want to meet you.

“I is what I is and I’m not changing,” she said. “There’s someone evil out there that saw what I worked for and wanted it.”

An uncomfortable Lauer tried to end the interview, but Deen repeated that anyone who hasn’t sinned should attack her.

Associated Press

In recent days, the Food Network has said it will not renew its contract with Deen, and Smithfield Foods has also ended its relationship with her. The Reliable Source writes that Deen’s interview was “ultimately more defensive than apologetic”:

Deen emphatically denied that she harbors racist thoughts. “I believe every creature on this earth, every one of God’s creatures, was created equal. . . . That’s the way I was raised, that’s the way I live my life.” And she painted herself as a victim of “very, very hurtful lies” and judgments passed by “people I have never heard of [who] are all of a sudden experts on who I am.”

Deen and her team released no fewer than three apologies last week; in one, a lawyer explained that she’s a product of an earlier era in the South. Deen didn’t go there today, though, instead repeating over again that she Wasn’t Raised That Way. As a child, she said, her father warned her against behaving “a way where you think you are better than others or have been unkind.”

But she deflected somewhat when pressed by Lauer about another deposition acknowledgment — that she occasionally tells ethnic jokes — and what kind of language she considers hurtful.

The Reliable Source

Deen’s career now appears to be in jeopardy:

Paula Deen’s appearance on the “Today” show Wednesday might not save her career — but it may be her best move after a disastrous few days.

“If I hear one more nitwit say, ‘She needs to get ahead of the story. . . ,’ ” said D.C. crisis manager Eric Dezenhall. “It’s called damage control, not damage-never-happened. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.”

“What you’re really seeing is a person who has just been hit by a bus and her life as she knew it is over,” said Dezenhall. Instead of strategy, there’s “sheer terror, chaos and panic.”

On Tuesday, Deen’s sons weighed in, claiming that their mother is not a racist but rather the victim of a former employee suing to score a huge settlement. “I’m disgusted by the entire thing, because it began as extortion and it has become character assassination,” Bobby Deen told CNN.

Still, Deen’s “Today” appearance is too soon, said Dan Hill of Ervin/Hill Strategy. “No one is going to buy what she says now, even if it’s a perfectly crafted message. Everyone thinks you should respond immediately, but with something like this, usually time serves them well.”. . .

Some people will never forgive her, but some, of course, have or will. Martha Stewart and Tiger Woods survived scandals and resumed their careers by lying low and focusing on work. Deen’s fans have already started campaigns to get her reinstated on the Food Network.

The Reliable Source

For past coverage of this controversy, continue reading here.

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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