Paula Deen took to a “Today” show couch to defend her reputation in a weepy interview that was ultimately more defensive than apologetic.
The down-home foodie celeb has been the target of mockery and outrage — losing key corporate partners in the process — since the release of a lawsuit deposition in which she acknowledged using racial slurs decades ago. (Earlier: Can Paula Deen save her career?)
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.”
Without specifically alluding to the former employee whose workplace discrimination suit brought her old rhetoric to light, she seemed to blame a personal vendetta for her current woes: “There’s someone evil out there that saw what I’d worked for and wanted that.”
Choked up, she looked directly at the camera and said: “If there’s anyone out there that has never said something that they wish they could take back, please pick up that stone and throw it at my head so hard it kills me.” She added, “I is what I is, and I’m not changing.”
Asked by host Matt Lauer about her use of the n-word, Deen gave an emotional and scattered account of the day she was held up in a bank robbery 30 years ago. “That man was so frightened the day he put the gun to my head. He was a customer; I had gone out on a limb for him and gotten him a loan, and he was frightened I was going to recognize him.” You’d have to be familiar with her previous accounts — where she explained that the robber was African-American, and that she used the slur describing him to her husband later — to follow what she was talking about. (Updated: Paula Deen’s bank robber gives his side of the story)
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 acknowledgement — that she occasionally tells ethnic jokes — and what kind of language she considers hurtful.
“I have asked myself that, Matt, many times. It is so distressing to go into my kitchen and hear what these young people are calling each other,” she said, adding that “These young people are going to have to take control and start showing respect for each other and not throw that word at each other. It makes my skin crawl!”