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Paula Deen Appears on 'TODAY,' Tearfully Insists She’s Not a Racist

Paula Deen Appears on 'TODAY,' Tearfully Insists She’s Not a Racist



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'I believe that every creature on this Earth — every one of God's creatures — was created equal,' she said

Getty Images/Slaven Vlasic

Paula Deen made an appearance on the TODAY show Wednesday morning to speak with host Matt Lauer about the controversy surrounding accusations of racism, which resulted in her recent professional downfall.

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Deen, who backed out of a scheduled interview on the TODAY show last Friday due to exhaustion, spoke with Lauer to insist that she is not a racist, nor does not have racist tendencies. She spoke firmly about the way she had been raised and about the way she raised her children, and said that she had always been told never to think of herself as better than anyone else.

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When Lauer asked if she ever wished that she had "fudged" the truth when asked in court if she had ever used the "N" word, Deen immediately answered "No," and claimed she was only prejudiced against two kinds of people: "thieves and liars."

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Lauer was not gentle in his questioning of her, but Deen stressed her good character and maintained her disgust for the racial slur. "It’s very distressing to go into my kitchens and hear what these young people are calling each other," she said. "I think for this problem to be worked on, these young people are [going to] have to take control and start showing respect for each other and not throwing that word at each other. It makes my skin crawl."

Later Wednesday morning, NBC affiliate WAVE3 News reported that Caesars Entertainment Corporations would end its relationship with Deen. Caesars, which runs four Paula Deen-themed buffet-style restaurants said it "intends to rebrand the current Paula Deen themed restaurants in the coming months."

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Paula Deen defends herself on ‘Today Show’: ‘I is what I is’

In an emotional interview, her first since she admitted having used racial epithets, Paula Deen tearfully told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Wednesday that she is not a racist that as a businesswoman, she does not think her firing from Food Network was the right decision, and that she was unsure whether the N-word was offensive to black people.

When asked by Lauer whether she was a racist, Deen replied simply, “No.” Then she added, “I believe that … every one of God’s creatures is created equal. I believe that everyone should be treated equal, that’s the way I was raised and that’s the way I live my life”

When Lauer asked Deen, who was let go from the Food Network Friday, believed her offense was a fireable one, Deen said it was not.

“Would I have fired me? Knowing me? No,” she said. “I am so very thankful for the partners I have who believe in me.”

The fallout from Deen’s admission that she’s used the N-word and had considered throwing a “plantation-style” wedding – which came to light during a legal deposition on May 17 and went public early last week – was fast and furious. By Friday, Food Network announced it was canceling Deen’s contract, after she failed to appear for a scheduled interview with Lauer and started posting a series of strange apology videos on YouTube.

By Monday, Smithfield Foods terminated its partnership with her, and QVC, Sears and Target were all reevaluating their relationship with the Southern star, who raked in $17 million in 2012 through all her ventures and was the fourth highest paid chef last year, according to Forbes.

During the deposition, Deen was asked about racist jokes, and she responded that she could not determine what offended various groups of people. Lauer specifically asked her if she knew that the N-word was offensive to black people.

“I don’t know, I have asked myself that so many times,” Deen said. “I go into my kitchens and hear what these young people are calling each other…it’s very distressing for me. I think for this problem o be worked on these young people are gonna have to take control and start showing respect for each other.”


Paula Deen: I'm Not a Racist

The folksy Southern cooking queen tearfully took to NBC's "Today" show Wednesday for the first time to talk about the racism scandal that has rocked her cooking empire. She said she is “somewhat in a state of shock” over what were “hurtful lies said about me.”

Asked by host Matt Lauer whether she was a racist, Deen said, "No, I'm not."

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“If there’s anyone out there that has never said something that they wished they could take back, if you’re out there, please pick up that stone and throw it so hard at my head that it kills me,” Deen said near the end of her interview. "Please, I want to meet you. I want to meet you. I is what I is and I'm not changing."

In the wake of revelations that Deen admitted to having used the N-word in the past and considered throwing a plantation-style wedding, the Food Network and Smithfield Foods cut ties with the celebrity cook. The home shopping channel QVC said it was reviewing its business relationship with her and casino giant Caesars Entertainment Corp. said Wednesday it planned to "part ways" and re-brand its Paula Deen-themed restaurants at four of its properties.

Deen stressed that she still has plenty of supporters and that her "Today" appearance was not intented to stop the financial bleeding. She said that she wanted people to "know who I am."

Pressed on the issue, Deen said, “Would I have fired me? Knowing me? No."

Deen, 66, was originally slated to appear on “Today” last Friday amid the height of the N-word controversy sparked by a deposition in a court case, but canceled last minute.

She posted two online video apologies hours later begging for forgiveness from her fans for having used racial slurs. In one of the YouTube videos, Deen apologized to Lauer for having been “physically unable” to make the “Today” interview.

Deen has been under fire since a former manager of a Savannah, Ga., restaurant owned by Deen and her brother filed a $1.2 million lawsuit against the pair. The employee, Lisa Jackson, claimed she was sexually harassed by Bubba Hiers and that Deen used the N-word around her.

"Yes, of course," Deen said in the May 17 deposition of having used the slur, adding, "It's been a very long time."

But she told Lauer Wednesday that she had only used the N-word once in 1986 in reference to a black man who held a gun to her head.

“I know my love for people, and I’m not going to sit here and tell everything I’ve done for people of color,” Deen said, adding that "somebody else can tell that."

Deen did not regret telling the truth in her court deposition and the only people she's prejudiced against are thieves and liars, she said.

Asked about her comments in court that she can't determine what offends another person, Deen brought up what she hears in the kitchens of her restaurants.

"It’s very distressing for me to go into my kitchens and I hear what these young people are calling themselves," Deen said. "It’s very distressing for me because I think that for this problem to be worked on that these young people are gonna have to take control and start showing respect for each other and not showing this word at each other."

Deen said she counted Rev. Jesse Jackson among her supporters and to "never underestimate the power of those voices because these people who have met me and know me and love me, they’re as angry as the people are that are reading these stories that are lies."

Deen is the author of 14 cookbooks that have sold more than eight million copies. Her media empire also includes the bimonthly magazine "Cooking with Paula Deen" with circulation of nearly one million, according to her website.


Paula Deen Tearfully Defends Herself on ‘Today’ (Video)

An emotional Paula Deen defended herself in an exclusive interview on Wednesday’s Today show, telling Matt Lauer: “I have never … with any intention, hurt anybody on purpose, and I never would.”

Deen was scheduled to appear on the NBC morning show last Friday, but backed out moments before broadcast, opting to address the N-word controversy surrounding her in a pair of online videos. That same day, she was dropped by the Food Network, which had aired her series for more than a decade.

“It’s hard for me to even find the word that I was feeling — I was overwhelmed,” said Deen, explaining her decision to cancel on Today. “I was in a state of shock.”

When Lauer asked if she’s racist, Deen said: “No, no I’m not.” And in response to his question on whether she’d have fired herself amid the fallout, the embattled culinary star — who admitted to having said the N-word during a deposition in a discrimination lawsuit brought by a former restaurant employee — said, “Would I have fired me? Knowing me? No. &hellip I am so very thankful for the partners I have who believe in me.”

Despite reports to the contrary , Deen, 66, maintained that she last used the slur some 30 years ago, following a robbery at the bank where she worked. She said she was uncertain about whether the N-word was offensive to black people, saying, “I don’t know. I have asked myself that so many times. It’s very distressing for me to go into kitchens and hear what these young people are calling each other. &hellip I think for this problem to be worked on, these young people are gonna have to take control and start showing respect for each other.”

Earlier this week, Deen — who reportedly earned $17 million last year through her various business endeavors, which include a magazine, cookware line and her TV shows — lost her endorsement deal with pork company Smithfield, which for many years has sold a ham with Deen&rsquos name and face on it.

“If there’s anyone out there that has never said something that they wish they could take back, if you’re out there, please pick up that stone and throw it so hard at my head that it kills me. Please. I want to meet you,” she said, adding: “I’m not changing — there’s someone evil out there who saw what I worked for and wanted it.”


Paula Deen dropped by Wal-Mart after 'Today' tears

NEW YORK (AP) — Paula Deen was dropped by Wal-Mart and her name was stripped from four buffet restaurants on Wednesday, hours after she went on television and tearfully defended herself amid the mounting fallout over her admission of using a racial slur.

The story has become both a day-by-day struggle by a successful businesswoman to keep her career afloat and an object lesson on the level of tolerance and forgiveness in society for being caught making an insensitive remark.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said Wednesday that it ended its relationship with Deen and will not place "any new orders beyond what's already committed."

Caesars Entertainment Corp. said it had been "mutually decided" with Deen to remove her name from its restaurants in Joliet, Ill. Tunica, Miss. Cherokee, N.C. and Elizabeth, Ind.

At the same time, Deen's representatives released letters of support from nine companies that do business with the chef and promised to continue. There's evidence that a backlash is growing against the Food Network, which tersely announced last Friday that it was cutting ties with one of its stars.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said Deen had called him and he agreed to help her, saying she shouldn't become a sacrificial lamb over the issue of racial intolerance.

"What she did was wrong, but she can change," Jackson said.

During a deposition in a discrimination lawsuit filed by an ex-employee, the chef, who specializes in Southern comfort food, admitted to using the N-word in the past. The lawsuit also accuses Deen of using the slur when planning her brother's 2007 wedding, saying she wanted black servers in white coats, shorts and bow ties for a "Southern plantation-style wedding."

Deen said she didn't recall using the word "plantation" and denied using the N-word to describe waiters. She said she quickly dismissed the idea of having all black servers.

Deen told Matt Lauer on "Today" on Wednesday that she could only recall using the N-word once. She said 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 the deposition, she also said she may also have used the slur when recalling conversations between black employees at her restaurants. Asked in the deposition if she had used the word more than once, she said, "I'm sure I have, but it's been a very long time."

Her "Today" show appearance was a do-over from last Friday, when Deen didn't show up for a promised and promoted interview. Deen told Lauer she had been overwhelmed last week. She said she was heartbroken by the controversy and she wasn't a racist.

"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.

Looking distressed and with 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." It's an apparent reference to the Biblical passage about whether a woman guilty of adultery should be stoned: "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her."

"I is what I is and I'm not changing," Deen 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.

Asked by Lauer whether she had any doubt that blacks consider use of the N-word offensive, Deen said: "I don't know, Matt. I have asked myself that so many times, because it is so distressing to go into my kitchen and hear" what some young people are telling each other.

Deen said she appreciated fans who have expressed anger at the Food Network for dropping her, but said she didn't support a boycott of the network. Through social media, the network has been attacked by people who said executives there acted in haste to get rid of Deen.

Save for the brief announcement late Friday that it wasn't renewing Deen's contract, Food Network executives have refused to discuss the case publicly, or say whether the network plans to address Deen's fans. There have been online reports that the Food Network removed Deen's programs from the air as early as Saturday the network wouldn't speak about what it has or hasn't put on the air.

Starting last weekend, there has been a steady erosion of support for the network. The YouGov Brandindex, a measurement of how consumers perceive a particular company or product, said the Food Network's score — which had been generally positive — had dropped by 82 percent in a week. The network has a negative image in the South and West, spokesman Drew Kerr said.

Deen's case has also attracted some odd bedfellows. Conservative commentator Glenn Beck said the network has "contributed to the growing un-American atmosphere of fear and silence. Hello, Joseph McCarthy."

Meanwhile, liberal HBO host Bill Maher also said Deen shouldn't lose her show. "It's a wrong word, she's wrong to use it," he said. "But do we really have to make people go away?"

The Food Channel, a food marketing agency based in Springfield, Mo., said it has been flooded with angry messages from people mistaking the company for the Food Network. There have been so many that the agency posted a message to Deen on its website that it would be happy to work with her if possible.

Among the companies expressing support for her via her representatives was Club Marketing Services in Bentonville, Ark., which helps companies sell products at Wal-Mart, and Epicurean Butter.

Associated Press writer Russ Bynum in Athens, Ga. Religion Writer Rachel Zoll in New York Retail Writer Anne D'Innocenzio and Writer Tammy Webber in Chicago contributed to this report.

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The couple also own another home on Wilmington Island named Riverbend - an eight-bedroom, eight-and-a-half bathroom, 28,000-square-foot estate. The home was put on the market for $12.5million last year.

The Riverbend home is where Deen shot her Food Network cooking show before it was canceled in 2013, after she caught making a racist slur.

The couple also own another home on Wilmington Island named Riverbend (pictured) - an eight-bedroom, eight-and-a-half bathroom, 28,000-square-foot estate


Paula Deen on Today: I Is What I Is and I'm Not Changing!

After bailing on the Today Show last Friday, Paula Deen appeared this morning in an exclusive interview with Matt Lauer, and emotions ran high.

Defiantly, and tearfully, she said she doesn't need to change when it comes to using offensive words - even if they got Deen fired by Food Network.

Paula told Lauer, who didn't throw her any softballs:

"If there's anyone out there that has never said something they wish they could take back, please pick up that stone and throw it so hard at my head that it kills me."

"I is what I is and I'm not changing."

Deen, who was axed after admitting she used racial slurs in a lawsuit deposition, repeatedly defended herself from allegations that she's a racist.

"I believe that every creature on this earth, every one of God's creatures, was created equal," she said, decrying "some very hurtful lies said about me."

"The day I used that word was a world ago. I had a gun put to my head."

Lauer asked Deen if "given the same circumstances, would you have fired you?" The 66-year-old paused and then responded simply, "No."

"I go into my kitchens and hear what these young people are calling each other. It's very distressing for me," the embattled celebrity chef said.

"I think for this problem to be worked on these young people are gonna have to start taking control and start showing respect for each other."

"I know my love for people, and im not going to sit here and tell everything I've done for people of color. I would never hurt anyone on purpose."

She told Lauer, "I'm heartbroken. I've had to hold friends in my arms while they've sobbed because they know what has been said about me. It's not true."

While clearly distressed and all over the place at time, Deen definitely came off looking more sincere than in last week's awkward video apology statement.

What do you think? Did she deserve to get fired? And was she just doing damage control today or genuinely sorry for all that's gone down in her life?


Paula Deen under fire for tweeting picture of her son in ɻrownface'

Celebrity chef Paula Deen is in hot water again after a picture was tweeted Tuesday from her official account showing her son in brownface. The tweet, which was deleted, whipped up a frenzy of backlash on social media.

In the photo, Deen's son Bobby is wearing dark facial makeup to parody Cuban-born "I Love Lucy" character Ricky Ricardo, while Deen, wearing a red wig, impersonates Ricardo's wife, Lucy. The photo was apparently taken from Deen's 2011 Halloween episode of "Paula's Best Dishes," which aired on the Food Network.

"Lucyyyyyyy! You got a lot of esplainin' to do!" the tweet reads — a catchphrase made famous on the classic sitcom, which starred Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. Also in the photo is Deen's longtime producer, Gordon Elliott.

In a statement released to NBC News, a representative for Deen said: "Paula Deen's Social Media Manager posted a picture this morning of Paula and Bobby Deen dressed in costume as Lucy and Ricky, from I Love Lucy. This photograph is from a 2011 Halloween episode of Paula's Best Dishes."

"Paula immediately had this picture taken down as soon as she saw the post and apologizes to all who were offended," the statement said. "As such, Paula Deen Ventures has terminated their relationship with this Social Media Manager."

Deen, 68, once a popular TV chef known for bathing her Southern cuisine in butter, was embroiled in scandal two years when she admitted in a deposition to using the N-word and once considered throwing a "plantation-style" wedding. At the height of the outrage, she lost her Food Network programs and multimillion-dollar retail deals before tearfully telling Matt Lauer on TODAY that she is not racist.

Deen's dynasty has bounced back in recent months. The Food Network is scheduled to begin airing "Southern Fried Road Trip" — hosted by her adult sons, Bobby and Jamie — next week.


Paula Deen Forgets That She's Not the Victim of Her Racist Scandal

Paula Deen is back — and still deep fried in denial. She's also proof of an annoying trend that compromised people love — ‘You are demonizing me for being terrible, but I’m the real victim. I’m the one in pain!’ Newsflash: You should be, and no one wants your tears.

This morning Deen appeared on The Today Show to pitch her new online food network and career rebirth… and to talk about how she’s a reformed person who once used the word "nigger." Like a true business woman, Deen tried her best to distance herself from the 2013 clip in which she tearfully apologized for her racist remarks while looking like a woman on the brink. Today, she said things like “I don’t recognize that woman” and “I shouldn’t have been here, I should’ve been at home, perhaps under the care of a doctor.” Doctors can fix racism? Can we hire a couple for America?

When Today host Matt Lauer asked Deen what she’d learned during the last year, this is what she said:

“I’ve learned so much over the year, it’s going to require another book. We are working on a documentary that’s going to air on [my] network because I feel like everybody needs to know the whole entire story.”

Then Lauer asked again, “What’s the lesson you’ve learned?” also known as, "Stop shilling and answer my question." In response, Paula got snippy, saying “I’m getting to that” and then, perfectly, “Now I forgot what I was going to say.”

Sounds about right. Then she went back into her pitch for her online network and documentary and remembered her canned, probably publicist and marketing department-approved “lesson.”

“It’s the power of words, I don’t care how old they are, words are so powerful,” she said, trying her best to appear earnest for her potential online network coins. “They can hurt, they can make people happy. Well, my words hurt people. They disappointed people, frankly I disappointed myself. For that, I’m so sorry for the hurt, I caused people because it went deep. People lost their jobs, it went deep into corporate America. I’m here to make people happy, not to bring sadness.”

Lauer then deemed her a new woman, but Paula sounded the same. She even followed up with this:

“I’ve been through several traumatic experiences and I’ve come through them all, like every woman in the home.”

“Every woman in the home” hasn’t been called out for using racist words. Maybe Paula and her friends on the We Support Paula Deen Facebook page, where she went to find solace when the world was unfairly vilifying her, but not everywhere. Then there’s a whole portion of the interview where Lauer asks how she coped with being demonized by society — because her actions deserved it — and she played the victim as if her saying “nigger” so freely, a word tied to slavery, segregation, lynching, mass incarceration and these days clockwork police murders, is more damaging to Deen than to the people of color she used the word to describe.

It’s not and it never will be. But there’s that victim trend again.

Here's another situation employing the victim trend: a few Redskins fans are interviewed by The Daily Show about why they love their team's racist name. Then when they realize the show's going to lampoon their outdated and socially unacceptable fandom, they cry victim and call the police . The police tell them to go away, because real crimes are a thing.

The Redskins fans assume the cops will understand that them volunteering to look like fools on television while supporting a racist team name and dismissing those who are offended hurt them. And the Redskins fans' hurt feelings, born from embarrassment and anger, trump the Native Americans who detest the terms "redskins" because early Americans used it against their ancestors who they robbed and massacred.

The hurt one person might feel from fucking up does not outweigh the pain their misstep caused others in their crossfire. Paula Deen being dropped from the Food Network and shunned in public as a racist doesn't trump the fact that she was accused of mistreating her black employees, admitted to using the word "nigger" and thinks an elegant idea for a wedding might be to staff it with black men pretending to be slaves. You get vilified when your a villain, that's how it works.

The victim trend lets folks like Deen — or those Redskins fans or sexist old congressmen who tell Senator Kirsten Gillibrand that she's "porky" or the Ferguson, Mo. police department . the list goes on — act like they didn’t participate in their poor choices that led to the implosion of their lives. But they did, and it’s no one’s fault but their own. So, maybe cry about that?


Paula Deen's TV Sob Story

By Jere Hester &bull Published June 26, 2013 &bull Updated on June 26, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Paula Deen, whose empire built on plainspoken folksiness is crumbling under the most unwholesome of words, tellingly sought refuge in a colloquialism during her interview Wednesday on "Today."

"I is what I is," the suddenly former TV chef tearfully told Matt Lauer.

The phrase – by turns oddly charming and perhaps unintentionally revealing, saying nothing while perhaps saying it all – typified the extraordinary interview, which followed news of Deen’s past use of the N-word.

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For Deen, who has spent countless hours on television serving up Southern-style comfort food, the appearance marked the most painful – and crucial – 13 1/2 minutes of tube time in her career. For Lauer and millions of NBC viewers, the Deen sitdown delivered 13 1/2 minutes of riveting television – packing a raw, emotional intensity unlike other, slicker celebrity apology tours.

Maybe that’s partly because Deen, who posted a pair of mea culpa YouTube videos last week, didn’t do much actual apologizing in her conversation with Lauer. "I have never, with any intention, hurt anybody on purpose" was the closest she got.

She cried – a lot. The tears seemed as real as the 66-year-old grandma's carefully crafted homespun TV persona, no more so than when she invoked the Bible.

“If there’s anyone out there that has never said something that they wished they could take back, if you’re out there, please pick up that stone and throw it so hard at my head that it kills me,” Deen declared with an almost chilling conviction.

The power of a familiar figure weeping before us, as we’ve learned from Oprah, can’t be underestimated. It was difficult to tell at times, though, whether Deen was crying for herself, for those she may have hurt – or for both. She spent much of the interview playing a combination of offense and defense, insisting she’s no racist and decrying the “lies” against her.

Deen described spewing the slur “a world ago” after a black man put a gun to her head during a bank robbery in the 1980s. But she denied other uses and didn’t directly address her alleged plans for a “Southern plantation-style wedding.”

She tried to turn the conversation to young people’s “distressing” use of the N-word. That echoes the defense of many of her supporters, but comes across to some critics as a false equivalency.

Getting a handle on how the interview might help or hurt Deen, who lost her Food Network show because of the controversy, is as slippery as the butter that's the star of her culinary repertoire. For a woman who parlayed a simple approach to cooking into a fortune, she’s put herself in a mess that reflects the complicated racial history of a country now split between those she’s offended and those who defend her.

Paula Deen is what she is – which is open, as we’ve seen in recent days, to vast interpretation. Whether she changed any minds during her 13 1/2 minutes with Lauer remains to be seen. Still, she’s now likely to be as defined by those 13 1/2 minutes as by that ugly word she admitted to using at least once three decades ago. Check out the interview below:

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.