Television chef, cookbook author and restaurateur Paula Deen is being dropped by the Food Network and investigated by the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s organization, following her acknowledged use of a racial slur in the past.
On Friday, the network announced in a statement that it would not renew Deen’s contract when it expires at the end of the June, and Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition announced that it will investigate and “will report (its) findings publicly.”
Deen and her brother Bubba Hiers are being sued by Lisa T. Jackson, a former employee who claims she was subject to a hostile working environment where she endured innuendo and racial slurs on the job. During a recent depositon, Deen was questioned about her attitudes about race. She answered, “Bubba and I, neither one of us, care what the color of your skin is or what gender a person is. It’s what’s in your heart and in your head that matters to us.”
But Deen, who was born in Albany in southwest Georgia in 1947, also acknowledged during the deposition that she had used a racial slur “a very long time” ago, sparking controversy. She was to address the matter on Friday morning, but ditched a planned “Today Show” appearance, instead appealing directly to fans.
“I want to apologize to everybody for the wrong that I’ve done,” she said during a short YouTube video posted on the web Friday afternoon. “I want to learn and grow from this. Inappropriate, hurtful language is totally, totally unacceptable. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way but I beg you, my children, my team, my fans, my partners. I beg for your forgiveness. Please forgive me for the mistakes that I have made.”
In a second, longer video she said she was physically unable to make it to the interview.
“The pain has been tremendous that I have caused to myself and to others, and so I’m taking this opportunity now that I’ve pulled myself together and am able to speak to offer an apology to those I have hurt,” she said. My family and I are not the kind of people that the press is wanting to say we are…Your color of your skin, your religion, your sexual preference does not matter to me. It’s what’s in the heart… I am here to say I am so sorry. I was wrong. I’ve worked hard and I’ve made mistakes, but that is no excuse and I offer my sincere apology to those that I have hurt and I hope that you forgive me…I will continue to work and will continue to do good things.”
In a third video Deen focused on apologizing to Matt Lauer, who was supposed to interview her.
“I’m a strong woman, but today I wasn’t,” she said.
Local chef and cookbook author Virginia Willis found Deen’s videotaped apology to be lacking.
“I believe in the expression ‘to whom much is given, much is required’ and it seems that she didn’t embrace that responsibility,” Willis said. “I am sure she didn’t mean to be hurtful, but it was. Saying ‘I’m sorry’ isn’t a free pass without consequences.”
Chef Hugh Acheson, who owns Empire State South in Atlanta and The National and Five and Ten in Athens and plans to open The Florence in Savannah next year, said Deen is “one of these classic people who just do not understand that everything they’re saying is wrong. That mindset is just so dated. Some people just don’t get it. They don’t understand what racism really is.”
Savannah native Jonathan Javetz said the Food Network’s decision to drop Deen seemed like “oversensitivity” for a slur she said “20 or 40 years ago,” but understands the move. Javetz’s family owns the downtown Savannah building where a previous location of Deen’s famous The Lady & Sons restaurant was housed. Javetz lives in Atlanta now, where he works in real estate.
“She made herself a character,” he said.
“Reality doesn’t matter as much as public opinion,” he said.
It’s not the first time Deen has been caught up in controversy; she revealed last year that she had been diagnosed with Type II diabetes after years of whipping up sugary, calorie-laden dishes on her shows. Shortly after her condition became public Deen began working as a celebrity spokeswoman for a diabetes drug. It’s unclear whether her various endorsement arrangements will be affected. Ad Age reported late Friday that she remains the pitchwoman for Novo Nordisk, the maker of the diabetes drug Victoza.
As is often the case these days, much of the debate has taken place on social media. Almost immediately after Deen’s acknowledged use of racial epithet and jokes and became public, Twitter attracted a surge of commentary, with critics lashing out 140 characters at a time using the hashtags #PaulasBestDishes or #PaulaDeenTVShows. Example: “That’s So Racist,” a twist on “That’s So Raven.”
Meanwhile, On Facebook Friday, Deen fans outraged at the Food Network’s decision to drop her were venting on the channel’s Facebook page with comments such as “How ridiculous to punish someone for something that happened so long ago,” and “I’m starting a bonfire with your magazines, and cooking supper over it with my beautiful Paula Deen cookware.”
Yet another comment announced the launch of a new Facebook page titled, “We Support Paula Deen.”
Contributing: John Kessler, Greg Bluestein, The Associated Press
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