Paula Deen’s decision to make good on an interview request with Matt Lauer and Today ended up backfiring, as her comments this morning lacked self-awareness or — more importantly — remorse.
Never once did Deen, 66, apologize during the 13-minute interview. When asked about the use of the N-word, Deen said, “I don’t know, I have asked myself that so many times. 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 to be worked on these young people are gonna have to take control and start showing respect for each other.”
Crisis expert David E. Johnson, the CEO of the PR and branding firm Strategic Vision, told EW that Deen sent the wrong message: “She acted like she was the wronged party,” he said. “She doesn’t understand why the N-word bothers people. Paula is known as a woman who is a gregarious, nice grandma. Instead, she came across as angry and mean. She says she is the victim. She is clueless about race relations.”
Today followed up the interview by saying the former Food Network star failed to change public opinion. Carson Daly reported how the story played on social media by saying how #pauladeentoday was already “trending worldwide” and how 82% of the show’s Facebook users said the interview didn’t change their mind about Deen, who was dropped by the Food Network and Smithfield Foods after admitted to using racial slurs in a deposition filed June 17. “You need a potholder to touch my phone right now,” quipped Lauer afterwards.
Though the Today host added that Deen was “extremely, extremely emotional” in the studio after the televised interview, her lack of waterworks while on camera didn’t help her cause, adds Johnson. “She was feigning tears but you never saw them. Who she was appealing to, realistically, were her die-hard followers. It’s the worst non-apology I’ve ever seen. She self-destructed.”
So what now? Finding more TV work appears to be on the back burner: Insiders at other female-friendly networks like Lifetime and A&E tell EW there have been no immediate appeals to pick up Deen. The huge scandal notwithstanding, there is also the issue of her ratings: viewership for Paula’s Best Dishes, Deen’s five-year-old show on the Food Network, averaged 835,000 viewers and only 304,000 adults 25-54 this year — down from 1.1 million viewers and 446,000 in 2012.
Reflects Jim Bates of the L.A.-based crisis firm Sitrick and Co., “Sometimes you have situations where an artist has done something that’s embarrassing and it turns out he may not have been selling as many records, or a film star who said something done makes movies that don’t make any money. [Getting rid of them] provides a good excuse. They have to ask themselves, is this worth it for us? Or do we want to move in another direction?”
Short of working with her crisis expert — she hired the real-life version of Olivia Pope — Deen should go stealth and salvage whatever business deals she has left if she wants to maintain a portion of her massive wealth. (Forbes last year listed Deen, with an annual income of $17 million, as the fourth richest chef). “Every time she opens her mouth, she does something that digs the hole deeper,” said Johnson. “She keeps reinforcing the stereotype that she has not moved beyond the ’60s. She’s not coming across as this sweet, maternal grandmother. She’s coming across as the crazy aunt you want to put in the closet.”
“It’s possible [she can recover],” says veteran media expert Shari Anne Brill. “Look at Martha Stewart. She did her time, she pleaded guilty, she went to prison, she showed remorse, and she’s back in business. And the same can happen for Paula. It’s all about how she handles things going forward.
“The public does have a short memory,” Brill adds. “But I’m sure Anthony Bourdain is dancing in the streets.”