The 66-year-old Savannah kitchen celebrity has been swamped in controversy since court documents filed this week revealed Deen told an attorney questioning her under oath last month that she has used the N-word. “Yes, of course,” Deen said, though she added, “It’s been a very long time.”
The Food Network, which made Deen a star with “Paula’s Home Cooking” in 2002 and later “Paula’s Best Dishes” in 2008, weighed in with a terse statement Friday afternoon.
“Food Network will not renew Paula Deen’s contract when it expires at the end of this month,” the statement said. Network representatives declined further comment. A representative for Deen did not immediately return phone and email messages seeking comment on the decision.
The news came as Deen worked to repair the damage to her image, which has spawned a vast empire of cookbooks, a bimonthly cooking magazine, a full line of cookware, food items like spices and even furniture.
She abruptly canceled a scheduled interview on NBC’s “Today” show Friday morning, instead opting for a direct appeal via online video — one that allowed her and her staff complete control of what she said and how she said it.
“Inappropriate, hurtful language is totally, totally unacceptable,” Deen said in the first 45-second video posted on YouTube. “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.”
Deen adopted a solemn tone as she looked straight into the camera. Still, her recorded apology featured three obvious edits — with the picture quickly fading out between splices — during a statement just five sentences long.
It was soon scrapped and replaced with a second video of Deen talking unedited for nearly two minutes as she insists: “Your color of your skin, your religion, your sexual preference does not matter to me.”
““I want people to understand that my family and I are not the kind of people that the press is wanting to say we are,” Deen says in the later video. “The pain has been tremendous that I have caused to myself and to others.”
Deen never mentions Food Network or its decision to drop her in either of her online videos.
Deen initially planned to give her first interview on the controversy Friday to the “Today” show, which promoted her scheduled appearance as a live exclusive. Instead, host Matt Lauer ended up telling viewers that Deen’s representatives pulled the plug because she was exhausted after her flight to New York. Deen said in her video she was “physically not able” to appear.
Court records show Deen sat down for a deposition May 17 in a discrimination lawsuit filed last year by a former employee who managed Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House, a Savannah restaurant owned by Deen and her brother, Bubba Hiers. The ex-employee, Lisa Jackson, says she was sexually harassed and worked in a hostile environment rife with innuendo and racial slurs.
During the deposition, Deen was peppered with questions about her racial attitudes. At one point she’s asked if she thinks jokes using the N-word are “mean.” Deen says jokes often target minority groups and “I can’t, myself, determine what offends another person.”
Deen also acknowledged she briefly considered hiring all black waiters for her brother’s 2007 wedding, an idea inspired by the staff at a restaurant she had visited with her husband. She insisted she quickly dismissed the idea.
But she also insisted she and her brother have no tolerance for bigotry.
“Bubba and I, neither one of us, care what the color of your skin is” or what gender a person is, Deen said. “It’s what’s in your heart and in your head that matters to us.”