Did no one pay attention when David Letterman, forced by a blackmailer to make an adulterous affair public, revealed the secret to handling a personal scandal? You show up, own up and shut up.
Unfortunately, celebrity chef Paula Deen opted for the Richard Nixon approach Wednesday morning on "Today." There finally, after bailing last minute last week, the 66-year-old chef was defensive, self-pitying and more than a little paranoid as she tried to explain herself to Matt Lauer in wake of revelations that she used racial slurs in the past.
Then, in summing things up near interview's end, she sounded like a soap opera diva: "There's someone evil out there who saw what I had worked for, and they wanted it."
Which, for reasons known only to him, is where Lauer chose to say: "Let's end on that." Really? Let's end on Deen saying there is some super baddie who has orchestrated this entire scandal to somehow claim Deen's culinary empire? Is it Edward Snowden?
Perhaps Lauer realized she had dug herself the traditional six feet down and took pity. Or maybe her "but America loves me" outrage seemed too familiar. Certainly celebrities in crisis are increasingly unaware that accepting responsibility and repercussions is very different from simply saying you will.
It's much easier to blame the media, and now Twitter. Lauer himself has spent the better part of a year living down the callous way in which he helped orchestrate the ouster of Ann Curry, and this spring his frustration over his declining popularity began to show.
Surely, he must have felt some relief in keeping Deen on point and posing his version of a tough question. Indeed, being asked, "Are you a racist?" on national television may become the new standard by which celebrities judge their misdeeds.
Deen came on "Today," she said, to remind everyone who she is and how she lives her life. She did not appear, as Lauer suggested, to keep more business partners from dumping her, as have the Food Network, Smithfield Foods, Caesars Entertainment and Wal-Mart. That's a pretty ambitious goal for a 10-minute segment in which Lauer clearly had one burning question for Deen — are you a racist? (Answer: "No.")
Her other answers were certainly no blueprint for success either. She openly contradicted her own court testimony, claiming that she used the N-word on only one occasion, 30 years ago, after she had "a gun put to my head … [by] someone I had gone out on a limb for."
She blamed black people for making it hard to know if the word is even offensive.
"It's very distressing for me to go into my kitchen and hear what these young people are calling each other," she told Lauer. "For this problem to be worked on, those young people are going to have to take control and start showing respect for each other."
She got weirdly biblical: "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 so hard at my head that it kills me." Also, there was the laughably countrified: "I is what's I is and I'm not going to change."
God was invoked as she presented herself as both victim and solace — "I've had to hold friends in my arms as they've sobbed because they know what is being said about me isn't true, and I've had to comfort them and tell them, 'If God got us to it, he'll get us through it'" and then she blamed that evil someone.
One can only assume she means the employee who brought the lawsuit claiming that Deen and her brother maintained a racist and sexist environment at their restaurants — a suit that may prove spurious but, in the meantime, has certainly been overtaken in significance by Deen's defensiveness.
All of which was unnecessary. As of Tuesday evening, the news cycle had entered critical backlash; after the initial shock and condemnation of what many saw as Deen's fairly cavalier attitude toward racial slurs — "yes, of course," she answered when asked if she had ever used the N-word — many were coming to her defense, and not just the perpetually addled Glenn Beck.
Fans were tweeting and posting their support, calling for a boycott of the Food Network, and John McWhorter, an African American associate professor at Columbia, who argued Deen was merely a product of time and place. "Deen is old and she's sorry," wrote McWhorter in Time. "She should get her job back."
Unfortunately, even after her high-fat, high-sugar cooking style put her at odds with medical caution about obesity, Deen, who long had kept quiet about her Type 2 diabetes, still hasn't learned that, with personal outrage, as with buttermilk, less is more.
Even when Lauer had provided her an out, Deen kept going. Rolling right over his fairly firm thanks-for-being-with-us, she continued to share her pain. "It feels so strange to come to this wonderful happy place … and to have these people believe those horrible, horrible lies," she said, providing a moment of unintentional meta-media hilarity.
Amid all the bad press, "Today" finally found someone who still thinks of the show as a happy place. And it had to be Paula Deen.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun