Things got a little weird on the "Today" show Wednesday morning when celebrity chef Paula Deen showed up for the appearance she bailed on two days ago to speak publicly about her use of racial epithets.
Appearing defensive and more than a little paranoid, she contradicted her own court testimony, claiming to Matt Lauer that she only used the "n-word" on 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 n-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.... For this problem to be worked on, those young people are going to have to take control and start showing respect for each other and stop throwing that word at each other."
Then, after getting violently 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" -- she summed the whole controversy like this: "There's someone evil out there who saw what I had worked for and they wanted it."
And this, for reasons known only to him, is where Lauer decided to say, "Let's end on that."
Really? Really Matt Lauer? Let's end on Deen saying there is some super baddie who has orchestrated this entire scandal to somehow claim Deen's culinary empire? You don't want a name? I want a name or, at the very least, a Twitter handle.
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. Although perhaps she, like others before her, has come to believe in a malignant entity lurking behind the media, social and otherwise.
Certainly she spent a large portion of her time with Lauer expressing outrage, though nary a detail, over the lies people have been spreading about her.
Which was a bad choice, from a public relations standpoint. As of Tuesday evening, the crisis had entered something of a 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 calling for a boycott of the Food Network, which dropped her show, and John McWhorter, an African American associate professor at Columbia, wrote in Time that Deen was merely a product of time and place: "Deen is old and she's sorry. She should get her job back," he concluded, referring to the Food Network's decision to dump Deen's show.
Which was where Lauer, in full stern-face mode, began his interview, pointing out to Deen the importance of this interview and asking if she was doing it simply to stop the financial bleeding.
Not surprisingly, Deen insisted she was there instead to "tell you what I believe and how I live my life. I believe every creature on God's earth should be treated equal. That's the way I was raised and that's the way I lived my life."
Her message seemed to be: If you knew me, you would understand that these words are not a reflection of who I am. Which would have been fine if Deen hadn't apparently coached herself by viewing clips of Richard Nixon on YouTube. She's been in the public eye for quite some time and endured controversy before -- her high-fat, high-sugar cooking style put her at odds with the current obesity crisis, a fact underlined by her announcement last year that she had Type 2 diabetes.
But she hasn't learned that less is more, in terms of personal outrage as well as buttermilk.
"I'm not going to say all the things I've done for people of color," she said, "I'll let someone else do that."
"I'm heartbroken," she added. "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 to comfort them and tell them, 'If God got us to it, he'll get us through it.'"
Who's the victim here? Deen, because "there's someone evil out there" who wants what she has.
Seemingly determined to cry, she worked herself into a state of emotional breakdown midway through the interview with an anecdote about her 7-year-old grandson who refused to lie about her letting him stay up past his bedtime. ("This is how I raised my children," Deen said, her voice cracking as she told how the boy "put down his iPad" to look her straight in the eye).
Her mascara was holding up beautifully, but still she didn't see the out Lauer had provided her after the "evil" comment. 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 hilarity.
Still reeling from the fallout of Ann Curry's firing last year, "Today" and Lauer know a little something about feeling unpopular. Amid all the bad press, they've finally found someone who still thinks of "Today" as a happy place. And it had to be Paula Deen.
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