Deen Discusses ‘Distressing’ N-Word Scandal, ‘Today’ Interview Ends in Tears

by | June 26, 2013 at 8:13 AM | Black Entertainment, The Today Show

Paula Deen breaks down in tears on "Today" (Photo: NBC)

UPDATE: Sponsors continue to abandon their partnerships with Paula Deen amid the celeb chef’s racial slurs scandal. On the same day as her appearance on “The Today Show,” two more major brands have announced they are dropping Deen.

Wal-Mart announced Wednesday afternoon that it is terminating its relationship with Deen and will not place “any new orders beyond what’s already committed.”

More fallout came Wednesday: Caesars said it was stripping Deen’s name from four buffet restaurants that they own and will be re-branding them under a different name.

It’s been a brutal week for Paula Deen, who appeared Wednesday morning on “The Today Show” to discuss the firestorm that’s erupted since the celebrity chef admitted in a legal deposition that she has made racially insensitive comments in the past.

Deen, 66, tearfully defended herself and expressed regret for using racial slurs, although she failed to directly say those magic words: “I’m sorry.”

Before Matt Lauer started grilling her, he noted that Deen said she’d abruptly cancelled their previously scheduled sitdown last Friday because she was “distraught.”

“It’s hard for me to even find the words now. I was just overwhelmed. I was in a state of shock,” Deen said of the public’s reaction to her admission in court documents that, “Yes, of course” she has used the “N-word.”

“There’s been some very, very hurtful lies told about me,” Deen said. “I’m here today because I want people to know who I am. People who have worked beside me, walked beside me…know what kind of person I am.”

“I’m so distressed that people I’ve never heard of are now experts on who I am … and their words are being given weight,” Deen said with a shaky voice.

The fallout over the last week has been swift and mighty for the Southern belle of cooking: The Food Network has terminated its relationship with the TV chef after a decade of airing her cooking shows; Smithfield Foods has dropped Deen as their spokesperson; and home-shopping giant QVC is weighing their options on whether or not to cut ties with Deen.

Lauer asked Deen, had the situation been reversed, if she would have fired herself. “Would I have fired me? Knowing me? No,” she said. Then she thanked the sponsors who are still standing by her.

After the controversy over the racial slurs exploded, Deen apologized in videos posted on YouTube, begging for forgiveness. While thousands of Deen’s fans have been rallying around her with support, Deen’s reputation isn’t the only thing in jeopardy. As a celebrity chef and the face of a successful brand, Deen’s business empire is also on the line, with Lauer noting that the TV trades claimed “millions of dollars are at stake” and are riding on Deen’s “Today” appearance.

Lauer pressed her on that, wondering if Deen was putting on a performance to stop the “financial bleeding.”

“What you see is what you get. I’m not an actress, I’m heartbroken,” Deen said, choking up. “It’s very distressing for me.”

“Do you think you’ve been treated fairly by your business partners?” Lauer asked.

“The main reason I’m here today, Matt, is for me to tell you what I believe and how I live my life,” Deen said. “I believe every one of God’s creatures should be treated equal. That’s how I was raised and that’s how I live my life.”

As she went on, Lauer interrupted her and cut to the chase, asking bluntly: “Are you a racist?”

“No, no I am not,” Deen replied as she began to break down in tears. “I have never in my life intentionally hurt anybody on purpose and I never would,” she added.

Contradicting a statement made in her testimony, Deen now claims the only time she ever used the N-word was during an incident when an African-American male held her at gunpoint during a robbery.

“The day I used that word, it was a world ago,” Deen said. “It was 30 years ago. I had a gun put to my head.”

Considering the backlash that has ensued, Lauer wondered if Deen wished she had just fudged the truth about using the N-word during her deposition: “No,” Deen replied. “There’s a couple people that I am prejudiced against: And that’s liars and thieves.”

At the end of the interview, a tearful Deen got even more emotional, and quite frankly, a little bizarre, when she implored anyone in the audience who’s ever said anything they regretted to “please take up that stone and throw it as hard as they can and kill me.”

Then she added: “I is what I is, and I’m not changing.”

Viewer reaction to Deen’s 14-minute mea culpa on “Today” has been split, with some saying they feel sorry for her, while others believe she didn’t do herself any favors and her “apology” failed.