Paula Deen, the self-proclaimed queen of Southern cooking and a sugary mainstay of the Food Network, was fired by the network Friday, after a bewildering day in which she failed to show up for an interview on the “Today” show and then in online videos begged her family and audience to forgive her for using racist language.
A network spokeswoman said it would not renew Deen’s contract when it expired at the end of June. She has faced criticism this week over her remarks in a deposition for a discrimination lawsuit by a former employee. In the document, she admitted she had used racial epithets, tolerated racist jokes and condoned pornography in the workplace.
The Food Network statement did not elaborate on its reasons for dropping her, but a person close to the network said its shows featuring her sons, Jamie and Bobby, would not be affected.
Deen has three regular programs on the network, including “Paula’s Best Dishes.” The two other shows, “Paula’s Home Cooking” and “Paula’s Party,” air occasionally in reruns. It was unclear whether the network would continue running past episodes. “We have nothing more to add at the moment,” a spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times.
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Those shows were part of a small culinary business empire run by Deen, 66, who has produced numerous cookbooks, lent her name to household products — from butter to mattresses — and served as a spokeswoman for Philadelphia Cream Cheese and Smithfield Foods. She and her sons own and operate The Lady and Sons restaurant in Savannah, Ga. Her magazine “Cooking with Paula Deen,” has a circulation of nearly 1 million, her website says.
In her first video Friday, posted on YouTube and later removed, Deen, near tears, said: “I want to apologize to everybody for the wrong that I’ve done. I want to learn and grow from this. Inappropriate and hurtful language is totally, totally unacceptable.”
In a longer video posted later in the afternoon, she appeared more composed. “Your color of your skin, your religion, your sexual preference does not matter,” she said.
She added: “I was wrong, yes, I’ve worked hard, and I have made mistakes, but that is no excuse and I offer my sincere apology to those that I have hurt, and I hope that you forgive me, because this comes from the deepest part of my heart.”
In yet a third video on YouTube, posted Friday afternoon, she apologized to Matt Lauer, the host of “Today,” for not appearing for a scheduled exclusive interview that morning. She had agreed to the interview, extensively promoted by NBC News, to address the uproar generated by her deposition.
Clearly irritated by the absence of Deen, a regular guest on the show, Lauer told viewers that she had spoken with him Thursday, agreed to an “open and candid” discussion and had flown to New York City. But in the morning, he said, she had her representatives cancel, citing exhaustion.
Deen has managed to offend even her most-uncritical fans before, most recently in January 2012, when she revealed she had Type 2 diabetes on the same day she endorsed the diabetes drug Victoza and a lucrative collaboration with Novo Nordisk, the drug’s manufacturer.
Because she had built her career on a no-holds-barred approach to sugar and fat (creating recipes such as the Lady’s Brunch Burger — a half-pound hamburger topped with bacon and egg, fried in butter and sandwiched between Krispy Kreme doughnuts — and a Better than Sex cake made with cake mix, pudding mix and heavy cream), she was roundly criticized for encouraging an unhealthful diet for others, hiding her illness and then trying to profit from it.
On Thursday, criticism of her racial remarks mounted on Twitter — spawning a sarcastic hashtag, #paulasbestdishes — and on her own Facebook page.
The lawsuit against her was filed in March 2012 by Lisa Jackson, the general manager of Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House, a Savannah restaurant owned by Deen and her brother, Earl (Bubba) Hiers. Jackson, who is white, said her father was Sicilian, with dark skin, and that she had suffered prejudice as a result.
In the deposition, Deen revealed that “of course” she had used the N-word to describe black people in the past and said she had planned a wedding party in which black waitstaff were to be attired as antebellum slaves. The deposition also revealed that Deen had allowed pornographic pictures to be passed around as a joke in the workplace.
She also said she and her family did not tolerate prejudice. “Bubba and I, neither one of us, care what the color of your skin is” or what gender a person is, she said. “It’s what’s in your heart and in your head that matters to us.”
She also stated that “most jokes” are about Jews, gay people, black people and “rednecks.”
“I can’t, myself, determine what offends another person,” she said.
Material from The Associated Press and
Los Angeles Times is included in this report.