Paula Deen's Food Network career imploded last Friday after the cable network said it would not renew her contract. Though Food Network's simple statement, "Food Network will not renew Paula Deen's contract when it expires at the end of this month," did not mention a reason, it comes after a video deposition turned up in which Deen admits to using the N-word and talking about a politically incorrect party she was thinking about hosting. Deen's testimony was taken in correlation with a harassment lawsuit filed by Lisa Jackson, the former employee of a restaurant co-owned by Deen and her brother Bubba Hiers.
Now, in a surprise backlash to her corporate blockade, people are standing behind Deen in droves. A "We Support Paula Deen" Facebook page has 288,000 followers. A Change.org petition, calling on Food Network to bring back the Southern cook, has garnered more than 14,000 signatures.
I abhor racism. However, after reading the transcript of the deposition, I agree that Paula Deen has done nothing to merit being fired.
See also: Paula Deen on Today: "I Is What I Is"
The 149-page transcript indeed shows Deen admitted to using the N-word, "probably when a black man burst into the bank that I was working at and put a gun to my head." Does that make it right? Absolutely not. But she also goes on to say it was in a private conversation.
It's also clear that Deen is being held accountable for her brother Bubba. Over the weekend, I saw a sign in some shop that said, "Every family has a Bubba." I thought immediately of Deen -- and President Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and my family. Almost everyone has a "drunk uncle" -- someone who embarrasses you to no end. Sometimes they're criminals. Sometimes they're just idiots. Sometimes they're the product of their time.
My grandfather used to say some pretty inappropriate things and told the raunchiest jokes. He also learned Spanish to communicate with customers, invited drag queens into his store with welcome arms in the '50s (dyeing their shoes hot pink and lime green), and hired every race of people at his shoe store in Brooklyn as he watched the neighborhood change from the 1940s through the 1990s. I would cringe as I heard the banter between him and his employees. Then he would hug them at the end of the day and insist on running across the street to buy them a cheesecake at Junior's on Friday. His words were just words. They weren't meant to offend, and the people who knew him in that same neighborhood for 50 years knew that.
Read the full deposition on the next page.
I've met Paula Deen several times. I don't know what she does when she's at home, but what I do know is that she genuinely loves people. She cares about them. She talks to them. She also has no filter whatsoever. She's loud and rambunctious. She cackles like a hyena. She's loud. She curses. Her publicists must go insane every time she leaves the house. She's made some dumb moves. But we're proving her guilty before a trial. A jury or judge hasn't reached a verdict in the lawsuit, but the court of opinion has condemned her. I've reached out to her but she's not communicating back.
Deen herself is not handling things well. She was a no-show on the Today show and filmed an awkward video apology.
Look, Deen is not the only person who screwed up. Jane Fonda is still called a "traitor" for visiting Hanoi during the Vietnam War. Martha Stewart went to prison for five months on conspiracy and obstruction charges. And, most recently, Gordon Ramsay is being sued by former employees at his Los Angeles restaurant for failing to pay wages. There are two different Wikipedia pages devoted to Lance Armstrong's doping scandal. Deen is just a cook and an entertainer. She's not a role model. Neither is Michael Vick or Tiger Woods or Reese Witherspoon or Lindsay Lohan. They've all gotten second and third and 50th chances.
Food Network reacted too rashly and should renegotiate her contract instead of dropping her.
Read the full deposition: