Thursday, June 20, 2013

Bad Dish on Paula Deen

Southern-fried Food Network star Paula Deen certainly lit up social media yesterday.  I noticed that folks were posting news articles about her on Facebook and Twitter.  I didn't pay any attention until I saw mentions of racial slurs.  Reportedly, Paula had used a 6-letter N-word.  I thought to myself, "Oh, Lord....please let the word be nutmeg."

Apparently, it wasn't.

I am acquainted with Paula because of work.  In 2002, we were both brought in to host shows premiering in the new season on Food Network.  Paula and I had to do press appearances together.  Also present was Gordon Elliott, the big Australian who discovered her and produced her show.  I was Gordon's replacement after he left Good Day New York on Fox5/WNYW and went on to become a syndicated daytime talk show host.

Here's the news that put Paula in hot water:  In a discrimination lawsuit deposition, according to the National Enquirer, Paula Deen "confesses" to having used "the N-word on several occasions."  One occasion stemmed from a black man holding a gun to her head during a 1986 bank robbery.  She said, "Things have changed in since the '60s in the South," adding that she and her children "object to that word being used..."

Yesterday afternoon, a Paula Deen rep told USA Today that "Ms. Deen does not condone or find the use of racial epithets acceptable."

That's part of the story. There was other alleged racially insensitive behavior reported.  A Twitter acquaintance messaged this about the TV cook:  "...Paula Deen's career is toast."

I don't think we can say that nowadays.  Maybe she'll have a rocky six months.  Then something else will come along.  Here's why I feel that.  Remember Don Imus?  He called black female college athletes "nappy-headed ho's" on his national MSNBC broadcast, a show which brought him in some big money.

He apologized and had a bumpy six months.  He bounced back with another big money broadcast gig.

The term, "the N-word," became part of our pop culture terminology because of cross-examination in the OJ Simpson trial and the trial's television news coverage.  Former LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman was cross-examined about his use of the word.  He claimed he hadn't used the word.  There was recorded proof that he had used racist language in discussing his work.  There was a perjury conviction.
After the trial was done and went into the legal history books, he became a crime scene expert for Fox News and he got his own radio show.
Remember Michael Richards, formerly of Seinfeld?  In one episode, his Kramer character infuriated Latino viewers when he accidentally set the flag of Puerto Rico on fire and stomped on it to put the fire out.  After the NBC series ended, Richards went on a rant yelling the N-word onstage in a Los Angeles comedy club  -- and it was not part of a routine.  TMZ got ahold of the footage.  He apologized to us "Afro-Americans" on TV and we didn't hear from him for awhile.  This year, Richards made a guest appearance on Jerry Seinfeld's online series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Personally, I doubt they drove through Compton looking for a Starbucks.

Richards will be a regular this fall on the new Kirstie Alley sitcom for TV Land.  He'll probably make more money in two episodes than I've made in the last two years.

And there's the racial slur story that left me slack-jawed 20 years ago.  It came from one of the top three senior networks in New York City.  Reported by New York's The Daily News on October 15th, 1993, a network evening news executive producer referred to a Somali military chief as "an educated jungle bunny" during a news meeting.  The remark about Mohamed Farrah Aidid caused a furor amongst minority employees at the network.  The exec was quoted as saying "He's an educated jungle bunny and the rest of the jungle bunnies are not like this at all.  They're illiterate."

The Caucasian executive producer, according to the two Daily News reporters, said it was a phrase that he did not condone "but needed to use..."

This story broke long before the days of Twitter and Facebook and other such social media.  The producer left the network that same year.  He wasn't fired.  He got a great offer -- from a rival network news department also there in Manhattan.

So, can we really say that Paula Deen's career is toast?  What do you think?  I'm curious to see what happens.  As one who's felt the vicious sting of being called the N-word, I'd give anything to have the career opportunities and upward financial mobility those people I wrote about have.  Maybe I'm just too socially responsible to be rewarded.

You do know that Charlie Sheen is still working and has a new TV sitcom, right?  Ask actress Selma Blair about that.  Reportedly, his bad behavior included getting her fired from the cast.


  1. I was trying to remember what your impression was of Paula from your Food Network days. I was so focused on Sandra Lee thinking you were Al Roker that I couldn't remember. The allegations are horrifying, and it's sad to me that we live in a world where people still think and act this way--but, living in the South, I am fully aware that it's the case. It makes me feel better, though, to see my kids' response to racism, which is shock and horror and outrage. I think their generation better understands the concept of judging others on the content of their character, which gives me hope.

    1. Paula was very friendly to me in our brief time together. We were both promoting our shows and hoping they'd do well. She and Ina Garten were two of the fellow new hosts who made a of point of introducing themselves and were very gracious. I am interested to see how this situation is handled. By the way, if the world of tomorrow is run by people like your kids, it will be in fabulous, fabulous shape.

  2. Well written, as usual. Not defending Paula Deen, or any of the examples you bring up, but the implication in your piece is that white people in the media and entertainment get forgiven for racist and homophobic remarks where non-whites would not be. Spike Lee has said stuff that would make David Duke proud. He was forgiven. Al Sharpton was forgiven. Ditto Jesse Jackson. Bill Cosby has been forgiven by the white, Jewish AND black community. Jocks are forgiven, and rappers too. As Gore Vidal said, "we live in the United States of Amnesia!"


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