Paula Deen cooked nationally and now she’s finished


USA Today offered the headline “Paula Deen is done, experts say.”

Agreed, with some nuance; except my first English teacher, my mother, used to say food is “done;” people are “finished.” Either way Deen’s cooked.

In case you were at the beach last week and missed it — and since I was, thanks to EMA colleagues Allison Conte and Trese Myers for hailing this — the Food Network’s comfort food darling defended a lawsuit against her and her brother Bubba [you can’t make this stuff up] by admitting in depositions that she’d used racial slurs and tolerated racial mocking in jokes.

On Friday, the network parted ways after 11 years with the woman who started cooking in Savannah, GA and never looked back.

The USA Today story is of course likely accurate. No national figure should survive admissions of racism and still live and work on the national stage enjoying a seven- or eight-figure income. Deen immediately posted video apologies, but they were strangely edited and seemed more after-the-fact efforts to avoid the firing that came anyway, than sincere admissions of wrongdoing and an understanding of why she was wrong.

There was some backlash in social media by Deen fans angered at the Food Network’s actions, but the television company had no choice and made the right decision. We’ve seen similar actions by ESPN, CBS and other networks when faced with similar problems. And, as one might expect, new allegations surfaced today.

One reader, Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, the new head of the Buffalo-Niagara Partnership, noted that Deen was previously less than forthright. She withheld news of her diabetes — her cooking is very rich — until after she’d nailed down an endorsement deal.

The question for crisis management experts is what more, if anything, can be done? Deen’s prospects surely shrunk from national to regional, but even Paul Reubens [aka, Pee Wee Herman] is back in business, 20-plus years after being accused of public masturbation.

Howard Bragman, vice chairman of Reputation.com., told USA Today that Deen needs to do a major interview — she ducked Matt Lauer and Today Friday. Bragman suggested Oprah Winfrey or Robin Roberts. But the point is to answer tough questions.

Racism is still rampant in this country, but it’s mostly kept under wraps. When it emerges [the current debate over the NFL’s Washington team is prominent right now] too many people act sanctimonious and shocked.

The best way to react to racism is to admit to it, learn about it, try to educate yourself and come to terms with the forces that influenced you to behave the way you did. Denying racist slurs or simply apologizing does nothing to eradicate derogatory racist reactions.

Learning about and accepting the negatives that led to racist behavior and then discussing that process can help a person sincerely rehabilitate their reputation. And answering tough questions from a prominent African-American interviewer would be a good process to endure.

It’s almost like rehab. Deen needs to take a few months and study American history, with a particular focus on how blacks were systematically treated the last 200 years.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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One Response to Paula Deen cooked nationally and now she’s finished

  1. Steve, the other issue that will make an image recovery almost impossible is this revelation comes on the heels of her “hiding my diabetes until I get an endorsement deal” snafu that left many of her fans feeling betrayed. Paula isn’t the person she plays on TV.

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