June 27, 2013
Paula Deen - Food Network's celebrity chef - known more for her over-use of butter and quirky personality than being serious - has wedged herself into a tight corner. During a deposition in a discrimination court case in which she's being accused of creating a hostile work environment, she admitted to using the "N-word" many years ago.
The firestorm was immediate and devastating to Deen and her cooking empire. So far, Food Network, WalMart, Target, Novo Nordisk, Home Depot and Smithfield Foods have all dumped her.
As a professional communicator, I watched the trainwreck with fascination and couldn't look away.
No one needed to tell me, because I could see the writing on the wall. Paula Deen tried to manage this crisis all by herself. At least at first. First and foremost, she needed counseling on how to handle her court deposition. The casual and folksy way she answered the deposition questions was my first indication that she needs serious sensitivity training. Her actual vocabulary is extremely limited, as is evident in the video. This is why the PR Gods invented talking points. Not everyone instinctively knows the right words to express their intentions.
I have a few questions:
So many other celebrities have come back from this type of humiliation, that I have no doubt that she will be forgiven eventually. She has finally hired a D.C. crisis firm, and I hope they will be able to guide her out of this mess and re-establish her former star power. If not, the always helpful Reverend Jesse Jackson has offered to help her put together an apology tour.