Paula Deen went viral Wednesday, first for her alleged use of the N-word and then as she was lampooned in a social media blitz tartly spoofing her popular show, "Paula's Best Dishes."
The hashtag #PaulasBestDishes exploded on Twitter, used to riff on made-up dishes such as "Confederacy Cupcakes." #PaulaDeen was also a hot term on Google+, where College Humor weighed in with: "#pauladeen admitted to telling racist jokes. Now all she needs to admit is how stupid some of her recipes really are."
According to court documents, the queen of Southern cooking has admitted using the N-word but said it was used many years ago, and said it is now a word she and her relatives no longer use. She also admitted that once, when she was planning an upscale wedding party, she was inspired by a restaurant in which the entire staff was made up of black men costumed in white jackets and black bow ties. The idea was quickly dismissed because some might have misinterpreted it, according to the documents.
The story broke early Wednesday morning when reported by the National Enquirer, among other media outlets. Deen's attorney released a statement that said in part: "Contrary to media reports, Ms. Deen does not condone or find the use of racial epithets acceptable."
The documents included a transcript of Deen's deposition, taken as part of a lawsuit filed against her, according to the Associated Press. The lawsuit was filed by Lisa Jackson, a former manager at Uncle Bubba's Seafood and Oyster House, a restaurant owned by Deen and her brother. Jackson, who is white, says she was sexually harassed while working at the restaurant, and said the environment was rife with innuendo and racial slurs.
The controversy comes as Deen, 66, has been making something of a comeback after a fall from grace in January 2012 when she announced she had Type 2 diabetes.
She admitted that she'd kept the condition a secret from the public. At the same time, she had continued to plate up Southern dishes that many say is the very cause of Type 2 diabetes. Critics said Deen was putting her career ahead of the health of her fans.
Since then, Deen seems to have been making her way back into public favor, most recently by rolling out her own line of butters. These latest admissions are devastating, said Mike Paul of MGP & Associates PR, a New York-based crisis management firm.
"This goes to the core of what a reputation is" -- a person's values, beliefs, and how they treat other people, Paul told the Los Angeles Times. He said the damage is done not only to Deen's career, but also to her son, Bobby.
Bobby Deen has been creating a niche for himself on Food Network with "Not My Mama's Meals," a slim take on Southern favorites. He said Bobby Deen will no doubt be dogged by questions such as, "What do you think about what your mother had to say?"
According to a transcript of the deposition, an attorney asked Deen if she has ever used the N-word.
"Yes, of course," Deen said, adding, "It's been a very long time." She conceded that she may have also used the word while referencing comments among black employees at her restaurants, but she said she could not remember details.
"That's just not a word that we use as time has gone on," Deen said. "Things have changed since the '60s in the South. And my children and my brother object to that word being used in any cruel or mean behavior. As well as I do."
As for the wedding, Deen said she had recently visited an upscale Southern restaurant in another state, and was impressed by what she saw, according to the transcript.
"The whole entire wait staff was middle-aged black men, and they had on beautiful white jackets with a black bow tie. I mean, it was really impressive," Deen said. "And I remember saying I would love to have servers like that, I said, but I would be afraid that someone would misinterpret [it]."
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