By David Bauder
NEW YORK — Paula Deen dissolved into tears during a “Today” show interview Wednesday about her admission that she used a racial slur in the past, saying anyone in the audience who’s never said anything they’ve regretted should pick up a rock and throw it at her head.
The celebrity chef, who had backed out of a “Today” interview last Friday, said she was not a racist and was heartbroken by the controversy that began with her own deposition in a lawsuit. Deen has been dropped by the Food Network and as a celebrity endorser by Smithfield Foods.
“I’ve had to hold friends in my arms while they’ve sobbed because they know what’s been said about me is not true and I’m having to comfort them,” she said.
Deen told Lauer she could only recall using the “n-word” once. She had earlier said that she remembered using it when retelling a story about when she was held at gunpoint by a robber who was black while working as a bank teller in the 1980s in Georgia. In a deposition for the lawsuit involving an employee in a Savannah restaurant owned by Deen and her brother Bubba Hiers, she had said she may also have used the slur when recalling conversations between black employees at her restaurants.
Looking distressed and her voice breaking, Deen said if there was someone in the audience who had never said something they wished they could take back, “please pick up that stone and throw it as hard at my head so it kills me. I want to meet you. I want to meet you.
“I is what I is and I’m not changing,” she said. “There’s someone evil out there that saw what I worked for and wanted it.”
An uncomfortable Lauer tried to end the interview, but Deen repeated that anyone who hasn’t sinned should attack her.
The predicament that Deen finds herself in began when former employeeLisa T. Jackson filed a discrimination lawsuit in March 2012. She claimed that racial epithets, racist jokes and pornography on office computers were common while she managed Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House, one of the restaurants in Deen’s empire.
Questioned on her attitudes about race during a recent deposition, Deen answered, “Bubba and I, neither one of us, care what the color of your skin is” or what gender a person is. “It’s what’s in your heart and in your head that matters to us.”
Deen, who was born in Albany in southwest Georgia in 1947, was to address the matter last Friday but instead appealed directly to fans. “I want to apologize to everybody for the wrong that I’ve done,” she said during a short YouTube video. “I want to learn and grow from this.”
Deen said Wednesday she appreciated fans who have expressed anger at the Food Network for dropping her, but said she didn’t support a boycott of the network.
“These people who have met me and know me and love me, they’re as angry as the people who are reading these stories that are lies,” she said.
Staff writer Jennifer Brett contributed to this article