As expected, Paula Deen made her scheduled Today show appearance this morning, and, during a long segment, encountered a Matt Lauer in full calm-but-tough mode. Deen, however, was more defiant than apologetic.
“I am here because I want people to know who I am,” Deen said after Lauer asked if her motivation for appearing on the show was to “stop the financial bleeding.” Deen continued: “People I have never heard of are all of a sudden experts on who I am — you know what distresses me the very most, Matt? Their words are being given weight.”
As the interview started, Lauer kept returning to the business side of the scandal and Deen’s lost partners Food Network and Smithfield Foods. At one point, he asked her, “Given the circumstances, would you have fired you?” (Deen paused for a moment before responding with an obvious “no,” then thanked the sponsors that have stuck with her.)
Deen’s agenda was clear: Downplay the damage done from the Food Network and Smithfield situations, forcefully state that she isn’t a racist, clarify that she hasn’t used the N-word in a very long time, and, more than anything, play the victim.
After Deen clarified that she has not used the N-word since she was robbed at gunpoint in 1986, Lauer tangled her up with a direct line of questioning:
Lauer: “Other than that one time, that robbery in the bank, you’re telling me you’ve never used the N-word?”
As Deen was finishing her story about the robbery itself, Lauer jumped in again:
Lauer: “So reports that you were asked in that deposition whether you had used the N-word on other occasions and said ‘probably’ or ‘of course’ are inaccurate?”
Deen: “No, I answered the question truthfully.”
Lauer: “So — you have never used the N-word other than that one occasion?”
Deen: “No, it’s just not a part of who we are.”
Otherwise, she stuck more or less to the script before straying in some notable ways. The first was when she appeared to place blame on young African-Americans for continuing to perpetuate use of the N-word. Here’s Deen after Lauer asked her if she has any doubt that the N-word is offensive to African-Americans:
I don’t know, Matt. I have asked myself that many times because it is very distressing for me to go into my kitchens and I hear what these young people are calling each other. It is very, very distressing. [Lauer asks if she’s ever joined in on “that language”] No, absolutely not. It’s very distressing. It’s very distressing for me because, I think, that for this problem to be worked on that these young people are gonna have to take control and start showing respect for each other, and not throwing that word at each other. It makes my skin crawl.
The other interesting part came at the end as Deen, crying, continued to defend her character:
I’ve had to hold friends in my arms while they’ve sobbed. Because they know what’s being said about me is not true. And I’m havin’ to comfort them and tell them it’s going to be all right. If God got us to it, he’ll get us through it. I’m having wonderful support form Reverend Jackson. I’ve had wonderful support.
And I’ll tell you what. If there’s anyone out there that has never said something that they wish they could take back — if you’re out there, please pick up that stone and throw it so hard at my head that it kills me. Please. I want to meet you. I is what I is and I’m not changing.
There’s someone evil out there that saw what I had worked for, and they wanted it.