Monday, June 24, 2013

Should The Food Network Have Fired Paula Deen?

Oy! What a huge, unpleasant, horrible mess this whole thing is.

For those who already detested Paula’s over the top, sugary, fatty cooking and the bombastic personality that went with it, the response is easy. Throw her under the bus, say her career is over and move on to the next thing.

For those who adore her and don’t want to think about the distressing, underlying issues that this raises, that’s easy too. Pillory the Food Network for firing her and sign an “I love Paula” petition.

But for those of us who have loved Paula’s shtick (whether we actually made her food or not) and enjoyed her warm and, yes, welcoming personality, this is such a disturbing story. We don’t want to believe that that this cuddly grandma could be such a bigot. And I had come around to the notion that the Food Network HAD to fire her UNTIL I READ ALL ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY NINE PAGES of the deposition of this court case. Now I’m not so sure.

A handful of lines are being quoted to discredit and actually ruin Paula, while the story may be more complex. Of course, there is NO excuse for using racist language. AND Paula is guilty of that. But what is unclear is exactly WHAT Paula said and WHEN she said it. If she used the N word 20 years ago in retelling a racist joke (which I admit is terrible behavior), isn’t that different than if she hurled it at someone in a fit of anger in a restaurant kitchen 12 months ago? After spending all afternoon with this deposition, I definitely feel as if the situation is different than what is being reported on and reacted to all over the media and social media.

The worst thing in all the pages is what you’ve heard over and over. Paula is asked if she ever used the N word. In a super-strangely worded answer, she says, “Of course.” That’s bad, but the actual facts of her testimony are that it was many years ago. And there were occasions here and there when she repeated something someone else said, either in a joke or in an offhand situation. It seemed as if her dirty mouth was as much at issue as specific racist comments, of which there were few. Listen, there is NO defense for ever uttering hate words, but what was testified to was not a pattern of negative racial stereotyping by Paula of the employees of this restaurant. In fact, she testifies that she was only IN the restaurant during the first 6 weeks it was in existence. After that she felt really guilty but she had to move on to other things and leave her brother in charge.

What I think is the smoking gun of this whole case is that the majority of the questions were about her brother, Bubba, and HIS actions and HIS words. Paula’s biggest offense seems to be taking the heat for her brother and, in some cases, perhaps covering up for HIS transgressions. She refused to admit he was an alcoholic, saying he went to rehab to support his wife. When asked if she knew he was taking cocaine, she said no. When asked if she knew he was making his employees look at pornography, she said she couldn’t imagine he would force anyone to do that. And that if he got that kind of thing on his computer (that is, if SOMEONE ELSE had sent it to him), it wasn’t his fault if he opened it up and looked at it. She is definitely guilty of defending her brother, all the way to her own complete downfall.

Maybe it’s the prejudiced Northerner in me that is so ready to condemn a Southerner named Bubba, but I really believe she’s paying for HIS sins. AND that she will NEVER denounce him.

Plus there’s this:

Remember that PR person, Nancy Assuncao Sanchez, with whom Paula worked for 6 years and parted ways with after the diabetes drug deal debacle?  She’s given several interviews to CNN in the last few days saying how saddened she is by all this. She had no reason to come forward, because she hasn’t talked to Paula in the year since she left and there’s no benefit to her in coming to Paula’s defense. So what did she say?

She said Paula hired all ethnicities in her organizations and that people didn’t quit, they stayed on and were promoted. Of course, Assuncao Sanchez didn’t condone any racist remarks or language, but she wanted to make the point that she herself, who had worked very closely with Paula and traveled extensively with her AND had stayed in her home and vice versa, had never heard Paula utter a racist epithet. She said Paula was surrounded by a very diverse group of people of different ages and ethnicities. Individuals of every kind of background were on her team. Finally she said, she never saw that Paula was judgmental. So what do we do with that bit of knowledge?

Of course, Paula should be censured for horrible language, whether it was in the present or past, but shouldn’t we give her an opportunity to rationally explain herself? Those poorly thought out videos did not make a good case for her. Perhaps her Wednesday interview on the Today Show will make a dent in the criticism against her. And her two boys being interviewed on CNN tomorrow will make a difference. Maybe a suspension from the Food Network would have worked just as well as an outright firing.   
My point in all this is that it seems as if this terrible fallout emerged from a deposition that probably few have read in its entirety. The heinous things going on in her organization are mainly linked to her brother. That’s what the initial lawsuit is about. Of course, Paula should acknowledge wrongdoing no matter who’s doing it, but doesn’t it make you feel just a tiny bit different about everything, thinking that she’s a big sister defending her brother and not wanting to accept all the negative things that were being said about him? Doesn't that make her blind or foolish, but not necessarily a hardcore racist?

She’s more than a big sister, I know, and as the face of her brand, she has a responsibility to her employees and fans to conduct herself better. It’s clear that she’s loose with her language, but I don’t believe she’s a hating type of person. And if there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s how badly she and her people have handled this entire situation. I heard one media type say THAT was a major factor in the Food Network decision – that they couldn’t trust her to make good choices in the future. I just hope she has a future. Hopefully, after she’s apologized some more, explained more completely and actually appears to have learned something from all this, she can once again fry some chicken and ice some cakes and the only flak she receives is when she adds yet another stick of butter to the pan.


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I have a post of my own brewing on this. I'll say in sum that there are so many more pressing issues on race, especially in light of the recent SCOTUS decision,, than what some TV show host who has long since jumped the shark had to say 20 years ago.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you read the deposition. I was thinking that the snippets published were the worst, and weren't necessarily provided in context. But I just didn't care enough to read the entire thing!

Anonymous said...

I believe you're right, Sue, that FN reacted to Paula's poor handling of the situation. The complaint alleged racial discrimination and she should have been ready for it. On top of the Novo Nordisk stuff this may have been the last straw. A year of contrition might bring her back, but already she's off to a bad start.

This morning Paula issued a teary "he who is without sin" statement, and asked her fans not to abandon FN. It sounded, frankly, ridiculous, as if she had no part in her own undoing.

Abandoned By Wolves said...

I agree with Tom on this one. In these media dog-piling cases, it's always about the cover up, and not the crime. Nobody "really" cares about racism in this country - if we did, it wouldn't exist. Instead, it's just easier to crucify any media figure who slips up in public. And in the meantime, as Short pointed out, SCOTUS just rolled back the country's racial voting reforms to 1964.

If Paula had booked herself onto The View at any point in her career and admitted her tendency to lapse into non-PC language in the heat of a line kitchen environment before any of these accusations were made, this would have been a non-issue.

Sue said...

I hope you don't mind that I left an uber-long comment on your post. It was very comment-able.

I'm in the middle of reading the TWO HUNDRED AND EIGHTY ONE page deposition of Paula's accuser. There's just one problem - that's what THE MEDIA calls her. She doesn't actually accuse Paula of anything! This whole thing has gotten so out of control.

I think I have one more post in me about this (maybe tomorrow) and then I'll have to throw her to the wolves. (Sorry, James, that's your deal.) I read that Jimmy Carter (who is advising her along with Jesse Jackson) has told her to stop talking, because she's obviously not helping herself and to let her supporters talk for her. That's definitely not a bad idea.

Hiya James,
SHE DID NOT COVER UP ANYTHING! Sorry, I have to step away from all this and celebrate all the great SCOTUS decisions. OH WAIT, they partially stink too, along with the nasty, sheep-like media and social media. This is what is frustrating - There is no actual accusation that Paula uses racist language...not just occasionally, but ever. Where are all of those people she's supposedly slurred? She admitted to one specific time that she said that horrible word, which I don't condone, but is that honestly a huge enough transgression to take away all these things that she's worked for?