Food Network Parts Ways With Paula Deen Over Racial Slurs

Sponsors Still Stand by Her So Far

By Published on . 5

Food Network said Friday afternoon that it will part ways with TV chef Paula Deen at the end of June, capping a week of fallout over revelations that she has used racial slurs.

"Food Network will not renew Paula Deen's contract when it expires at the end of this month," a spokeswoman said in a statemement, declining to elaborate.

The network cut ties even though Ms. Deen apologized in a pair of videos posted to YouTube earlier Friday. "I want to apologize for everybody for the wrong that I've done," Ms. Deen said in the first video, which ran just 46 seconds.

"Inappropriate hurtful language is totally, totally unacceptable," she added.

That video was later taken down and replaced by a longer video addressing, first, Ms. Deen's failure to appear on NBC's "Today Show" Friday morning.

The imbroglio for Ms. Deen began when she and her brother, Bubba Hiers, were sued by a former employee claiming that she had been sexually harassed and that offensive language was used in the Deen's restaurant. Ms. Deen admitted in a deposition that she had used the "N" word and told racist jokes.

Food Network, which airs "Paula's Best Dishes" and "Paula's Home Cooking," at first said only that it was monitoring the situation. "Food Network does not tolerate any form of discrimination and is a strong proponent of diversity and inclusion," the company said in a statement earlier in the week.

Before the channel finally cut ties with Ms. Deen, crisis management expert Mike Paul said that the network would move cautiously given its investment in her brand. She joined Food Network in 1999, gaining popularity through appearances on a variety of shows until shooting her own pilot in 2001. "Paula's Home Cooking" premiered in 2002, followed by "Paula's Party" in 2006 and "Paula's Best Dishes" in 2008.

"Food Network won't separate itself from her until they see clear evidence she has done something illegal," said Mr. Paul, president and senior counselor at MPG & Associates. "They need to work with her to repair this."

Novo Nordisk, the maker of the diabetes drug Victoza for which Ms. Deen is a spokeswoman, is so far retaining her as the face of the drug.

"Paula Deen [is] still a product spokesperson for the Victoza brand," a Novo Nordisk spokesman said via email. "We recognize the seriousness of these allegations and will follow the legal proceedings closely, staying in contact with her. As a company committed to improving the lives of people with diabetes, Novo Nordisk engaged Deen as a spokeswoman because of her commitment to increasing awareness about diabetes to millions of people in this country."

"We do not condone racial intolerance of any kind and have spoken to Paula about her comments in the deposition," the spokesman added. "While she takes a more proactive approach to clearing up her comments, our focus will continue to be to provide the best care possible to all of our patients where we work and live. Diversity and inclusion are part of who we are. We embrace different perspectives and ways of thinking to help us best serve our patients."

Ms. Deen, 66, began endorsing Novo Nordisk last year after revealing she had been diagnosed with type-2 diabetes three years prior. The news caused a media firestorm, with critics calling out the link between diabetes and obesity and condemning Ms. Deen's Southern cooking, which is laden with butter and high in fat.

Ms. Deen also has a line of food, cookware and other products sold at national retailers across the country, including Walmart, Kmart and Target. Target declined to comment on if Ms. Deen's products will continue to be sold in stores. Walmart and Kmart did not return requests to comment.

Ms. Deen skipped out on a scheduled appearance on the "Today" show Friday morning. Host Matt Lauer told viewers he had spoken with her the day before to arrange the interview, but Ms. Deen's representatives called shortly before the show aired to say she was pulling out.

Instead of shying away from the cameras, Gene Grabowski, exec VP at crisis PR firm Levick, said she should be "running to the light" to explain how she really feels and demonstrate emotion. Ultimately, Ms. Deen needs to find a way to use her money and resources to prove she is sorry, he said.

Ms. Deen's initial statement Thursday didn't help matters, seeming to justify her words by explaining that racial epithets were common when she was growing up in the South. She added that it was a different time and does not condone racial slurs. The explanations she gave in her testimony similarly fell short of regret. "I can't determine what offends another person," she said, according to transcripts in the media.

The worst thing Ms. Deen can say is: "I'm sorry if I offended anyone," Mr. Paul said. "You already offended people."

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