The Campaign Spot

Looking at the Whole Story on Paula Deen

Elsewhere on NRO, Lee Habeeb defends Paula Deen, contending she faces a media firestorm merely for being “guilty of being Southern.” In yesterday’s Morning Jolt, I noted that there are a couple of aspects of Deen’s deposition that are largely overlooked in the public discussion:

The Deen Scream

A couple of questions and points to keep in mind, entirely separate from whatever you think about Deen’s testimony that she used the n-word when privately discussing her encounter with a bank robber who held a gun to her head, and on other occasions that she characterizes as “a long time ago” . . .

First, why is her use of the n-word perceived as a career-killer, but the allegations that are driving the lawsuit are more or less overlooked in the coverage? Using the n-word is bad but legal; running a workplace where employees are harassed and intimidated violates the law. What started the whole legal battle:

Lisa Jackson said in the lawsuit that her physician encouraged her to quit working at Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House because she suffered from panic attacks and other stress from working there. The restaurant is owned by Deen and her brother Bubba Hiers.

Jackson said in the lawsuit that Hiers routinely made inappropriate sexual and racial remarks and that she heard both Hiers and Deen use racial slurs. She also said in the lawsuit she saw Hiers violently shake a black employee and that he fostered an environment of intimidation.

You can read the deposition transcript here. Rod Dreher looks through it and concludes, “For all I know, Paula Deen should be held responsible for tolerating her dumbass brother’s juvenile behavior in the restaurant. But the idea that the woman is now professionally ruined because of this N-word thing and her antiquated Southern romanticism strikes me as unjust.”

Second, Deen’s market value to the Food Network and other employers is not based upon the quality of her food, but really based upon how people think of her — which is why they’re dropping her like a hot deep-fried potato.

You’ve probably felt this way before. You discover a new show or movie, with an actor or actress you come to love. This performer just seems to burst through the screen with a unique charisma, quickly becoming one of your new favorites . . . and then you come across an interview with this new star, and he starts blurting out political ideas that the guy with the boot on his head would find weird. You were prepared for this actor not be like the beloved character, but suddenly the image is shattered: It’s like finding out that the friendly neighbor who moved in next door worships Thor and the Norse gods, and considers old issues of Marvel comics to be infallible religious texts.

But we don’t generally appreciate actors for their political perspectives — their job is to put on the costume, remember their lines, go before the cameras or the audience and perform. On paper, Paula Deen’s personal views on race relations, her vision of a “really Southern Plantation wedding” with black servants that she wanted to throw for her brother, her politics, or any other non-food topic should be irrelevant.

But the Food Network isn’t really in the business of selling food. It’s actually in the business of selling personalities — likable, fun personalities who you would enjoy hanging around with, and who you’re willing to metaphorically invite into your home by tuning in to the channel. The deposition’s revelations greatly complicate the effort to persuade viewers that Deen is just a fun, bubbly Southern lady. Meanwhile, her dedicated fans reject that anything in the deposition could contradict the image they’ve watched and enjoyed on their television screens for the past years.

Third, how much is Deen getting the media hammer dropped upon her for this deposition because she already dodged a PR bullet?

Southern celebrity chef Paula Deen appeared on the Today Show with Al Roker this morning to address rumors that she has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Deen confirmed, “I was diagnosed three years ago during a regular physical exam with my doctor, that I had type 2 diabetes. I am here today to let the world know that it is not a death sentence. I am working with a very reputable pharmaceutical company. I’m working on a new program called ’Diabetes in a New Light.’ You can go to our website. I’m going to be there for you and help you manage every day of your life with this, because it can be done.”

The chef, who has come under fire in recent years for the unhealthy nature of many of her recipes, also announced that she is working as a paid spokesperson for the drug company Novo Nordisk, which manufactures Victoza — an injectable, non-insulin drug used in the treatment of type 2 diabetes.

Now, this is a free country, and you’re free to become wealthy and famous as a chef preparing buttery, sugary food, and you’re also free to make money endorsing insulin drugs. But that arrangement does appear to give Deen some influence over both supply and demand for that brand of insulin drug, hm? Imagine how we would feel if the owners of the Heart Attack Grill also owned the patents on some heart stents. (Read this summary of customers having cardiac incidents shortly after eating at that establishment.)

Above: Paula Deen, in her studio kitchen, which is adjacent to the National Strategic Butter Reserve.

Finally, before you instinctively respond, ’she’s a Southern white Republican, of course the media is out to get her,’ there’s the little detail that she isn’t one. Why is there this popular perception she’s a conservative or a Republican?

John Nolte: “What we are not seeing is the 2008 video below where Deen physically embraces First Lady Michelle Obama and gushes over how she is reminiscent of Jackie Onassis. . . .  Deen is a Democrat who campaigned for and supported Obama in 2008.”

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