Up until a week ago, Southern celeb chef Paula Deen's life seemed to be going as smooth as her favorite ingredient: butter. But last week, Deen, 66, found herself in a big greasy mess after it came to light that she admitted in a court deposition to having used the "N" word.
In the lawsuit filed by former employee Lisa Jackson, Deen and her brother, Earl "Bubba" Hiers, are also accused of discriminating against black employees at Uncle Bubba's Oyster House (a restaurant Deen owns and Hiers manages) by making them use a separate restroom and paying them less. Jackson also claims that Deen had openly discussed wanting to throw her brother a "slave-themed" wedding.
In the wake of the media firestorm the story has caused, Deen lost the show that made her a household name when the Food Network announced it would not be renewing her contract. To top things off, her deal to sell cookware on QVC seems to be souring, Sears Holdings said they were “exploring next steps” in regard to selling her products, Smithfield — the company behind her Deen-branded hams — announced they would be cutting ties, and her publishing deal with Random House may also be in jeopardy.
The Georgia native was scheduled to sit down with "Today's" Matt Lauer last week, but cancelled her interview abruptly and instead released a couple of bizarre apology videos.
But many of the foodie's fans have rallied around Deen, even creating a "We Support Paula Deen" Facebook page, which has apparently given her enough confidence to face the masses. On Monday, it was announced that Deen was rescheduled to discuss the situation with Lauer on "Today" Wednesday morning.
Omg! talked to Michael Levine, media expert and author of "Guerrilla P.R. 2.0: Wage an Effective Publicity Campaign Without Going Broke," about what Deen needs to do during her interview to salvage her reputation.
"I’ve learned a great deal over the last 30 years about crisis communications with celebrities, and, basically, what I’ve learned is that America is a very forgiving country,” Levine says. “America is a nation deeply rooted in forgiveness.”
Check out the P.R. expert's four simple rules a celebrity should follow to regain the public’s trust:
1) Respond quickly to problems: Though Deen cancelled her originally-scheduled "Today" interview, opting to record her own videos — which were much maligned for being obviously edited — Levine says she can make up for it during her Wednesday appearance. "I don’t think it was wise [to cancel], but America is basically a forgiving nation, so I think if she goes on the ‘Today’ show and confronts it, this will be a good thing for her."
2) Respond with humility: "We've already started seeing her make her apology," says Levine of the self-recorded videos in which Deen apologized “to everybody for the wrong that I’ve done,” saying she's made mistakes and calling her language "inappropriate and hurtful." But Levine says she will need to continue to appear remorseful when speaking to Lauer. "She's begun the healing process, but it's a process and you have to keep doing it again and again until you get it behind you."
3) Respond with contrition: "If you make clear that this is not who you are today, and you show some degree of sincerity about it, over time you should be fine," Levine opines, though adding changing the public's new perception of her will not happen "in an hour, day or week." Though he does believe America could see Deen back on its airwaves in the course of a year or two if she appears sincerely sorry.
4) Respond with personal responsibility: Levine says one of the biggest goals of her "Today" appearance should be to own up to her actions without making excuses. "She can't belittle and blame others," he says, citing O.J. Simpson as an example of how not to address a crisis. “He responded arrogantly, slowly, and belittled and blamed others and did not do well with the public." Instead, Levine recommends Deen follow Hugh Grant's lead back in 1995, when he appeared on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" to publicly apologize for having an affair with a prostitute, famously saying, "I did a bad thing." The actor went on to have continued success.
"If you do those four things — if you go fast, humble, personally responsible with contrition, and apology, you're going to basically be OK," says Levine.
Looks like we'll have to wait and see! What do you think? Should Deen be forgiven?
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