Four Reasons Paula Deen’s Video Apology Failed

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on June 21, 2013 – 3:33 pm

Paula Deen, the Food Network’s southern-cooking celebrity chef, found herself in hot water (or, more appropriate to her style of cooking, a vat of butter and lard) this week after The National Enquirer released details of racist remarks she’s made in the past.

The Enquirer’s source material—which has since been confirmed by numerous other outlets—is a deposition Deen gave last month in a workplace discrimination suit. In the transcript, Ms. Deen admitted using the N-word in the past and making racist jokes.

But the most shocking moment may have come when she admitted that she wanted to emulate a wedding she had recently attended in which the wait staff was made up of  “middle-aged black men.” That wedding, she said, evoked fond feelings for her of a Civil War-era “really southern plantation wedding.”

Ms. Deen was scheduled to appear on The Today Show in an exclusive interview this morning, but canceled at the last minute, citing exhaustion. She released this video apology minutes ago; you’ll find my analysis below.

This is one of the worst video apologies I can ever remember seeing. Here are at least four reasons it failed:

1. The Format

This apology runs only 44 seconds but is heavily edited. There is no reason she shouldn’t have been able to deliver such a short message in a single, straight-to-camera, monologue. Remember, folks: She’s an experienced television broadcaster. The edits and slapdash quality of this video only served to undercut the sincerity of her message. 

2. The Vagueness

Although Ms. Deen apologized for her “hurtful language,” she didn’t even begin to address the biggest problem — the thoughts behind that language. She needed to address the substance of the charges and make clear that she truly gets why her words were so hurtful before moving on to the apology. She didn’t. As a result, this video underscored the fact that she still doesn’t get it. 

3. The Lack of Speed 

Ms. Deen waited two days before personally responding to these charges. In a statement yesterday, her representatives didn’t help by seemingly excusing her behavior by mentioning her southern upbringing — and her Today Show cancellation gave the impression of someone in duck-and-cover mode. Given the slowness of her response, she heightened the expectation for a quality video that tackled these issues head on. This did not come even close to that standard.

4. The Begging

I am willing to accept at face value that this incident has humbled her. But her begging came across as rather pathetic and reminded me of televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, who tearfully proclaimed “I have sinned!” after getting caught with a prostitute.

UPDATE: June 21, 2013, 4:20 p.m.: Paula Deen has now released another video.

I’m not sure whether the first one leaked out inadvertently or not. This video is better than the one above (which isn’t saying much) but still lacks focus and polish, and does not accomplish what she needed to. Plus, her claim that the media distorted her comments (which are allegedly on tape) in some way seems to blame others instead of taking full responsibility. 

UPDATE, June 21, 2013, 4:45 p.m.: She’s out.

According to multiple sources, Paula Deen’s contract with The Food Network will not be renewed when it expires next month.

UPDATE, June 26, 2013, 8:30 p.m.: My interview with WTOP-FM about Paula Deen’s Today Show appearance.

Click here to listen. 

 What do you think of Deen’s apology? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

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    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

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    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

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    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

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