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Deen Apologizes on ‘Today,’ But Continues to Lose Big Corporate Dollars

After Paula Deen made her tearful appearance on “Today” to beg forgiveness for the one time she says she used the n-word, the reaction was quick and not very kind from the public and from corporate sponsors who continue to flee the Southern celebrity chef.

Deen told a somewhat skeptical Matt Lauer that she recalled using the n-word only once, 30 years ago when she had a gun held to her head during a robbery at a bank where she was working. But her statement to Lauer seems to contradict what she said during a May deposition regarding a lawsuit a former employee filed against Deen’s company. During the deposition, after Deen recounted the story of the bank robbery, she was asked by the lawyer, “Okay. Have you used it since then?”

“I’m sure I have, but it’s been a very long time,” she responded.

The fallout from the Deen revelation continued today as Target announced that it will phase out its Paula Deen-branded cookware and other items in its stores as well as on Once the Deen merchandise is sold out, Target said it will not be replenishing the inventory. Caesars Entertainment has announced plans to rebrand its four Deen-themed restaurants, saying in a statement that it is “in the best interest” to part ways. In addition, diabetes drug maker Novo Nordisk says it and Deen have “mutually agreed to suspend our patient education activities for now,” while on Wednesday, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said it was ending its relationship with Deen. Last week, the Food Network said that it would not renew Deen’s contract.

All in all, in the past week the multimillion-dollar empire of the chef that Forbes listed as the fourth highest earning chef in 2012 has been decimated.

“I is what I is,” Deen told Lauer this morning during her appearance. “And I’m not changing.” She told those who are sinless to “please pick up that stone and throw it so hard at my head that it kills me.”

But the experts were not moved.

David Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision, a public relations and branding agency based in Suwanee, Ga., said Deen “totally bombed” on “Today,” calling it “the worst celebrity apology in history.”

By referring to “hurtful lies” and “someone evil” out to get her, as Deen did, “it’s obvious she thinks she’s the victim of this entire situation. This is a bigger issue than just her,” he told USA Today. “Instead, there were crocodile tears. That’s all I could think of: Tammy Faye Bakker.”

“It was really by far the most uncomfortable celebrity interview I have watched in a very long time,” says Mark Pasetsky, CEO of public relations and marketing content firm Mark Allen & Co. “She really needed to take full responsibility for what she said, and it appeared to me that the strategy for this interview was to be pointing the fingers rather than to take responsibility.”

Deen may get some help from an unlikely source: Rev. Jesse Jackson.

 Jackson said he’s agreed to help Deen try to make amends for her past use of a racial slur. He said she shouldn’t become a “sacrificial lamb” over the issue of racial intolerance.

Jackson told The Associated Press that Deen called him this week and they discussed how she might recover.

He said if Deen is willing to acknowledge mistakes and make changes, “she should be reclaimed rather than destroyed.”

Deen also received got support from liberal comedian Bill Maher.

“If you’re 66 years old, and you were raised in Georgia, and you were a child before the civil rights movement, do you get a bit of a pass?” he asked on his show Friday, adding, “I also think that people shouldn’t have to lose their shows and go away when they do something bad. … It’s just a word, it’s a wrong word, she’s wrong to use it. But do we always have to make people go away?”

Pastor Gregory A. Tyson Sr., an African-American pastor at First Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church in Savannah, came to Deen’s defense when questioned by local station WTOC. Tyson said Deen is a friend to him and to the black community. He said using the N-word does not automatically make her a racist.

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