Paula Deen

Oprah on Paula Deen scandal: It felt 'kind of sad'

Aug. 6, 2013 at 5:19 PM ET

Media mogul and actress Oprah Winfrey attends a special screening of  "Lee Daniels' The Butler" hosted by O, The Oprah Magazine at Hearst Tower on Wed...
Evan Agostini / AP
Media mogul Oprah Winfrey said she hopes to interview TV cook Paula Deen, who has been embroiled in a scandal after she admitted using racial slurs.

Doing what she does best, Oprah Winfrey continues to get controversial stars like Lindsay Lohan and Lance Armstrong to open up on her OWN Network show, “Oprah’s Next Chapter.” And now she has her sights set on Paula Deen.  

Deen, 66, has been embroiled in a scandal since June, after she admitted using racial slurs, a detail that came to light when a May 17 deposition transcript was leaked. Deen and her brother Earl "Bubba" Heirs are being sued by a former manager of one of Deen's restaurants over their allegedly discriminatory behavior toward their employees.

"In the very first days [after the news broke] I tried to reach her and then I decided to stay out of it as I saw it blowing up," Winfrey, 59, told “Entertainment Tonight” on Monday. "In time she will be fine. For me, it all just felt kind of sad."

Oprah and Deen reportedly bonded when the TV cook made a guest appearance on Winfrey’s show in March 2012.

Winfrey, who said she doesn’t spend time with people who use racially-charged language, shared her thoughts on the public’s reaction. “I think Paula Deen was sort of used as a symbol, but I think lots of people use the [N-word] inappropriately all the time,” she said.

While Oprah hasn't been subjected to racial epithets of late, she said she has had her fair share of battling racism in the workplace. 

"Nobody in their right mind is going to call me the N-word. You know, you see those fools on Twitter sometimes say ridiculous things. But nobody in their right mind is going to do that to my face, because true racism is being able to have power over somebody else," Winfrey explained in her interview. "So that doesn't happen to me that way."  

The media mogul has never shied away from discussing race issues. In 2005, Winfrey publicly recounted her experience at Paris’ ultra-luxe Hermes boutique, claiming the store closed the door in her face even though she wanted to shop there. On her talk show, Winfrey called the incident her "‘Crash’ moment,” referring to the Oscar-winning 2004 movie that dealt with, among other topics, race and class. Hermes later apologized.

Winfrey also told "Entertainment Tonight" that, more recently, while in Zurich, Switzerland for pal Tina Turner’s July wedding, she entered a luxury store alone and asked to see an expensive handbag, only to be rejected by the salesperson, who assumed Winfrey couldn’t afford it.

As for Deen, Oprah hopes to have the Southern cook share her side of the story — avoiding a “defensive conversation” — when the time feels right.

"I just really want to know what happened," said Winfrey.

Video: The TV cook and restaurateur tearfully opens up to TODAY’s Matt Lauer about the recent controversy surrounding a discrimination lawsuit filed by a former employee, saying the using the N-word is “just not a part” of who she is and that despite the fallout, she is glad she didn’t lie under oath.


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