TODAY   |  June 26, 2013

Paula Deen: I would not have fired me

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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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> be here.

>> you were going to be here friday you basically said you were exhausted. you told me you were distraught. how are you doing today.

>> i was -- it's hard for me to even find the word, matt, that i was feeling. i was just overwhelmed. i was in a state of shock .

>> still.

>> some what, yes because there's been very, very hurtful lies said me about.

>> i want to get to specifics in a second paula . the difference between friday and now is really on the business side of things.

>> yes.

>> food network says no more. smithfield foods is cutting ties with you, qvc is weighing their options. do you think you have been treated fairly by your business partners.

>> they -- let me say this -- before we even get into that, the main reason i am here today, matt, is it's important to me that i tell you and everyone out there what i believe and how i live my life. i believe that every creature on this earth, everyone of god's creatures was created equal no matter who you choose to go to bed at night with. no matter what church you go to pray. i believe that everyone should be treated equal and that's the way i was raised and that's the way i live my life.

>> one of the headlines i read paula said millions of dollars at stake for paula deen in "today" show interview. are you here to express what you just said or are you here to stop the financial bleeding?

>> i am here today because i want people to know who i am and people that have worked beside me, have walked beside me know what kind of person i am. and i'm so distressed that people i've never heard of are all of a sudden experts on who i am. and you know what distresses me the very most, matt, their words are being given weight.

>> well, they're having an impact, paula . let's stay on the business side for a second. do you think you have been treated fairly by the companies that have now distanced themselves from you. you're a cook but you're also a business woman. you're the head of a brand. you understand the bottom line . you understand imagine.

>> yes.

>> given the same circumstances, would you have fired you.

>> would i have fired me, knowing me, no. i'm very lucky in this aspect, matt. i'm so fortunate that so many of my partners that know who i am have decided to stand by me. qvc has not dropped me.

>> they say they're weighing their options.

>> well, there's only two that has dropped me and i am so very thankful for the partners that i have that believe in me.

>> right now as we sit here, it seems to me an informal jury of your peers and fans and business associates are weighing the question is paula deen a racist. so i'll ask it to you bluntly are you a racist.

>> no.

>> by birth, by choice, you don't feel you have racist tendencies.

>> no. as a child i was raised in a home that my father tolerated bad grades, he would tolerate maybe me breaking a curfew but he told me he said girl if i ever find out that you have behaved in a way where you think you're better than others or have been unkind you're butt is going to be mine.

>> but you raised your right hand.

>> yes i did.

>> and you wore under oath that you have used a word that is the most offensive word you can use to describe an african american . and you talked about this wedding you wanted to plan, the plantation style wedding whether you used the "n" word or not. so how does someone use the "n" word whether in anger or in a joke or private. the most offensive word to african americans , and not be considered a racist.

>> the day i used that word it was a world ago. it was 30 years ago. i had had a gun put to my head, a shaking gun because the man that had the gun to my head was my customer at the main office.

>> but didn't you also admit to have used the word on other occasions.

>> no.

>> so other than the one time in the bank a robbery attempt you're telling me you have never used the "n" word.

>> i have never. they asked me in all of my 66 years on earth had i ever used it? that man was so frightened that day he put the gun to my head because he was a customer at the main office. he was later caught and i had gone out on a limb for him and gotten him a loan and he was frightened that i was going to recognize him.

>> so you were asked in that deposition whether you had used the "n" word on other occasions and said probably or of course are inaccurate.

>> no, i answered the question truthfully.

>> so you have never used the "n" word other than the one occasion.

>> no, it's just not a part of -- it's just not a part of who we are.

>> let me ask you about this part of the deposition. you were asked whether using the "n" word in telling a joke was hurtful and you said quote, i don't know most jokes are about jewish people , red necks , black folks. i didn't make up the jokes. they usually target a group. i cannot myself determine what offends another person. that last sentence gets me. do you have any doubt in your mind that african americans are offended by the "n" word.

>> i don't know, matt. i have asked myself that so many times because it's very distressing for me to go into my kitchen and i hear what these young people are calling each other. it's very, very distressful.

>> you never joined in on that language.

>> no. absolutely not. it's very distressing. it's very distressing for me because i think that for this problem to be worked on that these young people are going to have to take control and start showing respect for each other and not throwing that word at each other. it makes my skin crawl.

>> i want to read you something that columbia professor wrote for time magazine 's website. he is, by the way, african american . he wrote people of deen's generation can neither change the past nor completely escape their roots in it anymore than the rest of us. they can apologize and mean it. they also deserve credit for owning up to past since as deen did candidly when she could easily shall we say, whitewashed the matter. do you ever wish paula that when you raised your right hand and swore to tell the truth in the deposition that you fudged the truth? you wouldn't have been the first-person that ever lied under oath. given the fall out. do you ever wish you had fudged the truth.

>> no, because there's a couple of kinds of people that i don't like that i am prejudice against, matt, and that's thieves and liars. and i'll tell you a conversation that i had when my 7-year-old grand son with the other day. he had spent the night with me and i allowed him to stay up later than his bedtime and i said jack, honey you've me in trouble with mommy and daddy when you told me that i had let you stay up late. and he was playing with my ipad and he put that ipad down and he looked up at me and he said giiny i don't tell lies. that's how i raised my children. that's how i was raised. and that's how my grand children are being raised. and i know as well as i'm sitting here with you, i know how i treat people. i know my love for people. and i'm not going to sit here and tell everything that i have done for people of color . i'm not going to do it. somebody else can tell that.

>> there are a lot of people that have shown up at your restaurant to support you. the line versus grown. they have gone to swtwitter and some have called for a boycott of the food network .

>> and i don't want there.

>> is your salvation in that core group of fans. can you rely on your base and focus to use a political term, on that base and survive this?

>> i think that we can never underestimate the power of those voices. because these people who have met me and know me and love me, they're as angry as the people are that are reading these stories that are lies. these people reading the stories that don't know me. they don't know they're not lies. they have no idea. so they are angry. and on that same coin, the people that know me, they're just as angry. and i have apologized. i would never never -- and i can truthfully say in my life -- i have never with any intention hurt anybody on purpose. and i never would.

>> and there's not another side of this personality that we see on tv? this warm, sugary, sweet even sassy girl of the south? there isn't a side of you that is intolerant and views other as not equal.

>> no. no. what you see is what you get. i'm not an actress. i'm heart broken. i'm thankful for my partner.

>> heart broken why? for yourself or your family.

>> heart broken -- i've had to hold friends in my arms while they sobbed because they know what's being said about me is not true. and i'm having to comfort them and tell them it's going to be all right. if god got us to it, he'll get us through it. i've had wonderful support from reverend jackson. i've had wonderful support and i tell you what, if there's anyone out there that has never said something that they wish they could take back. if you're out there, please pick up that stone and throw it so hard at my head that it kills me. please. i want to meet you. i want to meet you. i is what i is and i'm not changing. and -- there's someone evil out there that saw what i had worked for and they wanted it.

>> let's end it on that. paula deen , thank you for being here this morning.

>> thank you for having me, matt. it means a lot to me and it feels to strange to come to this wonderful happy place where i've always come so happy and to have these people believe these horrible, horrible lies when all you have to do is ask the people around me.

>> paula deen .

>> because i live my life the way i believe. and like i said, if you never committed a sin, please pick up that rock. pick up that boulder and hit me as hard as you can.

>> we'll end it there. paula deen , thank you. we're back right after this. [ male