October 22, 2014

Food Fight On Social Media: Paula Deen Fans and Critics Square Off

Paula Deen food fight

Celebrity cook Paula Deen has been embroiled in a nasty controversy for the past week.  Fans and critics alike have been battling it out on Twitter and Facebook.

The current brouhaha started when a videoed deposition was leaked in which Deen admitted to certain racist remarks.

Outraged critics took to Twitter to express their anger.  Using the hashtag #PaulasBestDishes, detractors started a meme making sarcastic comments about Deen and racism.  Paula’s Best Dishes is the name of her television show on the Food TV Network, so it also was sure to get the attention of the Food TV Network.

And gets its attention it did.  This past Friday, the Food TV Network said it would not renew Deen’s contract for her show.

Then fans of Paula Deen, angry at the Food TV Network for what they saw as overreacting without considering her apology, took to Facebook to fight back.

Facts – Or Unproven Allegations?

Dean admitted to using the “N” word at some point in the past, and to making statements about planning a plantation wedding in which the servers would all have been black.  It was done in sworn testimony in a deposition in a civil lawsuit against Deen and her brother. The plaintiff, who is white, sued for sexual harassment.

How much of her comments have been pulled out of context is hard to tell.  Most news reports seem to be light on facts.  Lots of allegations and innuendo are floating around social media, implying that there’s evidence that racist statements were more recent and the worst is yet to be revealed. However, they don’t include hard facts to back up their allegations.

One report by the Savannah Morning News / Savannah Now suggests the mainstream media has not done its job. The paper accused the mainstream media at the national level of cherry-picking statements in isolation, and parotting tabloids and social media, without getting the full facts or the surrounding context.

The Savannah Morning News took several days to gather and review multiple depositions.  The publication points to another deposition in the same lawsuit where the plaintiff admitted she never heard Deen make a racist statement or discriminate based on race.  Later, Susan Catron, Executive Editor of the Savannah Morning News, taking the media to task, wrote that fast news doesn’t necessarily make for factual news.

Deen apologized on YouTube videos. Some claimed the videos (three of them) were awkward and took her to task for not being articulate.  To others it just looked like she was shell-shocked and near tears, but attempting to be sincere.  Wrote the New York Times:

Some who thought Ms. Deen’s words were hurtful gave her a pass for her apparent inability to articulate her evolution on race and her awkward apologies, which she offered in a series of three videos on Friday.

“I was wrong, yes, I’ve worked hard, and I have made mistakes,” Ms. Deen said, “but that is no excuse and I offer my sincere apology to those that I have hurt, and I hope that you forgive me because this comes from the deepest part of my heart.”

Added one Deen supporter quoted in the New York Times story, “She’s a cook. She’s not a Harvard graduate.”

Paula Deen Fight on Social Media Rages On

It’s not enough for Dean’s detractors, who are still expressing outrage on Twitter where the Paula Deen hashtag bashing is going strong.

And on Facebook?  Paula Deen fans have set up a  We Support Paula Deen Facebook page which currently has 250,000 followers.   Paula Deen fans also have taken over one thread in particular on the Food TV Network’s page — a recipe for zucchini casserole.  It features angry fans threatening to boycott the network, and critics of Deen, arguing back and forth. As of this writing there are 13,000 comments.

Lost in the controversy is the zucchini casserole.  Scott Travis writes on the thread, ” The poor zucchini. The most controversial recipe of all time.”

Seriously, though, it’s not just Deen going through a rough patch.  She runs what is essentially a family business.  Her family and her employees will no doubt have some rough times ahead.  Losing a big contract often means layoffs.  A number of lives could get caught in the crossfire of this food fight.

All of which raises one other question:  why was Deen not better prepared by her defense attorney for the deposition, and by her PR team for the news when it broke?  It all feels as if Deen was caught by surprise, and — at the very least — did a poor job managing her own communications.

Image: PaulaDeen.com

18 Comments ▼

Anita Campbell - CEO


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses, and also serves as CEO of TweakYourBiz.com.

18 Reactions

  1. Ahh, the magic of social media meets political correctness. To think that it all started with just a few offensive jokes that someone did not take lightly…

    • Hi Elizabeth,

      You know, I’m a huge supporter of social media when used properly. But I don’t think that it’s a proper use of social media to hold a trial and convict someone, with innuendo and selective facts and mob mentality.

      If Deen has continued making racist comments up to the present day, then she deserves all the ire.

      But it offends my sense of fairness to try and convict her … when we’re not even sure what all the facts are or that they have come out. Everybody claims to have facts. But do they really? Or are they just piling on, sensing a wounded target?

      That said, I think we need to also give the Food TV Network the benefit of the doubt. We don’t know what facts they have in their possession. Perhaps they know more than has publicly come to light.

      All I know is this: everybody in this deserves a fair trial.

      – Anita

  2. “Lost in the controversy is the zucchini casserole. Scott Travis writes on the thread, ‘ The poor zucchini. The most controversial recipe of all time.’ ”

    Anita, this is the best quote of this whole post, not just because it is humorous; but because it really summarizes what can happen on social media. The saddest thing is though that many businesses big and small as well as traditional media just… don’t…get…it!

    Most of mainstream social media is not built around thought-out, deliberate communication (we have email for that). It’s dynamic and instantaneous, and often based on emotion, and because of this, it’s very easy for the main, logical points of a message to get lost.

    I think you are right that Deen and her PR team were caught by surprise. But they are only one example of a long list of others who have also fallen into the same trap.

    • Hi Susan,

      I do not support the comments Deen made in her past, and I abhor racism (as well as sexism and other forms of discrimination)… but something about this feels like a lynch mob to me.

      I suspect 99.9% of the population would respond in similar fashion — taken by surprise — if placed in Paula Deen’s shoes with a PR crisis like this.

      – Anita

      • I also get the feel that most people are overreacting, especially the executives as Food Network. Obviously Paula shouldn’t have been speaking that way, but if she’s changed and mended her ways I don’t know why she should be fired. Movies such as Remember The Titans focus on how people can change, but that change is hard and you have to be willing to forgive.

      • Hi Robert, I just don’t get how unforgiving people are being. Remember the Titans is a good example of forgiving.

        – Anita

  3. We all say things that we might/mightnot regret. Paula Deen has worked hard for what she has. She has shown in many episodes her love of other people (whatever the race). Why not show the good she has done. Sounds like someone wants a lot of her money. That person could work and earn just as much if they were willing to put in the hours that Paula has.

    • Hi Gina,

      What I can’t get over is people acting like one mistake dooms you forever. I mean, if an employee makes a mistake, we’re supposed to fire them and no one else should ever hire them again? I’d have been on welfare rolls 25 years ago if that were the case.

      Someone commits a crime and should never get a second chance, never have expungement laws? A spouse cheats on the other spouse, and should never be given a change for forgiveness? A friend gossips about you only to deeply regret it, and you should never speak to that person again?

      That kind of “one shot and you’re done” world is not one I want to live in.

      – Anita

  4. I feel what should be the focas here is the lady that is sueing her. Lets put her in the public eye and let the people jugde her along with Paula. What of this lady and the money she is asking for? Paula was honest, was this lady? Lets talk about THAT.

  5. There has been a million cases of people making a “mistake” and being vilified for it, so be it. There are more disturbing facets to the disposition besides that one mistake. None of the savannah morning news’ findings were any different than what other sites published. I agree that fast news is not better than correct news, but this was a case of protecting Deen, rather than getting the facts.

    I don’t think Deen is a bad person. In fact, i know she is not. But there comes a time where we must be accountable. This is that time.

    • Hi Tramaine,

      Everyone keeps alluding to these “disturbing facets,” but so far I’ve seen no one break it down. If it’s real, break it down and lay it out. What I object to is people using innuendo without hard evidence to back it up. That begins to feel like a smear campaign.

      If someone would lay out, point by point, all the disturbing facets in a convincing manner to prove she engages in racist comments and activities and that it is recent and more widespread, then I definitely would agree that she deserves the ire.

      I’m a trained lawyer, and I go by facts, not innuendo.

      I have no desire to defend a racist… but I do believe in fair play.

      – Anita

      • A disposition is not innuendo. For the record, i dont view Deen as a racist. That is extreme. I am born and raised in savannah and have met Deen personally more than once. she is a very nice lady, but as with some older southerners, they still are conflicted with antiquated views and today’s way of life. But she is who she is, no need to apologize for that. Nobody is perfect, but we still have to be accountable. She is not apologizing just to do it, she felt she has wronged others and feels bad. She is not a racist, its a culture clash.

        i dont understand how having a romantic view of pre- Antebellum slave weddings or her exact quote of a “really southern plantation wedding” is not cause for alarm from those who might be offended, or disturbed. That is a fact laid out in the disposition from her own testimony. how can i convince you that hearing that makes people raise their eyebrow? Is it a big deal? Maybe or maybe not, depends on the person. Many have tried to dwindle a 100 page transcript down to one offensive racial slur. That is ridiculous.

        I am not a trained lawyer, so i fully respect your expertise. But i do know savannah, i know the culture Deen was raised in, and i know that if i offend ANY race or culture in ANY way, an apology is in order. Call it southern hospitality. The facts that you are asking for will hopefully come to light, and wont be settled in secrecy.

  6. Paula Deen is a public figure. She should know that if she says things that are not generally approved of, she will be caught out. And if caught, she might have consequences as we all face consequences to our actions. Yes, we have freedom of speech but so do her employers and partners have freedom to approve or disapprove of her actions. I do not believe she should get a pass because she’s smiley and a nice lady.

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