In From the Firm
Rumination #3 – Lay low after a crisis and return to the spotlight with humility

I’m just wondering if Paula Deen still doesn’t get it.

Despite spouting phrases like “I’ve learned a lot” and “I’m fighting to get my name back” Deen still appears to be tone-deaf to the impact of her words.  She demonstrated that recently when she compared herself to the NFL’s first openly gay prospect, Michael Sam.  “It’s like that black football player who recently came out,” she said in a Mar. 10 cover story in People Magazine. “He said, ‘I just want to be known as a football player.’”  Really, Paula?  Really?   You’ve spent nine months in publicity purgatory; tried your own take on a mascara-streaked “apology”; got smart enough to hire Judy Smith (the inspiration for Scandals’ Olivia Pope) and you still don’t get that you need to think first and then speak?

Two of the most important keys to recovery are to step away from the spotlight (in this case, the hot stove) and then come back with humility.  Under Smith’s guidance, Deen has done both.  She ‘s been out of the public eye for nine months and recently made her first high profile appearance at the Miami Beach Wine and Food Festival.  There she acknowledged that she regrets the furor caused by revelations of her use of the n-word and her hopes of staging a “Southern wedding” complete with African-American waiters.  And while she did not directly address the controversy at the Miami event, she did make it clear that she was sorry: “I have heard on more than one occasion… that I’ve never apologized. So if anybody did not hear me apologize, I would like to apologize to those who did not hear me,” she said.

She thanked her fans for all their support, and got a boost during her food demonstration from Food Network’s Robert Irvine.  She also got some sterling advice from Irvine.  He lived through his own scandal in 2008 when the Food Network let him go over claims he’d made about his work experience. He eventually returned to the network.  He told Deen, “This is a warning to you.  You’ve apologized. You’ve eaten crow. You’re done. Don’t do it anymore. I’ve been there.”

In addition to advice, Irvine added a memorable visual to Deen’s demonstration at the Miami event.  Before a crowd of adoring fans, Irvine got down on his hands and knees while Deen straddled his back, riding him across the stage.  “I’m back in the saddle!” she yelled to the appreciative crowd.

Let’s hope she remembers how unsteady that saddle can be and how bumpy the ride is when you don’t open your mind before you open your mouth.

March Rumination

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