Jennifer Thomas is a bestselling author, psychologist, speaker, consultant & apology critic

Paula Deen Cooks Up a Half-Baked Apology


A Quick Recap:

Deen was deposed in connection with a sexual harassment lawsuit that was filed against her and her brother, Earl “Bubba” Hiers, by a former employee who claims, among other things, that her employers used language in her presence that could be deemed racist. In her testimony, the 133-page transcript of which was released Wednesday, Deen admitted to using the n-word in the past.

I’ve analyzed Deen’s comments using the five languages of apology from my 2013 book with Gary Chapman, “When Sorry Isn’t Enough.” Here is a numbered list of our apology languages. Below my list, I’ve referenced these numbers in parentheses following each of Deen’s comments from Friday’s 45-second apology video.

1. Expressing regret- Saying “I’m sorry for the hurt I’ve caused”

2. Accepting responsibility- Saying “I was wrong.”

3. Making restitution- Asking, “What can I do to make things right?

4. Genuinely repenting- Stating how you will change so you will not do it again.

5. Requesting forgiveness- Asking, “Will you please forgive me?”

What She Said:

After spending all day soul searching and trying to figure out how to deal with what I did, I recorded a video trying to do the right thing. In the end, I felt that I needed to just be myself, say “I am sorry” and beg for forgiveness (#1, #5).

What said was wrong and hurtful (#1, #2).

I know that and will do everything that I can do make it right (very general mention of amends, #3).

I am not about hate, and I will devote myself to showing my family, friends and fans how to live a life helping others, lifting us all up, and spreading love (#3 and a very general mention of change, #4).

The day before Deen released the video, her publicist sent this statement to TMZ:
“During a deposition where she swore to tell the truth, Ms. Deen recounted having used a racial epithet in the past, speaking largely about a time in American history which was quite different than today…

…[Paula] was born 60 years ago when America’s South had schools that were segregated, different bathrooms, different restaurants and Americans rode in different parts of the bus. This is not today…

…To be clear Ms. Deen does not find acceptable the use of this term under any circumstance by anyone nor condone any form of racism or discrimination. “

My Analysis:

If you are a huge Paula Deen fan, stop reading here. It’s been a hard week for Deen and you might think I’m piling on in an unforgiving manner. That is not my intent.

As an apology expert, I tell people what to say when messy situations arise. What exactly would I tell Paula Deen? I’d say, “You needed to release this video or talk face to face with the public sooner… you might have saved your coronary arteries from this stress by putting the issue to rest days ago before it grew into a scandal that cost you a Food Network contract renewal. I believe that your apology is sincere but the public will be watching to see action along with your words. What kind of action would help you make amends? Invest in programs such as those offered by the International Civil Rights Center. It’s best if you will make the time to get personally involved in the program. At the very least, make a large donation to show that you are working for positive change.”

Why would I say that? Because she waited too long to speak, making and then breaking an appointment to be interviewed by Matt Lauer on the Today Show. Further, her publicist’s statement was a non-apology. The written statement was an EXCUSE that tried to save itself by ending with a disavowal of racism. You don’t cook up a turkey and then say you want to be a vegetarian. If you ever find yourself having a Paula Deen moment, don’t BLAME others, EXCUSE yourself, or DENY what you have done. Be SPECIFIC about what you have done wrong. Tell the truth early and tell it ALL.

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