Days after her admission to making racist statements was revealed, Paula Deen finally responded personally, via a video statement that expressed regret and begged forgiveness.
Sort of. For something. Deen’s statement is less than a minute long, yet oddly, jumpily edited into four segments, like a hostage video or a badly jump-cut reality-TV confessional; in all that, however, she makes no specific reference to what she’s sorry for or why. The closest she gets to that is: “Inappropriate or hurtful language is totally, totally unacceptable,” which, I’ll give her that; that would be why they call it “inappropriate.” But however genuinely sorry Deen is, and I do not claim to read her heart, it was a video you could have your publicist keep under glass in case of anything.
I’ve already written at length what I thought about Deen’s original comments, and I argued then that Deen insulted her fans as much as anyone; she championed (and got rich from) an idea of down-home culture and southern comfort, then proceeded to embody some of its worst and most shameful associations. As I’ve written before, I’m not crazy about firing people every time they say something stupid. [Update: So much for that, however; Food Network is reportedly dropping Deen's show.] But Deen’s statements also shouldn’t just be shrugged off–including and especially by Deen herself.
Before the video came out today, I was asked on CNN what Deen would need to do to apologize effectively. I’m not an ethicist or a p.r. consultant; I just think a good apology involves being actually sorry. That’s different from “Sorry you were offended” or “Sorry I got in trouble.” How did you screw up? Why was it wrong? What do you believe now that you didn’t before? What are you going to do about it? (For an example of a specific apology, for instance, see Kickstarter’s earlier today for allowing a project to raise funds for a “seduction guide” that advocated unwanted groping.)
Deen’s video, on the other hand, is fill-in-the-blanks generic. I have to wonder if that’s intentionally so, and if the reason for that is that there’s an existing discrimination lawsuit (which yielded the deposition that caused the original controversy). We may be seeing the invisible fence of the lawyers’ parameters here. But whatever the reason, she didn’t give us much to go on.
That’s part of what I’m thinking, but honestly, I’m a little uncomfortable with the whole public meta-theatre-criticism of “Did this apology work?” Apologies aren’t meant to “work”; they’re meant to apologize, and looking at them in terms of personal gain and strategy is the wrong way to look at them in the first place. Deen’s video may have kept her from hurting herself in court, but the court of public opinion is different. And apologies, unlike desserts, are not something best produced by following a recipe.
Update: Oh also? The original apology video I embedded has been pulled down, as of this writing, from Deen’s YouTube channel; I’ve replaced it for now with a video capture from another user. I’m thinking apologizing, then immediately disabling your apology video, also does not earn you bonus contrition points.
Second Update: And now we have a second apology video, for whatever reason, from Deen’s YouTube channel. This one is in one cut, and about twice as long, and at least gets at the subject of race and bigotry: “Your color of skin, your religion, your sexual preference does not matter,” while still notably skirting any admissions as to what she’s apologizing for. It also addresses her canceling on this morning’s Today Show, so there’s that. The video appears below, and you can decide if you feel she’s more contrite. If not, maybe there’ll be another in an hour:
Third Update: There is now a third apology video online. This one specifically to Matt Lauer. Herewith, the final (for now) installment of the Paula Deen Apology Trilogy: