(NBC) - In an emotional interview, her first since she admitted having used racial epithets, Paula Deen tearfully told TODAY's Matt Lauer Wednesday that she is not a racist; that as a businesswoman, she does not think her firing from Food Network was the right decision, and that she was unsure whether the N-word was offensive to black people.
When asked by Lauer whether she was a racist, Deen replied simply, "No." Then she added, "I believe that … every one of God's creatures is created equal. I believe that everyone should be treated equal, that's the way I was raised and that's the way I live my life"
When Lauer asked if Deen, who was let go from the Food Network Friday, believed her offense was a fireable one, Deen said it was not.
"Would I have fired me? Knowing me? No," she said. "I am so very thankful for the partners I have who believe in me."
The fallout from Deen's admission that she's used the N-word and had considered throwing a "plantation-style" wedding – which came to light during a legal deposition on May 17 and went public early last week – was fast and furious. By Friday, Food Network announced it was canceling Deen's contract, after she failed to appear for a scheduled interview with Lauer and started posting a series of strange apology videos on YouTube.
By Monday, Smithfield Foods terminated its partnership with her, and QVC, Sears and Target were all reevaluating their relationship with the Southern star, who raked in $17 million in 2012 through all her ventures and was the fourth highest paid chef last year, according to Forbes.
During the deposition, Deen was asked about racist jokes, and she responded that she could not determine what offended various groups of people. Lauer specifically asked her if she knew that the N-word was offensive to black people.
"I don't know, I have asked myself that so many times," Deen said. "I go into my kitchens and hear what these young people are calling each other...it's very distressing for me. I think for this problem to be worked on these young people are gonna have to take control and start showing respect for each other."
Fans and chefs have been divided over Deen's comments and the consequences she's faced. Thousands of people have posted on Food Network's Facebook page to defend the celebrity chef, while others, including "Bizarre Foods" host Andrew Zimmern, have applauded the company for taking swift action.
Former Food Network colleagues like Aaron McCargo, Jr., who is black, voiced support for Deen via social media. "Paula has always been very helpful and supportive throughout my career and as her friend, I'm saddened to see that she is going through a tough time right now," McCargo wrote on Facebook Monday. "We are all human and we should never be quick to judge anyone..."
For some Southern chefs, the real tragedy is that this scandal has rocked the region in the court of public opinion.
"To say things like, ‘that's just the way it's always been' is not only inaccurate, but far worse, it is lazy," wrote Louisville, Ky.-based chef Edward Lee, who blends Korean and Southern traditions at his restaurant, 610 Magnolia. "The South that I live and travel in is one that is buoyed by diversity, acceptance, generosity and love — the people and kitchens of the American South have enriched my life with culture and respect."
Sunday, March 9 2014 11:17 AM EDT2014-03-09 15:17:30 GMT
On the last Friday in January, 15-year-old Dontadrian Bruce was finishing up his biology project at Olive Branch High School. More >>
On the last Friday in January, 15-year-old Dontadrian Bruce was finishing up his biology project at Olive Branch High School. He and his group had constructed a double helix out of Legos, and his teacher asked them to pose for a picture with their project.More >>
Sunday, March 9 2014 4:50 PM EDT2014-03-09 20:50:26 GMT
The Walker County Sheriff's Office is investigating a deadly shooting in Lafayette. Sheriff Steve Wilson says it happened around 6:45 p.m. at a home on Wesley Rd. He says two men got into an argument whichMore >>
The Walker County Sheriff's Office is investigating a deadly shooting in Lafayette.More >>
Sunday, March 9 2014 11:24 AM EDT2014-03-09 15:24:43 GMT
More than 36 hours after the last contact with the missing Malaysia Airways jet, officials saidMore >>
More than 36 hours after the last contact with the missing Malaysia Airways jet, officials said Sunday they were widening the search to cover vast swathes of sea around Malaysia and off Vietnam.More >>
Sunday, March 9 2014 2:51 PM EDT2014-03-09 18:51:21 GMT
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Corey Walden celebrated by draping a net around his neck and hanging a piece of string over each ear. Senior guard Glenn Cosey had a quick quip for Jeff Neubauer as the EasternMore >>
Belmont (24-9) failed to add its second consecutive tournament title to its regular-season championship and will miss the NCAA tournament for just the third time in the past nine years and first since 2010More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 10:53 PM EST2014-03-09 03:53:18 GMT
The past met the present tonight at the Soulshine Pizza Factory in Nashville, as the restaurant celebrated its one year anniversary. The Mando Blues Radio Show helped them celebrate with 16 acts thatMore >>
The past met the present tonight at the Soulshine Pizza Factory in Nashville, as the restaurant celebrated its one year anniversary. More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 10:31 PM EST2014-03-09 03:31:47 GMT
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Antonio Barton scored 16 points and Jarnell Stokes had a double-double Saturday as Tennessee trounced Missouri 72-45 to win its fourth straight game and boost its NCAA tournament hopes. TennesseeMore >>
Tennessee (20-11, 11-7 SEC) hasn't trailed at any point during its winning streak. Its last three games have been decided by an average margin of 31 pointsMore >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 10:29 PM EST2014-03-09 03:29:18 GMT
DULUTH, Ga. -- Tennessee dominated play around the basket the way its fans dominated the stands. The result was another trip to the Southeastern Conference tournament championship game. Isabelle HarrisonMore >>
Isabelle Harrison had 20 points and 13 rebounds and No. 6 Tennessee held off No. 15 Texas A&M 86-77 on Saturday in the SEC tournament semifinals. More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 10:15 PM EST2014-03-09 03:15:25 GMT
The Clarksville/Montgomery County School System is $200,000 richer today, all from selling coupon books. This is the second year the school system has partnered with City Saver to sell the coupon books.More >>
The Clarksville/Montgomery County School System is $200,000 richer today, all from selling coupon books. More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 8:46 PM EST2014-03-09 01:46:01 GMT
We've learned some disturbing new details surrounding the death of an infant in Clarksville, at the hands of her own mother. According to an arrest warrant obtained by our partners at the Leaf Chronicle,More >>
We've learned some disturbing new details surrounding the death of an infant in Clarksville, at the hands of her own mother. According to an arrest warrant obtained by our partners at the Leaf Chronicle, Stefany Johnson told police, "Jesus came down and took Astrid to heaven." More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 6:50 PM EST2014-03-08 23:50:51 GMT
A woman was sent to the hospital in Madison Saturday afternoon after a house fire. The fire started a little after 2 p.m. at a home on Anderson Lane. Nashville firefighters saw a lot of smoke whenMore >>
A woman was sent to the hospital in Madison Saturday afternoon after a house fire.More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 6:47 PM EST2014-03-08 23:47:44 GMT
A section of I-24 had to be shut down Sunday afternoon because of a propane leak. According to our partners at the Leaf Chronicle, the leak was coming from two rusty propane bottles inside a vehicle.More >>
A section of I-24 had to be shut down Sunday afternoon because of a propane leak. More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 6:40 PM EST2014-03-08 23:40:07 GMT
Junior ROTC units from high schools all over Middle Tennessee were at Bridgestone Arena today, competing to be the best. Units from all different branches of the military had a friendly drill competition,More >>
Junior ROTC units from high schools all over Middle Tennessee were at Bridgestone Arena today, competing to be the best. More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 6:31 PM EST2014-03-08 23:31:32 GMT
Memphis Police have issued an arrest warrant for the man they believe was behind a mall shooting Thursday night. Investigators believe Otis Reddido pulled out a gun and shot another man in the stomachMore >>
Memphis Police have issued an arrest warrant for the man they believe was behind a mall shooting Thursday night. More >>