Journalism professor gives advice for celebrities' public relations blunders

Friday, June 21, 2013 - 21:10

Embattled Food Network cook Paula Deen can restore her positive public image after admitting using racial slurs in the past by briefly explaining the context of her remarks, sincerely apologizing for any offense the remarks have caused in the past, and are causing in the present, says a University of North Texas faculty member in the Frank W. and Sue Mayborn School of Journalism, who has managed public relations for nationally syndicated talk show host Tom Joyner.

Neil Foote, principal lecturer at UNT and also the president of Foote Communications LLC, a Dallas media consulting firm, said Deen should have kept her appearance Friday (June 21) on the “Today” show, where she was scheduled to answer questions about her past use of racial slurs.

Deen admitted in a court deposition for a lawsuit against her, filed by former employee and made public this week by the Huffington Post, that she had used the “N” word in the past, but not in a mean-spirited way. She also expressed interest in hiring African-American waiters dressed to look like “slaves,” to serve at a wedding. Deen cancelled her “Today” show appearance shortly before the show aired, and although a video showing her apologizing was posted later on YouTube, The Food Network announced Friday that Deen’s contract will not be renewed when it expires at the end of this month.

“The first step is full disclosure, particularly if what you said is public record. You must acknowledge saying it,” Foote says. “Then you explain when and why you said it. The use of the ‘N’ word has very negative connotations, particularly when white Southerners are using it, so it doesn’t matter if you used it at a time when it was more commonly used, and used in affectionate way, by whites, or if blacks use it as an endearment to other blacks. It’s probably a double standard, but you can’t go back to what was done in the past. You have to acknowledge the present offense.”

After the public apology, Foote says, embattled celebrities like Deen should take steps to reengage with their fan base by shining the spotlight on their positive accomplishments.

“She should talk about the good things that she is doing through her restaurants, and reaffirm her ties to the African-American community,” Foote says.

Foote may be reached via phone at 214-448-3765 or by e-mail at


UNT News Service
(940) 565-2108