Paula Deen and Matt Lauer talk about the controversy.(Photo: Today)
Looking a little worn out and speaking with emotion, Paula Deen showed up Wednesday at the appointed early hour for her Today show interview, the latest mea culpa to come from the celeb chef who has been under fire for uttering racial slurs.
And it was a teary mea culpa.
Appearing in the 7:30 a.m. half-hour, she started out telling Matt Lauer the last week has left her "overwhelmed. I was in a state of shock."
"Somewhat, yes, because there's been some very very hurtful lies said about me."
Lauer tried to bring up the business side of what has happened.
"Let me say this before we even get into that," Deen said. "The main reason I am here today, Matt, is it's important to me to tell you and everyone out there what I believe. ... I believe that every creature on this earth was created equal, no matter who you choose to go to bed with at night, what church you go to to pray ... that's the way I was raised."
He interrupted her to ask if she was really doing the interview because "millions of dollars" are at stake from endorsement deals.
"I am here today because I want people to know who I am. People that have worked beside me, have walked beside me, know what kind of person I am. I am so distressed that people I have never heard of are all of a sudden experts on who I am."
She began to choke up. "Their words are being given weight."
Deen, 66, thanked those who have stood by her, saying, "I'm so fortunate that so many of my partners that know who I am have decided to stand by me. QVC has not dropped me. There's only two that has dropped me. I'm so very thankful for the partners that I have that believe in me."
When Lauer asked her, "Is Paula Deen a racist?" she replied, "No. No, as a child, I was raised in a home that my father tolerated bad grades. He would tolerate me maybe breaking a curfew, but he told me, girl, if I ever find out that you have behaved in a way that you think you're better than others, your butt is going to be mine."
But she did say the n-word, Lauer pointed out, as came out in the deposition for the lawsuit she's facing from a restaurant employee.
"The day I used that word it was a world ago. It was 30 years ago. I had had a gun put to my head because the man that had the gun to my head was my customer at the main office ..."
Lauer interrupted her to ask, "Only that one time in the bank with a robber?"
Yes, replied Deen. "I have never ... They asked me in all of my 66 years on earth had I used it. ... I answered it truthfully. It's just not a part of who we are."
Lauer then asked if she had any doubt that African Americans are offended by the n-word.
"I don't know, Matt, I have asked myself that so many times. It's very distressing for me to go into my kitchens and hear what people are calling each other. ... It's very distressing for me. I think that for this problem to be worked on that these young people are going to have to take control and start showing respect for each other and not throw that word at each other. It makes my skin crawl."
When Lauer asked if maybe she wished she hadn't told the truth, she said, "No. Because there's a couple of kinds of people I don't like that I'm prejudiced against - that's thieves and liars."
As the lengthy interview drew to a close, Deen began crying. "I know how I treat people. I know my love for people. I'm not going to sit here and tell everything I have done for people of color. Somebody else can do that. ... I have apologized. And I have never with any intention hurt anybody and I never would."
She added that there is no separate side from the sugary, sassy Southerner we've seen countless times in the kitchen. "What you see is what you get. I'm heartbroken."
And finally, after mentioning support she had gotten from civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, she said, "If there's anyone out there that has never said something that they wished they could take back. If you're out there, please pick up that stone and throw it so hard at my head that it kills me. Please. I want to meet you. I is what I is and I'm not changing."