Skip to comments.In Defense of Paula Deen: Who decides which words, said in private decades ago, are firing offense?
Posted on 06/25/2013 8:24:21 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
If the bleak reckoning of Reputation.coms Howard Bragman is to be believed, Paula Deen will survive her recent ordeal, but she will never be whole again.
This is because, in the choice words of Bill Maher, she f****d up. Court documents revealed last week show Deen being asked under oath whether she had used the N-word before. Yes, of course, she replied, although its been a very long time. For this admission, the Food Network fired her.
Immediately prior to her dismissal, Deen made what was tantamount to a hostage video, in which, per the Huffington Post, she was shown close to tears and begging forgiveness from fans and critics troubled by her admission to having used racial slurs in the past. Thus it was confirmed that, at some point in her life, Paula Deen has said some bad words out loud.
One might ask, So what? Many people have said bad things before. Is the admission of having once said an offensive word really sufficient justification for punishment in the here and now? Being humans and not computers, we will not last long as a society if we throw aside judgment, context, and mercy, merely to scan sentences for bad data and then gang up to punish the accused. If we are to purge everybody who steps slightly out of line, who among us will survive? There are certainly Good words and Bad words, but linguistic intent matters, as Matthiass executioner learns in Life of Brian.
Matthias: Look, I dont think it should be a sin, just for saying Jehovah. (Everyone gasps.)
Jewish Official: Youre only making it worse for yourself!
Matthias: Making it worse? How can it be worse? Jehovah! Jehovah! Jehovah!
Jewish official: Im warning you! If you say Jehovah one more time (gets hit with rock) RIGHT! Who did that? Come on, who did it?
Stoners: He! He did! He!
Jewish official: Was it you?
Jewish official: Right
Stoner: Well you did say Jehovah. (Crowd throws rocks at the stoner.)
Timing matters, too. As Fox reported, Deens termination will likely have at least one severe consequence:
Her staff is probably out, most production employment contracts are written to say that if production ceases, their jobs come to an end unless you get a guaranteed pay or play deal, television executive Lonnie Burstein, Executive Vice-President Programming at Debmar Mercury said. But its no different to any other show getting canceled. Its the nature of the business.
Thats not really true, is it? For a start, Deen was is still, maybe extremely popular. This was not a commercial failure, Deens fan base did not disappear, and she did not die. More important: Deen didnt say anything offensive on air or, for that matter, even recently. As it stands, the accusations that landed her in court are unproven. If Deens employer judged that something she said on her show was damaging to the company, that would be one thing, although Im still in favor of considerable latitude here making jokes or rap records is not the same thing as hurling insults, and the public and private domains are separate. But dragging up things that she may or may not have said at some point in her pre-television past and canceling her show based on blunt pressure from certain quarters? Yes, that is pretty much different to any other show getting canceled.
One imagines that theres another reason that the likes of Bill Maher took exception to the firing. According to the New York Times, in the course of denying that she had told racial jokes, Deen,
stated that most jokes are about Jews, gay people, black people and rednecks. I cant, myself, determine what offends another person, she said.
Indeed, she cannot. Nor can I, and nor can you. Therein lies the problem with elevating offense above all considerations. Because offense is in the eye of the beholder, it is, like unprovable accusations of witchcraft, ripe to be weaponized. People shouldnt have to lose their shows and go away when they do something bad, Maher complained on Friday. Its just a word. Its a wrong word. She was wrong to use it. But do we always have to make people go away? One sincerely hopes not. Coming from a family that is a mix of white, black, and Asian, I would be unable honestly to promise a court of law that I had not said offensive words in the past albeit I used them exclusively in jest or in parody and nor would anyone else in my family. Should National Review fire me for this confession?
Maher was heavily criticized in 2011 when he referred to Sarah Palin as a c**t. He has also referred to special-needs children as retards, and he routinely mocks Christianity and other beliefs that are dear to large swathes of the population. As recently as this week, he dismissed half the country as rednecks. Again: So what? Thats his prerogative. If you dont like it, then dont watch his show. If his audience doesnt like it, theyll stop watching, too and the show will go away of its own accord. On Friday, Mahers guest, Bob Herbert, who is black, said, [N****r] is the line . . . Nobody should be using that word. Sure, nobody should use be using that word. But why is that word the line? Why not retard or queer? Who decides?
Freedom of speech is not a license to say anything anywhere without consequence but a check against government. As Paula Deen has no right to work at the Food Network, her rights have not been violated. But to be healthy, a country needs more than merely a prohibition against government overreach; it also needs a strong culture of free expression. Our tendency to disqualify people categorically on the basis of a single indiscretion is ugly and destructive. Perhaps Columbia Universitys John McWhorter is correct to argue that because Deen was already a twenty-something when the old racist order broke down, she will prove unable to utterly expunge the Souths old assumptions and should thus be forgiven and given her job back. Perhaps he is wrong and Deen has honestly changed and moved beyond whatever mistakes she made in the past. Either way, this is irrelevant to the matter at hand. Are we really to extirpate everybody possessed of a checkered past however small and then push them into the naughty corner for perpetuity? What is the statute of limitations on the use of anachronistic language?
And what explains our inconsistent application of this principle? I have little time for those who cant see the difference between Kanye Wests using the N-word and a racists hurling it at an African American in anger. But how about those who have made genuinely disparaging comments and survived? Jesse Jackson remains at large despite his use of the word hymie to describe Jews and his description of New York as Hymietown; Robert Byrd managed to say n****r on national television in 2004 while serving as a United States senator; Al Sharpton referred to Socrates and them Greek homos to dismiss the ancients; Joe Biden believes that you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or Dunkin Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent; and Marion Barry recently contended that we got to do something about these Asians coming in and opening up businesses and dirty shops. What about them?
Tu quoque arguments are as fallacious in these instances as they ever were. That these people said these things does not excuse Paula Deen. But there is a definite double standard here, and one that is particularly peculiar given that Deen was an entertainer with a show on the Food Network while the speakers listed above work in government or in politics.
If the accusations that pushed Paula Deen into court in the first place are true, she deserves to be fired and excluded from polite society. Among other things, Deen is accused of paying blacks less than whites; her brother is accused of telling one worker you dont have any civil rights here; and another family member, it is claimed, repeatedly called an employee my little monkey. But these are allegations and nothing more accusations from a woman who not only cannot seem to keep her testimony straight but who started out by sending an inflammatory letter seeking over a million dollars and promising Deen a chance to salvage a brand that can continue to have value. Deen strenuously denies the claims. It should go without saying that until such time as she is convicted, she is innocent. In the meantime, is it wise for us to pull her and her brand down because of something she may or may not have said privately in the 1980s?
Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.
I love it when the leftist mobs start eating their own. Hey Paula, put some extra butter on it!
You can write drivers for special purpose hardware using those skills. You don't have to do data-base mining that has questionable applications.
The government is collecting many words of Americans. Which one will hang you?
Not arguing... just pointing out that you aren’t exactly at ground zero for a lateral move, although you would be in some completely different field.
The employer decides, as it should be.
If every word I spoke about odumbo were recalled, you would never see me again. I would be locked in a dungeon someplace where no one would ever hear of me again. Freedom of speech? We don’t need no stinken freedom of speech now that we have odumbo.
In order to remove someone from congress, you would have to rely on a process which is called impeachment or a “motion of no confidence”.
I remember my grandmother had to be retrained to go from “that word” to Negro and sometimes she slipped. She played cards with black women, never treated anyone any different that I ever saw (this was Georgia). She just used the word as a differentiation to white people.
She never understood how it was bad. Maybe that was bad in itself, but she didn’t mean the word as hateful in her own heart.
I know that sounds ridiculous given all the movies and TV shows showing southern people and their ‘hatred’ of black people, but it is her truth.
If words are too horrific for whites to say, how can can it be OK for blacks to say those same words with impunity?
Do some words have different meanings depending on the race of the person saying those words?
In a language, the purpose of a word is to convey a thought from one person to another. Can a word convey a different thought depending on the race of the person saying the word?
Yes, according to current politically correct thinking, the meaning of some words depends entirely on the race of the person saying those words.
Are there any other words out there that white people are forbidden to say under any circumstances, and if so, what is the statute of limitations on this crime?
Inquiring minds want to know.
there are only 2 kinds of racists,the ones that lie about and the ones that admit it.
There is a certain segment of the population that goes around desperately seeking the slightest hint of anything that can possibly be distorted to be of a racial nature. Most of these people are blacks. They have been raised so long in the false narrative that whites oppress black, and yet find no supporting evidence of this false narrative, that they'r desperate to produce something that justifies their belief even if they have to manufacture slurs where none exist. And this doesn't even get into the fact that no one was harmed by these words. offended maybe, but to win a judgment the usual standard is that you have to show that you've been harmed. Now if the shakedown artist whose trying to screw over Deen were fired because she was black and ONLY because she was black, then that would be a different matter.
Oh and for the record Paula Deen and her porky offspring annoy the daylights out of me. I can't stand to watch them, but I still think this is ridiculous and a criminal libel of her reputation.
Any white person over the age of fifty has “used the N-word” in the past.
The lawyer who posed that question to Ms. Deen’s is a totally unprincipled POS (sorry about being redundant)
The people at the Food Network are below contempt for their knee-jerk sacrifice of Deen’s at the holier-than-thou altar of political correctness.
You mean other than the media?
It’s how the MSM works.