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Opinion :: Paula Deen vs. the Media: The most important American news story of 2013
· 12:04pm December 6th, 2013
The Most important story in the news this year involves Paula Deen.
Yeah, I know: That sounds absurd.
Before you reach for the ‘Comment’ button, let me explain why, in a year in which ObamaCare, the Boston Marathon bombing, debt ceilings and government shutdowns affected just about everyone, the story that should be on the top of our list to worry about involves a TV personality.
Paula Deen, herself, is not really the story. The main issue is how the media handled this story, and how it represents troublesome trends affecting our ability to get thorough, fair news on issues that really do matter.
First, let me introduce you to a man whose name you probably have never heard: Eugene Thomas King, Jr.
Meet Mr. King through his own words:
“I bought a gun from a man I know as Psycho. I don’t know his real name. I paid him with a $20 piece of rock. I filled a tote bag with some personal items like gloves, stocking mask, sweater and all, and then went walking looking for a vehicle with keys in it…. I took the truck… I parked across the street from the bank and I waited… I went inside and went to the first teller and announced that it was a hold-up…”
After receiving about $4,500 from that teller on that July day in 1987, King went and bought some more cocaine with the purpose of selling it. He also told police that he paid some bills, and even child support.
By now you probably have guessed that Eugene Thomas King, Jr., is the man whom Paula Deen infamously admitted calling “The N-word.”
Nobody but Mr. Deen heard her refer to King with “The Word Only Rappers Can Use.” She never said that mostly-prohibited word on camera, or in any known interview. She simply said during a court deposition that she had occasionally, in the past, had used “The N-Word,” specifically saying that she probably used that word when telling her husband about the man who had pointed a gun in the general direction of her brain.
The lawsuit in which Deen made this headline-grabbing confession had been going on for months but it did not become that big of a news story, until she dropped the N-Bomb.
Then every news network in the alphabet made it a top story.
As soon as I heard the “Paula Deen Said the N-Word Story,” my first question was: Who was this man who inspired Paula Deen to talk like a rap star?
I remember spending hours one afternoon looking for a news story – any news story – about this bank robber. Nothing on TV. Nothing in any newspaper. Nothing on any newspaper or TV web sites. Apparently it mattered most to the media that a southern white woman admitted that 26 years ago, she said “N…”
Of course, virtually nobody in the media bothered adding this quote from the now-infamous Deen deposition (which, by the way, was illegally leaked to the media, first to the National Enquire) to their Paula Deen story: “But that’s not a word that we use as time has gone on. Things have changed since the ‘60s in the south. And my children and my brother object to that word being used in any cruel or mean behavior, as well as I do.”
I am not at all a Paula Deen fan. And I don’t doubt that she has at times uttered racially-insensitive nonsense. But does that make her any different from Robert Byrd, Trent Lott or Jesse Jackson? Not so much. Byrd’s nickname during his half-century in the U.S. Senate was “Sheets,” a reference to his years in the KKK.
Here’s an interesting comparison: Twenty-six years after calling a black bank robber a “N-Word,” Paula Deen lost many of her positions. Twenty-six years after referring to people of color as “race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds,” Robert Byrd was among the top Democratic leaders in the U.S. Senate.
But back to Mr. King.
A few months after my first futile search for this man who inspired Paula Deen to use That Word, I tried again. This time I found out about King, and I learned which media organization had first made an effort to identify him: Inside Edition.
None of the “real” news networks bothered finding out who inspired Paula Deen’s N-Bomb. We had to wait for a show business program to bring that news to us. Those “real news” people were content to pass on the news (from an illegally-leaked deposition) without finding out for themselves exactly what happened.
All we heard was that Paula Deen had said the N-word and that a former employee had accused her and her brother of making racially-insensitive comments.
Hardly anyone in the media bothered to mention that the accuser in this case – which was dismissed – had just months before filing her law suit, written a letter of praise for Paula Deen.
“I have been given opportunities that I never thought possible, all because of you and Bubba,” wrote accuser Lisa Jackson, a few months before she suddenly quit her job and filed the law suit.
Neither did the media report that Jackson was also caught on security cameras at the restaurant where she worked for Bubba (Deen’s brother), removing trash from a garbage can, placing it on the floor and then photographing it in an effort to accuse a colleague of not performing her job.
But the N-Word? Every newspaper and news program was all over that.
Paula Deen is in the news again this week; GQ Magazine listed her among the top “Least Influential” people of 2013, and said that her signature is “four sticks of butter, one pinch of unbridled racism.”
You probably saw or heard that on some news outlets.
However, you almost certainly did not see this news story about Paula Deen: The Salvation Army invited Paula Deen to be the keynote speaker at a Savannah, Ga., fund-raiser last week.
The Salvation Army invited Deen, not her because of her fame, or because of how 2013 treated her. The group invited her because for years, Deen and her family have quietly been helping many people – including members of the race she is accused of offending during the Reagan Administration – via Salvation Army holiday programs.
“For the last several years, she has come down to the Salvation Army without any press,” said Salvation Army Major Phil Swyers said. “She and her family adopt other families that we have done case management for, and it’s become a family tradition for them.”
But like most of the significant details of her court case, Deen’s involvement in helping people through the Salvation Army received little to no attention in the media. The Savannah Morning News, however, did mention her work in a story about the fund-raiser.
It’s been that way for Paula Deen all year. Coverage of the Paula Deen story in all of the major media this year didn’t give readers or viewers and opportunity to look at all sides of the story. All we heard was, “She said N….”
This is not a column about Paula Deen. It’s about the state of American media, and how way too much of it seems incapable or unwilling to thoroughly investigate and share any story in substantial detail.
If modern American media can’t bother to track down the man whose gun inspired the confession that caused Paula Deen to say a bad word, then I wonder: What else aren’t they bothering to find out?
The media also completely fails to highlight the double standard. If you said The N-Word in 1987, you lose your business partnerships. If you say (or rap) it in 2013, the government hires you to make videos promoting enrollment in the Affordable Care Act (i.e, the Lifesavas in Oregon). Rappers who routinely sing that word have been invited to the White House, and have aggressively campaigned for President Obama and/or his agenda. And about this, you hear from the media: Next to nothing.
The good news is that there are new media outlets forming. People who are tired of having insufficient news (or news from only politically-motivated sources) have some new options.
You really can find the Eugene Thomas King, Jrs of the world. You really can. You just have to acclimate yourself for looking for them in places other than the evening news or morning newspapers.
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