Paula Deen and the Dangers of the DIY Public Apology
How to kill a multimillion-dollar brand in just three short videos.
Paula Deen is sorry.
She’s also apologetic.
Following not-so-shocking revelations late last week about her nostalgia for the ways of the Old South, Deen issued three not-so-specific apology videos.
“I want people to understand that my family and I are not the kind of people that the press is wanting to say we are,” she said, with the type of browbeaten expression one has when watching one’s empire come undone right before her.
Deen’s is only the latest in a long list of too-little, too-late celebrity mea culpas and non-apologies, but it may end up serving as the last stand of the do-it-yourself apology. The traditional public apology was once a carefully crafted, well-rehearsed public relations statement that strategically navigated the line between admission and remorse. In Old Hollywood, for example, “exhaustion” was a good way for a celebrity to save face while PR reps handled the dirty work. With the growth of the 24/7 internet celebrity culture, though, stars and athletes are increasingly attempting to face the guillotine on their own — and failing ever more badly.
In 2003, Kobe Bryant, then facing a sexual assault charge, offered his wife a $4 million diamond ring along with this apology: “You’re my backbone. You’re a blessing. You’re a piece of my heart. You’re the air I breathe. And you’re the strongest person I know, and I’m so sorry for having to put you through this and having to put our family through this.” Rumors of divorce have dogged the couple ever since, though officially their relationship remains on the mend.
After an anti-Semitic tirade in 2006, Mel Gibson tried the seemingly frank route: “I acted like a person completely out of control when I was arrested and said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable.” While many of Gibson’s industry friends, including Jodi Foster and Whoopi Goldberg, came forward in his defense in the wake of scandal, the public was never wholly convinced.
Fast-forward to 2013 and cross the almost inevitably passive-aggressive nature of the DIY apology with the hyper-speed pace of 24/7 internet celebrity coverage and you get Paul Deen floundering through three separate attempts at an apology. (According to a report from The Huffington Post, Deen “picked up her own handi-cam and recorded it herself without a production team present.”)
Even the third time, however, wasn’t the charm for Deen and her efforts to salvage what remained of her good name. Late Friday afternoon, The Food Network announced it would not be renewing her contract at the end of this month. In the social media era, messaging needs to be concise, contrite, and convincing. Deen’s DIY approximation of PR professional panache fell embarrassingly short, leaving fans and critics in awe of how how it all went so bad so quickly.