Paula Deen's marketing partnership with Novo Nordisk was controversial from the get-go. The TV chef is known for recipes that aren't exactly on Mom's list of healthy foods. Plus, Deen had known of her diabetes diagnosis for three years and only disclosed it publicly as she teamed up with Novo ($NVO). One of her publicists quit in protest, and fellow TV chef Anthony Bourdain took her to task on the air. After awhile, however, as Deen lost weight and made plenty of media appearances to advocate healthier living, the talk died down.
But this latest controversy makes the disclosure delay look like a tempest in a teapot. In a deposition in a harassment lawsuit, Deen admitted to using the N-word and telling racist jokes. ([I]t's just what they are, they're jokes," she said, Time reports.) Her apology hasn't played well, either; though she said she doesn't condone racism and doesn't use racial slurs these days, she attempted to explain away the remarks by citing her Old South upbringing.
The Food Network, which made Deen a household figure, has dropped her from its lineup. Her publisher, Ballantine, and restaurant partner Caesars Entertainment say they're "monitoring" the story. Novo essentially says the same thing. Deen is still a spokesperson for its Victoza brand, but the company is keeping an eye on things. It can't afford not to, with its name popping up in story after story about Deen's deposition.
"We recognize the seriousness of these allegations and will follow the legal proceedings closely," Novo said in a statement, going on to say, "We do not condone racial intolerance of any kind and have spoken to Paula about her comments in the deposition. While she takes a more proactive approach to clearing up her comments, our focus will continue to be to provide the best care possible to all of our patients where we work and live."
That leaves Novo plenty of wiggle room to say goodbye to Deen as time goes on. And it shields the drugmaker from the ire of Deen fans outraged by the Food Network's canceling her contract before the lawsuit goes to court. But as the Wall Street Journal's Lee Hawkins notes on video, Novo prides itself on diversity and social responsibility. And the company has laid out considerable time and resources on raising diabetes awareness in the African-American community. If Deen doesn't do a better job of apologizing, that work could be undone, if it hasn't been already.