UPDATE: On Tuesday afternoon, a spokeswoman for Rev. Sharpton reached out to the Huffington Post to clarify the Reverend's earlier remarks. Sharpton's spokeswoman said that he was not defending Deen, but merely urging those following the scandal to pay attention to what she was saying during ongoing court proceedings, rather than comments she made over 20 years ago. "There is more current information that is being divulged that we might need to be concerned about," the spokeswoman said.
Beleaguered celebrity chef Paula Deen has someone surprising in her corner: Rev. Al Sharpton. In an impromptu interview on Tuesday, Sharpton defended Deen’s behavior after she was fired from the Food Network over allegations that she used racial slurs in front of employees.
The Baptist minister and civil rights activist said that the problem with condemning Deen for her remarks now is that she made them two decades ago. “You cannot deal with what is fair until we see the outcome of the present circumstances she’s accused of, not something 20 years ago,” Sharpton said.
Speaking to TMZ, he added, “A lot of us in the past have said things that we have regretted saying years ago.”
Deen, 66, came under fire last week after comments she made during a legal deposition were published online. In her testimony, given for a lawsuit that was brought forward by former employee Lisa Jackson, who worked as a general manager at a restaurant Deen co-owns with her brother, Deen admitted to telling racist jokes, using the N-word on at least one occasion and telling black employees that she wanted to organize a plantation-themed wedding for her brother, in which they should dress up as slaves.
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Jackson also alleged that during her time at Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House, she faced sexual harassment and racial discrimination. Jackson quoted Deen’s brother Bubba Hiers in court documents as having told her, “f--k your civil rights … you work for me and my sister Paula Deen,” and “ you’re not going to get me sued over some little b----.”
Deen issued a video statement apologizing for the incident, but was subsequently fired from both the Food Network and Smithfield Pork. But the publicity hasn’t been all bad for Deen. According to CNN, sales for her upcoming cookbook, "Paula Deen's New Testament: 250 Favorite Recipes, All Lightened Up," have gone through the roof on Amazon in the past 24 hours.
And Sharpton isn’t Deen’s only defender. “Interview With a Vampire” author Anne Rice also stepped into the ring to defend Deen, despite allegedly never having heard of the chef before the scandal.
“What's happening with Paula Dean? Is it fair? I never heard of her until today, and wow, this looks like a crucifixion,” Rice wrote in a Facebook post on Friday. “I may be wrong but aren't we becoming something of a lynch mob culture? Is this a good example of that [sic]?”
“Her brother sounds like a piece of work, but her remarks were made informally and in private, and clearly not intended to hurt anyone,” Rice added. “Now they've been elevated to billboard status where they can hurt many as the result of a law suit [sic].”
Deen’s sons have said that the celebrity chef is not racist and that the allegations are “character assassination.”