Paula Deen needs a black friend. Ideally, a beloved and respected African-American interviewer who will attest that she’s not racist — or at least nod sympathetically as Deen tears up during a come-to-Jesus interview.
Does that sound cynical? Don’t be naïve. Befriending a member of the group you’re accused of hating is the most basic of PR moves. Remember when Eminem joined hands with Elton John at the 2001 Grammys? Has anyone called Eminem a homophobe since?
Deen scored her first PR win in months when a judge dismissed a racism claim against her Monday. The judge didn’t say Deen isn’t racist, mind you — only that the plaintiff didn’t have standing. (Deen will nonetheless claim she’s been vindicated in court, and some people will buy it, because some people are dummies.)
Whoever interviews her will be making a tough trade: There’s some risk of looking like a pawn, but Deen is at the center of a legitimate news story. The interviewer’s first question should be, “Did you choose me because I’m black?”
But who will be the one to ask it? Let’s look at the odds.
Oprah Winfrey: 4-1. Winfrey’s first because she might seem like a sure thing. She and Deen are (or at least were) friends, but Oprah has said she opted not to get involved as the scandal kicked up. It might be savvy to continue the hands-off approach: Oprah is in Oscar-campaign mode for “Lee Daniels‘ The Butler,” and won’t want to mess up her chances by possibly appearing sympathetic to Dean. Then again, this would be great for OWN if Winfrey handled it well. And she probably would.
Robin Roberts: 2-1. Roberts is willing to forgive a lot: She invited Chris Brown back to “Good Morning America” even after he trashed a “Good Morning America” dressing room following an interview. But Roberts is also a no-holds-barred interrogator, which is why Brown was so mad. Roberts may make sense for Deen, because she won’t want to go on “Today” after her messy interview with Matt Lauer. Deen might expect a warmer reception with the NBC show’s arch rival. This is a match made in a cynic’s heaven.
Whoopi Goldberg and Sherri Shepherd, “The View”: 3-1. The roundtable would serve Deen well. She’s done “The View” before. And she couldn’t be accused of dodging African-American interviewers. She could note, accurately, that “View” chief Barbara Walters has used the N-word, within the last two years, on the air. (Walters was referring to Rick Perry‘s name for a hunting camp.) Shepherd said hearing Walters say the word made her uncomfortable, and Walters conceded it gave her chills, too. But Deen could use that as a jumping-off point to say she, like Walters, didn’t mean it in an offensive way, whether or not that’s actually true. Then everyone could bake something together, as the rest of us shake our heads. Tell me you can’t see this happening.
Arsenio Hall: 7-1. Hall would be my top choice. He’s back on the air this fall, and Deen would help him make a very splashy return. Deen probably sees him as affable and safe. But no! Hall established the gold standard of interviewing tacky white people when he called out Vanilla Ice for bringing Flavor Flav to his show: “Is that why you brought him out, just to show you have a black supporter?”
Wendy Williams: 8-1. William’s bluntness would make this a great interview. But she doesn’t have the prestige of Winfrey or Roberts, and her honesty makes her too much of a wild card.
W. Kamau Bell: 15-1. I know: Why would Deen sit down with one of our most cutting late-night hosts? She probably won’t. But did you know Chris Rock‘s mom once appeared on Deen’s show? She did. And Rock executive produces Bell’s show, “Totally Biased.” So it’s not as crazy as it sounds.
Tavis Smiley: 20-1. Why such long odds? Because Smiley would do a great job. Too great a job.
Roland Martin: 50-1. His profile is probably too low, but he knows what it’s like to be accused of bias: CNN once suspended him for allegedly homophobic tweets. Deen should include him if she goes on an apology tour. And she could raise the profile of his new TV One show, “News One Now.”
Lionel Osbourne: N/A: Deen’s reps must be killing themselves that the host of the “Saturday Night Live” skit “Perspectives” isn’t a real person. Deen’s spin would fly past Tim Meadows‘ hilariously disengaged Osbourne, a man barely staying awake though his predawn time-slot. An added bonus: He probably hasn’t heard about the whole N-word thing.
No one: 100-1. Maybe Deen will insist on some kind of ridiculous terms, and no one Deen wants to talk with will accept them. It could happen. But I doubt it.