5:31am PT by Erin Carlson
Paula Deen Tearfully Defends Herself on 'Today' (Video)
An emotional Paula Deen defended herself in an exclusive interview on Wednesday's Today show, telling Matt Lauer: "I have never ... with any intention, hurt anybody on purpose, and I never would."
Deen was scheduled to appear on the NBC morning show last Friday, but backed out moments before broadcast, opting to address the N-word controversy surrounding her in a pair of online videos. That same day, she was dropped by the Food Network, which had aired her series for more than a decade.
"It's hard for me to even find the word that I was feeling -- I was overwhelmed," said Deen, explaining her decision to cancel on Today. "I was in a state of shock."
When Lauer asked if she's racist, Deen said: "No, no I'm not." And in response to his question on whether she'd have fired herself amid the fallout, the embattled culinary star -- who admitted to having said the N-word during a deposition in a discrimination lawsuit brought by a former restaurant employee -- said, "Would I have fired me? Knowing me? No. … I am so very thankful for the partners I have who believe in me."
Despite reports to the contrary, Deen, 66, maintained that she last used the slur some 30 years ago, following a robbery at the bank where she worked. She said she was uncertain about whether the N-word was offensive to black people, saying, "I don't know. I have asked myself that so many times. It's very distressing for me to go into kitchens and hear what these young people are calling each other. … I think for this problem to be worked on, these young people are gonna have to take control and start showing respect for each other."
Earlier this week, Deen -- who reportedly earned $17 million last year through her various business endeavors, which include a magazine, cookware line and her TV shows -- lost her endorsement deal with pork company Smithfield, which for many years has sold a ham with Deen’s name and face on it.
"If there's anyone out there that has never said something that they wish they could take back, if you're out there, please pick up that stone and throw it so hard at my head that it kills me. Please. I want to meet you," she said, adding: "I'm not changing -- there's someone evil out there who saw what I worked for and wanted it."