Oprah Winfrey: I Reached Out to Paula Deen at Height of N-Word Scandal

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The talk show icon says she wants to give the embattled TV chef a safe forum to explain "what happened."

Oprah Winfrey, the TV talk icon and star of Lee Daniels' The Butler, reveals in a new interview that she reached out to Paula Deen at the height of the celebrity chef's N-word controversy.

Talking to Entertainment Tonight, Winfrey shares, "In the very first days [after the scandal broke] I tried to reach her, and then I decided to stay out of it as I saw it blowing up."

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Adds Winfrey, "In time she will be fine. For me, it all just felt kind of sad."

Deen's image troubles began after the leak of a May 17 deposition given in an ongoing lawsuit from a former employee accusing Deen and her brother Earl "Bubba" Hiers of promoting a hostile work environment that condoned racist and sexist language and behavior.

In the testimony, Deen replied, "Of course," when asked if she had ever used the derogatory term before. She also admitted to wanting to plan a Southern plantation-style wedding in which only African-American men would work as servers.

Winfrey has previously said on her Butler press tour that she won't tolerate use of the N-word in any context, and even changed director Lee Daniels' view on the subject.

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“I think Paula Deen was sort of used as a symbol, but I think lots of people use the [N-word] inappropriately all the time,” Winfrey tells ET's Nancy O'Dell in Monday's interview.

Winfrey adds that she still wants to sit down with Deen at some point in the future, so long as the pair could avoid a "defensive conversation."

"I just really want to know what happened," she says.