Matt Lauer interviews Paula Deen, right, on NBC’s “Today” show on Wednesday.
ALBANY, Ga. -- As the national media circle the Paula Deen story like sharks who smell blood, Paula's ex-husband Jimmy Deen has found himself caught up in the frenzy, beset by desperate "leeches" looking anywhere for some new tidbit to feed tabloid nation.
"Why didn't these people want to talk to me before this happened?" Jimmy Deen, the father of Paula Deen's celebrity sons, Jamie and Bobby, said Thursday in an exclusive interview with The Albany Herald. "Now, because they're being shielded from Paula, suddenly I'm the most popular guy in town. Well, I've got nothing to say to them; what I want to say I'm telling you."
Deen said he's been besieged in the wake of the controversy surrounding his celebrity chef ex-wife, who has been dropped by the Food Network and has seen products she endorses taken from shelves at distributers such as Wal-Mart and Target. Paula Deen admitted in a deposition that she had, in the past, used the so-called "n-word" in reference to blacks.
When the deposition was made public last week, the celebrity chef found herself at the center of a mounting controversy that refuses to subside, and her substantial business empire is taking a massive hit. Fuel was added to the fire Wednesday morning when Deen gave an interview with the "Today" show's Matt Lauer. Jimmy Deen chastised Lauer for what Deen called the host's unprofessional interview tactics.
"(Lauer) wasn't interested in hearing Paula's side of the story," Jimmy Deen said. "His agenda obviously was to 'get' Paula, to try and paint a picture of her as this evil, racist woman. And that couldn't be further from the truth. I've said before, and I'll say again. Paula is not racist. We grew up and went to Albany High School during the era of integration, and we never had any kind of problem with that.
"What I would like, by God, is for Matt Lauer to turn that same question he asked Paula around on himself. I'd like for him — or anybody else on the 'Today' show — to answer that question under oath."
Jimmy Deen accused Wal-Mart and Target of "convicting Paula without a trial" and of "telling the American public that there are certain people who don't matter."
"They didn't wait to get the entire story; they immediately drew a line in the sand," Deen said of the retailers. "They passed judgment, told American shoppers that they shouldn't buy any of Paula's products. They essentially said they would dictate what products Americans should buy and the hell with what anybody else thought."
Deen said he reached the breaking point when tabloid TV and other media representatives continued to call his home while he and his wife, Therlus, were grieving over the death of his mother-in-law, Edna Luckey.
"These people didn't even have the decency to respect the fact that we were grieving over a death in our family," Deen said.
Deen said he's been in contact with Paula Deen and the couple's two sons, and they're all having difficulty dealing with the fallout from the controversy.
"Paula, Jamie and Bobby ... They're all just heartbroken," he said. "They're devastated that people have been so quick to lay blame on them based on things said by a woman (Lisa Jackson, who accused Paula Deen and her brother, Earl "Bubba" Hiers, of discrimination) whose motivation is greed and money.
"I find it interesting that this woman's original charge was sexual harassment, and when that didn't stick she started crying racism. It's also odd that this woman happens to be white. I think it's pretty clear she was just out to try and take something of somebody else's."
Despite the current uproar, Jimmy Deen said his ex-wife and their two sons will come back.
"It's going to take some time," he said. "They'll have to make some changes; you can't go from a lifestyle of $60 million a year to within three weeks seeing half of that gone and within a month the threat of the rest of it being gone and not make changes. It will be hard for them, but they're going to come through it and be better people for all this.
"These people taking shots at Paula now that she's down, they don't know her. I know her better than anyone in the world; I stood by her side while she was working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to pick herself up from nothing and become what she became. It's just not fair that everything she's worked so hard for could be taken away from her over something like this."
As for the planned Albany Paula Deen Museum, which is still in the planning stages, Jimmy Deen said that project is not in jeopardy.
"We will go forward with this project," he said. "I hope and pray the people of Albany will get behind us, help show that people can rise above something like this.
"I hope the people who love and support Paula will let their shopping habits show these companies that have removed her products that they're not going to be influenced by the media and by businesses that have condemned her before they've even heard the truth. I hope they'll go into these stores and ask for Paula Deen items, and if they don't have them I hope they'll ask why.
"Paula, Jamie, Bobby ... everyone's going to get through all this. I just ask the people to pray for us all."