Publisher drops book deal with celebrity chef over racist slur

Written by New York Times | Updated: Jun 30 2013, 08:55am hrs
Random house said it would not publish the cookbook by Paula Deen and would cancel a five-book contract it signed with Deen last year

Paula Deen got a rare bit of good news Thursday: Her new cookbook hit No 1 on the best-seller list at Amazon.com, as thousands of fansmany of them springing to her defence as she faces accusations of racismordered the book months before its October release.

But Friday, the books publisher, Random House, said it would not publish the cookbook and would cancel a five-book contract it signed with Deen last year.

The book deal was one of the last remaining lucrative business relationships for the embattled celebrity chef. Its cancellation came on a day when Sears, Kmart and JC Penney announced that they would stop selling products, including cookbooks, branded with her name.

Since last week, the Food Network, Smithfield Foods, Wal-Mart, Target, Caesars Entertainment, QVC and the pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk have decided to suspend or sever ties with Deen after her admission in a legal deposition that she had used racist language in the past and allowed racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-Semitic jokes in one of her restaurants. Deen was deposed on video as part of a discrimination lawsuit filed last year by a

former employee.

Her frantic efforts to stanch the flow of negative opinion by defending herself on the Today show and posting apologetic videos on YouTube have rallied many of her admirers. They have threatened boycotts of Wal-Mart, created a We Support Paula Deen Facebook page that has well over half a million likes, and started a campaign to flood the Food Network offices with empty butter wrappers, a symbol of Deens indulgent cooking style.

These efforts have not, apparently, made a difference to Deens corporate partners.

Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, said in a statement Friday, After careful consideration, Ballantine Books has made the difficult decision to cancel the publication of Paula Deens New Testament: 250 Favorite Recipes, All Lightened Up.

The book, co-written by Melissa Clark, a dining columnist for New York Times, was to feature lighter fare than the fat- and sugar-laden recipes Deen has promoted in previous books and on her television shows.

A person with knowledge of Random Houses decision to cancel the contract said, When Wal-Mart, Target and JC Penney all announced they are discontinuing their Paula Deen business, including books, it is awfully tough to stay the course of a publication. It was a business decision.

In January 2012, Deen announced that she had diabetes. The same month, Random House signed her to a deal for two cookbooks and three e-books. The cookbooks, scheduled for release in fall 2013 and fall 2014, were to be published in multiple formats; the e-books were to be about seasonal entertaining. Deen has published 14 cookbooks, starting in 1998 with The Lady and Sons Savannah Country Cookbook. Together, they have sold more than eight million copies.

But many of the sales outlets that usually sell thousands of Deens bookslike Wal-Mart, Target, Kmart and QVCwould have refused to carry the

new one.

Random House would not disclose the amount Deen was to be paid, but a person with knowledge of the contract said it involved millions of dollars. It is unclear whether Deen will have to return any of it, or whether a clause in the contract would allow the publisher to cancel the pact because of Deens behaviour. Thats why God invented lawyers, Applebaum said.

On Thursday, the Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk said it was suspending its use of Deen as a spokeswoman for one of the companys diabetes drugs.

The company, which has the top-selling portfolio of diabetes medications in the United States, has reached out vigorously to black Americans in its marketing and medical sponsorships.

Julia Moskin