Celebuchef Paula Deen broke down in tears on the "Today" show Wednesday morning, insisting that she is not a racist and that "evil" forces have been spreading harmful, hurtful lies about her.
Deen said the public has been misled about her alleged use of a racial slur. Headlines in recent days left the impression that the slur is a common part of her vocabulary, but she hasn't uttered the word in 30 years, Deen said, not since she recalled being a young woman held up at gunpoint.
"Today's" Matt Lauer bluntly asked Deen whether she was simply trying to stop the financial bleeding to her enterprises with her appearance. No, she said.
PHOTOS: The Paula Deen scandal
"I am here today because I want people to know who I am," she said.
At one point, Deen insisted she did nothing wrong, but at another she noted that few are without sin and suggested that she is being judged with an unfair measuring stick.
"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," she said. "I want to meet you."
She added: "There's someone evil out there" who is jealous of her success, and trying to destroy her.
The "Today" appearance comes a week after a leaked deposition surfaced in which Deen admitted to having used racial slurs and what some call racist sentiments.
Since then, her empire -- valued at $17 million by Forbes magazine -- has been crumbling. The Food Network cut ties with her and stopped running her shows. Smithfield Foods ended its deal with Deen, who endorsed the company's ham and other pork products. QVC, the home shopping network and website, has said it too may part ways with the silver-haired Southern cook who sells a line of her products through the network.
Deen made two attempts last week to limit the damage, but the two video addresses in which she asked for forgiveness and later blamed the media for mischaracterizing her comments seemed to only make matters worse.
PHOTOS: The Paula Deen scandal
The springboard for the fast-moving developments of the past week is a harassment suit filed by a former employee who claimed that while she worked at Uncle Bubba's Oyster House, operated by Deen and her brother, racist slurs, anti-Semitic remarks and pornography on computers were common.
Deen's attorneys and sons have maintained that before filing suit, Lisa T. Jackson tried to extort more than $1 million from the business, and that it was only when she was rebuffed that she filed a suit.
"It began as extortion and has become character assassination," Bobby Deen told CNN.
Since news of Deen's statements surfaced, she has received much support from fans who flooded Food Network with dismayed comments and who created a fan Facebook page that in a few days was liked 400,000 times.
There was also support from famous backers, including author Anne Rice, who said she felt Deen was being "crucified." The activity and conversation on Rice's Facebook page has been robust.
Additionally, political pundit Glenn Beck took to his webcast to defend Deen, saying that the fallout from the matter could limit freedom of speech.
"Where would we be if Martin Luther King didn’t speak and challenge segregation? Where would we be if everyone in the world thought in the box?” Beck said.
Photos: The Paula Deen scandal
Fan Facebook page takes a devious turn
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