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June 21, 2013

Could Paula Deen's words bring down her empire?

ATHENS — NEW YORK (AP) — Paula Deen should hope for more fans like Jennifer Everett of Tyler, Texas, who carried a shopping bag filled with $53 worth of merchandise from the celebrity chef's Georgia store on Thursday. A day earlier, it was revealed that Deen admitted during questioning in a lawsuit that she had slurred blacks in the past.

"Who hasn't ever said that word?" Everett said. "I don't think any less of her. She's super friendly. She's a warm person who wouldn't hurt a fly."

Deen's admission that she had used the N-word in the past wasn't the first time the queen of comfort food's mouth had gotten her into big trouble. She said in 2012 that for three years she hid her Type 2 diabetes while continuing to cook the calorie-laden food that's bad for people like her.

Hypocrisy is one thing, hostility another. From her days as a divorced mother selling bag lunches on the streets of Savannah, Deen has parlayed her folksy, Southern gal charm into an empire that includes Food Network TV shows, cookbooks, magazines and a wide swath of product endorsements.

Now there's at least some risk to that image — and her empire. The Food Network, which began airing "Paula's Home Cooking" in 2002 and added "Paula's Best Dishes" in 2008, has said it does not tolerate discrimination and is looking at the situation. She is one of the network's longest-running and most recognizable stars, although her show airs in daytime — not prime-time. About three-quarters of her audience is female. The network, using Nielsen data, said it did not break down its audience racially.

Deen is also the author of 14 cookbooks that have sold more than 8 million copies and her bimonthly magazine "Cooking with Paula Deen," has a circulation of nearly 1 million, according to her website.

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