By Art Holliday
ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - "Are you a racist?" Today host Matt Lauer asked Paula Deen.
"No. No I'm not," said an emotional Deen.
Paula Deen's13 minute interview with Matt Lauer was must-see TV for St. Louis publicists Cillah Hall of Xanadu Public Relations, and Craig Kaminer of Twist. Both have counseled corporations and celebrities about damage control. They say Paula Deen did not ace her biggest test.
"It was terrible from a PR perspective," said Hall. She said a lot of things that I probably would've told her not to say."
"She said some things that I thought were really effective," said Kaminer, "and then she said other things that I thought made her look silly or overly dramatic."
Both publicists say Deen's first mistake was cancelling her 'Today' interview last Friday. Deen's admitted use of racial slurs decades ago had the celebrity chef on the defensive Wednesday morning in her first interview since the story broke.
Deen insisted that she only used the n-word on one occasion more than 30 years ago. She claimed the story had been blown out of proportion and that she was inaccurately being portrayed as a racist. At stake is Paula Deen's multi-million dollar food empire.
At one point in the Today interview, a tearful Deen looked directly at the camera. "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."
"'Cast that stone and kill me.' Some people will get that and other people will say 'What is she talking about?'" said Kaminer.
Lauer: "Do you have any doubt in your mind that African-Americans are offended by the N-word?"
Deen: "I don't know Matt. I have asked myself that so many times because it's very distressing for me to go to my kitchens and I hear what these young people are calling each other."
Hall called that statement another misstep by Deen.
"I didn't really get the sense that she said anything that helps her. I think she said everything to make excuses about why she said what she did and I also think that she blamed everybody else. She blamed it on the fact that the n-word was used by young people. She blamed it on the fact that it happened a long time ago in the south. This is the time when everyone's waiting for her to redeem herself. They want to see the sincerity that's been lacking the past week," said Hall.
"I think right now she looks like she's trying to recover and save what she has left of her empire and I think it's quickly disintegrating," said Kaminer. Citing examples like Martha Stewart and Tiger Woods, Kaminer says a Paula Dean comeback is not out of the question.
"That's what you hear a lot right now, 'She's done,'"said Kaminer. "I personally think as someone who has seen this dozens of times, everyone can come back."
Deen's comeback will have to wait. Walmart and Caesar's Entertainment Wednesday they were the latest companies to end business relationships with the celebrity chef. Previously, the Food Network dropped Paula Deen.