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The controversy surrounding Southern cuisine queen Paula Deen has been hotter than a pan of bacon grease.
Last month Deen confirmed that she testified she had used a racial slur in the past. The testimony was part of a pending racial discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit that a former manager of one of her restaurants filed against Deen and her brother, Earl "Bubba" Hiers.
Since the revelation, several companies have cut ties with Deen, including Target, Smithfield Foods and Atlanta-based Home Depot. On the other hand, Deen’s fans have rallied around her, and Deen is still a draw in her hometown of Savannah.
To counter critics claiming that Deen is racist, political commentators have noted her supposed support of President Barack Obama.
"Did (Deen) refuse to hire blacks? Has she mistreated them or paid them below the wages of white workers?" conservative radio host Larry Elder wrote recently in an op-ed posted on Investors.com (Investors Business Daily). "And, for what it’s worth, Deen supported and campaigned for Barack Obama."
Many celebrities decline to get publicly involved in partisan politics. We wondered whether Deen had actually bucked that trend, so we decided to investigate.
We sought comment from Deen, but her publicist was unable to provide one.
PolitiFact Georgia checked with Elder, and through his producer we learned that the source for his Deen claim was an article last month on the conservative website Breitbart.com. That article references an Us Weekly entertainment magazine slideshow of celebrities and their political affiliations. In fact, most of the outlets that have reported a Deen-Obama connection have relied on the Us Weekly item as their source for information.
The magazine’s online slideshow, produced in October, features about 40 celebrities (including such famous faces as Oprah, Kevin Bacon, Chuck Norris and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), the party they support and a short write-up of their political involvement.
Some of the information includes quotes directly from the celebrities about their party affiliation. But the basis for other items is not so clear. For example, wrestler Hulk Hogan’s description says he is "reportedly" a registered Democrat. And the magazine lists porn star Jenna Jameson as a Republican, with this quote she gave CBS News: "I'm very much looking forward to a Republican being back in office. When you're rich, you want a Republican in office." But that statement doesn’t necessarily equate to Jameson being a Republican.
For Deen’s description, the magazine says she campaigned for Obama back in 2008 and invited first lady Michelle Obama to cook with her on an episode of "Paula’s Party." The write-up goes on to say that Deen later said she "just loved" being around Michelle and praised the first lady for her healthy eating and exercise platform.
We contacted Us Weekly, but it was unable to provide any information on the source for its political listing for Deen. But let’s break down Deen’s description.
Deen did have Michelle Obama on her show for a segment in September 2008. The pair fried shrimp. But Deen also invited then-Republican presidential challenger John McCain’s wife, Cindy, as well as McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, to appear in a segment. Neither McCain nor Palin appear in the show credits from September 2008 to the end of that year.
At the time of the Obama invitation, Deen’s publicist made sure to note that the invite was simply an invite and not an endorsement of Obama’s campaign.
President Obama did visit Savannah in March 2010 on a four-hour jaunt focused on jobs and energy efficiency. He did stop for lunch, but not at Deen’s Lady and Sons restaurant, nor her brother’s place. Instead, Obama ate at Mrs. Wilkes’ Boarding House Restaurant, which also features Southern cuisine.
We also checked out Deen’s alleged support through either her checkbook or her vote, and we came up empty. A search of the federal campaign database doesn’t turn up any campaign contributions to Obama by Deen, her husband, Michael Groover, or under the name of Paula Groover. And a look at the Georgia voter rolls shows that Deen voted in the 2008 general election but does not show her party affiliation. In 1996, the last year for which a party affiliation is attached to her votes, Deen voted in the Republican presidential primary.
In an interview with The New York Times last year, Deen was prodded to reveal her choice for president. "Obama or Romney,?" the interviewer asked. "Quick, go." Perhaps on death glares from her publicist, Deen didn’t answer, but instead gave a list of things she’d implement if she were president. Think soda cups with no size limits.
Finally, we consulted with The Associated Press’ Savannah-area reporter, the metro editor of Savannah’s daily newspaper and a Georgia political science professor and longtime politics watcher. All three cried foul on Elder’s claim and said they were unaware of Deen ever publicly supporting Obama or getting involved in politics.
So Elder’s claim that Deen campaigned for and supported Obama falls like a biscuit with no baking powder.
The source for these claims traces back to an Us Weekly magazine item, and unless Us Weekly is privy to some information that it is not willing to share, there seems to be nothing to substantiate its claim. And because its information is wrong, so is everyone else -- including Elder -- who has used the magazine data as a source for their claims of Deen backing Obama.
We rated Elder’s claim False.
Investors.com, "If Paula Deen is out, please explain Maher," Larry Elder, June 28, 2013
Email response, Rosemary Jimenez, producer "The Larry Elder Show," July 2, 2013
Email response, Melissa Bruno, Wenner Media, Us Weekly spokeswoman, July 2, 5, 2013
Email response, Elana Weiss, publicist, Paula Deen, July 4, 2013
Breitbart.com, "Paula Deen (Democrat) campaigned for Obama," Debra Heine, June 21, 2013
Us Weekly, "Celebrities political affiliations: Paula Deen," Oct. 22, 2012
Georgia Public Broadcasting, "President Obama visits Savannah," Orlando Montoya, March 2, 2010
The White House Blog, raw footage from the road: "The President at Mrs. Wilkes’ Boarding House Restaurant," March 2, 2010
The Food Network, "Paula’s Party: Frying shrimp with Michelle Obama," aired September 2008
WSAV-3 TV, "Michelle Obama in the kitchen with Paula Deen," Barbara Herring, Sept. 12, 2008
Huffington Post, "Paula Deen: I couldn’t understand the haters," Joe Satran, Oct. 15, 2012
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Deen still a draw in Savannah," Arlinda Smith Broady, June 29, 2013
Phone interview, Charles Bullock, political science professor, University of Georgia, July 8, 2013
Phone interview, Josh Rayburn, metro editor, Savannah Morning News, July 9, 2013
Email interview, Russ Bynum, Savannah Associated Press reporter, July 9, 2013
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