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Billionaire Joe Ricketts Once Offered to Orchestrate a Paula Deen Comeback

The tycoon wanted to give the beleaguered celebrity chef some good press

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It’s been more than five years since revelations of racist remarks sorta-sunk the career of Food Network fixture Paula Deen, but if media/banking tycoon Joe Ricketts had his way, the celebrity chef could’ve catapulted back into the media spotlight with the help of some good press.

Among a series of emails obtained by Splinter is a correspondence from 2013 between Ricketts — the then-owner of DNAinfo, a group of local news publications which Ricketts shut down in late 2017 essentially out of spite — and Deen’s manager, Barry Weiner. Ricketts, who also happens to be the owner of the Chicago Cubs, first tells Weiner that he thinks the public reaction to Deen’s racist past “borders on criminal and it disturbs me.” Then, TD Ameritrade’s founder — showing a general lack of understanding as to how journalism works — suggests that he could put in a good word about Deen to an owner of RFD-TV, an Omaha-based station “targeted at rural America.” And then, in an especially forthright move, Ricketts outlines a plan to use DNAInfo to generate some good spin:

I think that Paula is such a strong personality and great entertainment persona that she can win the battle if she wants to. In my opinion she needs to get back on TV, get another publisher and start a Public Relations campaign.

The next time she would be in NY I can have my DNAinfo reporter write an article for our publication that would have a headline something like “Paula Dean is not a racist or Paula Dean is not a bigot”

This is my humble opinion for whatever it is worth.

It’s unclear where the conversation went from here, but the fluff article from DNAinfo never published, and, despite a few other attempts of her own, Deen never managed to climb back into the good graces of TV audiences and diners across America. Ricketts, for his part, still remains a powerful and influential billionaire, though one who can no longer attempt to influence journalistic content.

The Billionaire’s Inbox [Splinter]
Here’s the Racist Paula Deen Deposition Transcript [E]