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How sensible is it that Deen's gone with the wind?

| Thursday, July 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Business is a gang-tackler. And a Southern lady named Paula Deen is on the bottom of the pile, where it hurts.

Deen is a television “celebrity chef.” From small town origins, she built a fortune with apparently no clue about political correctness. She did what no PC person would ever do. She said a bad word — 30-odd years ago, as she claims, but that's no excuse. There's no statute of limitations on potty-mouth racism.

Giant corporations reacted with the herd mentality you'd expect. They've dropped Paula Deen like the hot potato she'd much rather teach you to cook than to be one herself.

By now everyone knows she said the N-word.

The Food Network, Deen's longtime home on cable TV, waited just a day to say it wouldn't renew her contract.

Ballatine Books, a unit of Random House, dropped plans to issue her newest recipe tome.

Caesar's Entertainment pulled the cloth on her buffets in four casinos. Smithfield Hams canned her as a spokesperson. Wal-Mart's 4,000 stores won't stock her foods, cookware and health products when inventory runs out. Walgreens, Target, J.C. Penney, Kmart, Sears and The Home Depot piled on.

And maybe unkindest of all, Novo Nordik, maker of a diabetes drug for which Deen spoke, as a Type II case, will look for a different endorser.

The honey-tongued, platinum blonde Deen, 66, tried hard to apologize. Repeatedly.

She broke into tears on the “Today” show. She is no racist, she said — absolutely not. Countless fans believe her, or couldn't care less; they've overbooked a Paula Deen cruise soon to sail. Yet more details and rumors keep surfacing, as happens when the politically correct smell a victim in the water. One rumor has it that Deen is not just an occasional user of the N-word. Another is that she planned a wedding in “Southern plantation” style, with an all-black wait staff in pre-Civil War finery, essentially as “Gone With the Wind” slaves.

The most striking aspect of this tempest in a cookpot is foolishness, not the race hatred.

Deen is unmasked as a jerk, but no more than a jerk. And alas, to be a jerk is everybody's fate one day or another.

Will we all be liable sometime for the dumbest things we have said? Merely said, and not really perpetrated?

It is a chill on free speech unworthy of July Fourth to think that American corporations tremble at a word and must prove their integrity to speech-watchdogs by throwing a silly spout-off overboard.

To expend so much outrage and economic dislocation on a loose lip is a waste and a risk.

A risk, because we confuse actual racism, the real cruel article — which spills blood, victimizes the innocent and ruins countless opportunities — with mere verbal trivia and punish both alike. Strange that the PC crowd doesn't see the danger in this, the resentment it stirs in ordinary people who don't want to be shut up, however loosely they may talk.

In her Georgia childhood, Deen surely heard the schoolyard banter: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.”

The kids had it right then. We should be so sensible.

Jack Markowitz is a Thursday columnist for Trib Total Media. Email jmarkowitz@tribweb.com.

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