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Burning Question: Did Paula Deen Spend Enough Time in the Wilderness?

Yahoo Celebrity

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Paula Deen (Splash News)

A: By my reckoning, Paula Deen's exile in the wilderness does seem comparatively short. Don't get me wrong. I'm sure she suffered immensely during her nearly 3 months of silence, dressing in mullet-hair shirts, whipping herself with a hot fry basket, and denying herself butter and all butter-related products.

But experts wonder whether Deen should have waited longer before re-emerging at a Texas cooking show Saturday.

"I do not think Paula Deen re-emerged at the right time," crisis PR consultant Joe Cutaia says. "She should have apologized, and then stayed out of the limelight for a bit.

"Mel Gibson has kept a low profile for some time now ... the thing is, there is never an excuse for racism, and in the year 2013, it's likely that their careers will never recover."

For the record, Deen's core fan base still adores her; they packed the house at the cooking show and even gave the TV chef a standing ovation.

"Y'all's hearts," she announced tearfully, "are as big as your state."

Real nice, that. But Deen has yet to publicly reclaim any of the 11 sponsors she lost during the height of her troubles, and her publisher hasn't announced any intention of championing her as a cookbook author again, either.

In comparison, Britney Spears — who never hurt anything other than an umbrella and her own image — had to spend much more time away from the spotlight. She and her manager dedicated roughly the first three quarters of 2008 to a quiet image revamp that included the making of a comeback documentary. (Spears's one notable appearance during that time? A guest spot on "How I Met Your Mother.")

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Martha Stewart/Britney Spears (Getty Images)

Another celebrity, Martha Stewart, underwent an exquisitely tasteful expatriation of five months before reconnecting with her audience. Of course, that silence was forced — Stewart being in federal prison and all — but, like Spears, she is credited with one of the most successful comebacks in recent memory.

"She went about it perfectly," Cutaia tells omg!. "She messed up, owned up to her mistakes, and then had a sense of humor about it. This was easy for her to do, most Americans didn't understand the crime in which she was charged, and those who did viewed it as a petty white-collar crime."

Still, Deen's short absence may simply be a function of the intensity of her scandal. Her media mess included no criminal charges; she simply admitted to having used racial slurs in her past, and then followed that admission with a couple of clumsy apologies. Deen's image also benefited significantly by a pretty clear-cut vindication in court.

But for the record, some celebrities have gotten away with even quicker banishments. A day after Alec Baldwin called a reporter a "toxic little queen," he apologized to GLAAD. He never lost key sponsor Capitol One, and the whole kerfluffle seemed to go away in a matter of days.

"What’s most important is to show awareness of what you have done and allow the intensity of emotions to subside," says Matthew Hiltzik, who represents Baldwin. "And a lot of that depends on the actions at the center of the crisis. If it involves the harm of people or animals, that triggers a more emotional response, and you should probably wait longer before reintroducing yourself."

Finally, James Bates of Sitrick consulting reminds us that just because a story seems like it's over, scandals never completely die. "Some of these cases are like a brush fire that looks contained one minute but is out of control the next," he notes. "Stories that appeared to be dying can get new life via a careless tweet or offhand comment made in an interview. It's also important to remember that nobody gives a celebrity a certificate declaring the crisis is over."

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