(CNN) — Former President Jimmy Carter said embattled celebrity chef Paula Deen should be forgiven, arguing that while there’s no condoning the racial slurs she uttered, the well-known personality has been candid and apologetic.
“She was maybe excessively honest in saying that she had in the past, 30 years ago, used this terrible word,” Carter told CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux in an interview Friday. “I think she has been punished, perhaps overly severely, for her honesty in admitting it and for the use of the word in the distant past. She’s apologized profusely.”
Deen’s troubles began about two weeks ago when a deposition in a discrimination lawsuit was released in which she admitted using the n-word in the past. Dean has insisted she does not tolerate prejudice, but her apologies have failed to suppress the controversy.
The fallout has been swift and painful. Her Southern cooking business is reeling as major brands end or suspend their ties with her, prompting the celebrity chef to seek out professional crisis-management assistance.
Sears Holdings is the latest brand to weigh in. The company said Friday it’s phasing out all products tied to her brand.
Carter said he remembers that the n-word was used “quite frequently” when racial segregation was the “law of the land” throughout the country, not just the South, where Deen is from and resides.
Carter mentioned Deen’s programs in Savannah, Georgia, that benefit “almost exclusively oppressed and poverty stricken black people.” He advised her to get people she’s helping to speak up and “show she’s changed in her relationship with African-Americans.”
“My heart goes out to her but there’s no condoning the use of a word that abuses other people,” he said. “I’ve known Paula Deen quite well for a long period of time; I advised her to let the dust settle and make apologies.”
Carter was asked about a number of issues in the interview. The Carter Center in Atlanta is hosting a human rights forum this weekend promoting the role of religion in advancing women’s rights.
CNN’s Tonju Francois contributed to this report.