The “Mean Girls” (and Boys) Behind the Miss America Organization
For an organization based on women's empowerment, the past half-decade has been marred with a disturbing number of controversies and scandals for the Miss America Organization (MAO). Amid rebranding and restructuring, the competition program has faced allegations of misogyny, leadership changes, revoked funding and accusations of bullying.
With a name like Miss America, you would envision an organizational structure based on upholding the democratic standards of America. Unfortunately, events in recent years have put a much more tyrannical face on the organization, tarnishing its reputation. Let’s take a look at some of the mean girls (and guys) causing some of the problems.
Sam Haskell Takes the Pageant Back to Atlantic City
After just nine months, Mallory Hagan passed on the Miss America title in September 2013 because of schedule and location changes. In an email exchange between Sam Haskell, the pageant CEO, and his daughter, Mary Lane, the two expressed affection for Hagan.
Haskell Turns on Hagan Because of Adams
While Mallory Hagan was the reigning Miss America, she spent time at Haskell's home, where she met Brent Adams, who supervised most aspects of Haskell’s business and personal life. Fearing the impact a romantic relationship would have on their careers, they decided to date — but not until after she passed on the crown.
Tammy Haddad Calls for Punishment of Dissenters
In May 2014, MAO board member Tammy Haddad wrote an email to Haskell encouraging him to avoid getting riled up by former Miss America. She referred to them as a "pile of malcontents and has-beens who blame the program for not getting them where they think they can go."
Kate Shindle Takes Shots at Sam Haskell
Meanwhile, in 2014, Kate Shindle wrote her memoir about her experiences as Miss America 1998. Titled Being Miss America, the book was set to be released in September, and she pointedly targeted Haskell. She expressed her objections to his $500,000 salary, despite MAO operating at a deficit.
Gretchen Carlson Stands Her Ground Against Haskell and Haddad
Gretchen Carlson, Miss America 1989, had a history of butting heads with Haskell and Haddad over her desire to modernize the organization and her refusal to attack contestants. In a 2014 email sent to former Miss Americas regarding Shindle's book, board member Lynn Weidner asked, "Is it possible for each of you to speak out in defense of Sam and the organization?"
Things Get Ugly and Words Are Said
In 2014, Haskell wrote an email to Lewis Friedman, writer of the Miss America telecast, requesting a script change: "Sharon [MAO President] and I have decided that when referring to a woman who was once Miss America, we are no longer going to call her Forever Miss America … please change all script copy to reflect that they are Former Miss Americas!"
Haddad Plots Against Carlson
Former Miss America Susan Powell replied to Weidner's email with a supportive response. Haddad encouraged Haskell to use the email to annoy Carlson. "Why don’t you read Susan Powell’s email on the board call and say it’s a shame that only one Miss America has come forward to offer help in any way."
Lewis Friedman Has a Death Wish
In December 2014, former Miss America 1959, Mary Ann Mobley, passed away. Lewis Friedman sent an email of condolence to Sam Haskell writing, "So sorry to hear about Mary Ann Mobley." Sounds nice, right? Except the subject line read: "It should have been Kate Shindle."
Haskell & Company Grow More Petty
Sam Haskell and other board members for the Miss America Organization continued to obsess over Mallory Hagan's relationship with Brent Adams in 2015. On January 25, Lynn Weidner sent a photo of Hagan with three other "formers" to Haskell. His response was, "OMG, she is huge … and gross … why does he want that?????"
Sam Haskell, Bully or Victim?
By the end of 2015, Haskell was feeling "viciously and cruelly" attacked by Hagan on a daily basis and wrote an email to Haddad, Weidner and others asking for help. Haddad replied, "I am so sorry. It is ridiculous, but she is not going to stop. She has no control. I think you should hire an investigator to get something on her."
Weidner Incriminates Herself in a Sabotage Plot
While it is unclear how Mallory Hagan was allegedly attacking Sam Haskell, Tammy Haddad called them "inflammatory character attacks." Lynn Weidner referenced cyberbullying in her December email response to the group.
Ending Hagan's Career
It appears that the national Miss America Organization established a policy against the use of coaches to directly target Hagan's business. After her reign, Hagan was working in New York as a pageant coach for the interview portion of the competition.
Whistleblowers or Coup Strategists
In August 2017, former Haskell employee, Brent Adams, and former MAO board member, Regina Hopper, decided to approach Dick Clark Productions with the previously cited emails. Dick Clark Production execs, Amy Thurlow and Mark Bracco, who also held seats on the Miss America board, met with the duo and thanked them for the emails and started their own investigation.
Failure to Act
Instead of taking action regarding the derogatory emails, the Miss America Organization had their law firm present Brent Adams with a cease-and-desist letter: "Your deliberate actions constitute a clear violation of the Non-Disclosure Agreement you knowingly and willfully entered into … the letter directed to the Chairman of the Board of Dick Clark Productions, dated September 13, 2017, noticed us of your illegal disclosure of information, which includes several internal email communications."
Dick Clark Productions Deals a Crippling Blow
Meanwhile, Dick Clark Productions was disgusted by the MAO board's decision to support Haskell and Friedman and decided to end their agreement with the organization. In a statement issued to HuffPost, the company stated:
The Blow Out and Backlash
In the aftermath of the leaked email scandal, Miss North Carolina 1991, Jennifer Vaden Barth, started a petition calling for the resignation of all board members involved in the appalling behavior. Mallory Hagan along with more than 40 former Miss Americas signed it.
Haskell’s Last Defense
Haskell defended himself: "Much of what was reported is dishonest, deceptive and despicable. The material is based on private emails that were stolen ... The story is so unkind and untrue and hurts me, my family and the stewardship of this non-profit. I was under stress from a full year of attacks by two Miss Americas..."
Caressa Cameron Speaks Out
Former Miss Americas, such as Caressa Cameron who was crowned in 2010, noted that the organization's problems were a lack of respect and leadership and not language. Cameron revealed that just 30 days into her reign, she experienced problems with Haskell.
Gretchen Carlson Seizes an Opportunity
Among the most vocal of the former Miss Americas, Gretchen Carlson and Kate Shindle both made themselves targets of Haskell and company's attacks. Both took to Twitter to call for a "thorough housecleaning of the board."
Regina Hopper Gets Her Way
On May 17, 2018, a new form of scandal hit when Gretchen Carlson installed Regina Hopper, one of the email whistleblowers, as President and CEO of the Miss America Organization. State organizations and former Miss Americas were upset that a national search had not been conducted, as Gretchen promised. In effect, a leadership coup had occurred within the organization.
Pushing People Out
Nearly half of the nine-person MAO board was pushed to resign after fewer than six months in the position. Former winners Kate Shindle and Laura Kaeppeler Fleiss resigned in June, citing "toxic culture" as the reason behind their departure.
The Bikini Has to Go
While the swimsuit competition had long been a sticking point for pageant protestors, many felt that removing it in light of the #MeToo movement was a cop-out. Miss South Carolina 2011, who has recovered from an eating disorder she developed during her competition days, said:
A Scholarship Competition Without Scholarship Funds
In the weeks leading up to Miss America 2019 (held in September 2018), Miss America 1991, Marjorie Vincent Tripp, resigned as head of the Miss America Foundation. In part, she made the decision because she claimed the scholarship money awarded to Miss America was the foundation's responsibility.
Cara Mund's Slip of the Tongue
In July, Miss America 2018, Cara Mund, made a comment at a New Jersey Dairy Queen appearance: "It’s been a tough year. There have been a lot of things I can’t control. It has felt like I wasn’t always heard or utilized or appreciated."
Cara Peels Back the Curtain
In her letter to past contestants, Cara Mund asserted that "new leadership delivered an important message. There will be only one Miss America at a time, and she isn't me." Instead, Gretchen Carlson would be the focus of all Mund's public talking points, including the claim that the "#MeToo movement started with Carlson’s lawsuit."
Blaming the Victim
The organization responded to Mund's claims by saying she had opportunities to give her opinion and manage her own social media accounts. However, they also issued the statement, "It is disappointing that she chose to air her grievances publicly, not privately."
The States Raise Objections
Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey, along with 19 other state pageant organizations, called for the resignations of Regina Hopper and Gretchen Carlson as well as the entire board in a vote of "no confidence" for "lack of transparency and adherence to best practices."
Ruling with an Iron Fist
With the revolt of state organizations and a GoFundMe page started by Jennifer Vaden Barth to raise funds to legally replace the board, the Miss America Organization took decisive action, retaliating in a shocking manner by swiftly terminating the licenses of seven states.
Doubling Down on Poor Word Choices
A September 2019 press release for a new scholarship doubled-down on the swimsuit controversy by stating, "In reaching out to the Miss America Organization, the donor made clear the important reason for the generous gift. As a young woman who wanted to compete in a local Miss America competition in the 1980s, she was discouraged by her parents because they believed ‘Miss America does not look like us, and an educated woman does not parade around in a swimsuit.’"
Gretchen Carlson Resigns
After securing a new network partnership with NBC, Gretchen Carlson resigned from her position as board chairwoman in June 2019. She stated, "The time is ideal to give new leadership the opportunity to move forward with what has been accomplished."