A line in the sand has been drawn between former Miss Americas and the organization’s current leadership.
Several past titleholders are standing with Miss America 2018 Cara Mund and her claims of bullying and manipulation by top leaders.
Mund made the allegations in a scathing five-page letter she released to the public Friday, in which she said she had been silenced, reduced and marginalized by the pageant’s leadership.
She also stated that she had been punished after an interview earlier this month with The Press of Atlantic City in which she said, “it’s been a tough year … I’ve felt I wasn’t always heard or utilized or appreciated.”
Gretchen Carlson, the former Miss America-turned-chairwoman of the organization’s board of trustees, released a statement Sunday night in response to Mund’s claims, blaming her for the loss of a potential $75,000 increase to the organization’s scholarship fund. The statement, posted to Carlson’s Twitter account Sunday night, denies she ever bullied or silenced Mund.
“In fact, I have acknowledged to you and your parents many times that the organization understands the frustrations of serving during such a change-filled and stressful year,” Carlson wrote.
But Carlson’s statement then turns on Mund, saying the organization lost potential new scholarship money due to the “explosive allegations” in Mund’s letter.
“Actions have consequences. Friday, as an organization, we learned that $75,000 in scholarships which would have been the first scholarship increase in years, is no longer on the table as a direct result of the explosive allegations in your letter,” Carlson wrote.
Former Miss Americas Suzette Charles and Heather Whitestone McCallum discussed the situation in an appearance Monday morning on NBC’s “Megyn Kelly Today.”
Charles said she was not surprised by Mund’s letter, adding Carlson has been bullying for a long time and hasn’t given Mund any chance to stand up and speak.
“This person (Carlson) has taken no responsibility for the way she’s treated our current Miss America,” Charles said. “And as a mother — Gretchen is a mother — what would she do if her own daughter were being bullied like that?”
Charles questioned how Carlson could blame her employee for business discrepancies.
“She’s a chairman, there’s a CEO. They’re required as business people to raise money for the scholarship, to have money to run the program and she’s now putting that responsibility on our current Miss America,” she said.
Whitestone McCallum also stood by the current Miss America, saying Carlson hasn’t properly supported Mund.
“She wants to be the face of Miss America,” McCallum said of Carlson.
Whitestone McCallum, along with 18 other former Miss Americas, launched a petition calling for the removal of Carlson and CEO Regina Hopper. The petition has garnered more than 18,000 signatures in less than a week.
The Miss America Organization sent a statement Monday to the producers of Megyn Kelly Today regarding Mund’s claims:
“The Miss America Organization supports Cara. It was disappointing that she chose to air her grievances publicly not privately. Her letter contains
mischaracterizations and many unfounded accusations. We are reaching out to her privately to address her concerns.”
In an appearance Monday on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” former Miss America Caressa Cameron-Jackson said she wanted the entire Miss America board of directors to resign, specifically Carlson.
“I feel as though all of the leadership, to include the board of directors, is complicit in this. In order for us to move forward and to heal, we need to do the right thing right now so we can move on and focus on who is going to be crowned on Sept. 9,” Cameron-Jackson said. “It’s never the wrong time to do the right thing.”
Carlson’s statement Sunday said she was “surprised and saddened beyond words by (Mund’s) letter.”
“I so wished Cara had picked up the phone and discussed her concerns with me directly, before going to the media with allegations of bullying,” Carlson said.
Carlson said she has tried repeatedly to reach out to Mund via phone, text and email but “unfortunately, Cara’s response has been that she only wants to communicate via email but I remain hopeful we can speak on the phone or in person soon.”
She ends the statement in a conciliatory tone, saying Mund has “the opportunity to be at the forefront of real, positive change for young women across this country. I am so hopeful you’ll be a part of that.”
In July, representatives from 22 state pageants, including the Miss Alabama board, called for the resignation of Carlson and Hopper, citing “failed leadership.” Three state organizations, including New Jersey, have since withdrawn their names from that list.
Carlson joined the Miss America board of directors late last year after the then-CEO reportedly used sexist and demeaning language in emails. She quickly garnered controversy after she announced the elimination of the swimsuit portion of the pageant as part of the “Miss America 2.0” revamp.
Leada Gore of the Alabama Media Group, Birmingham, contributed to this story.