Miss America CEO forced out as controversy envelops the organisation

Miss Georgia Alyssa Beasley advances from the swimsuit component of the 2017 Miss America Competition.
Miss Georgia Alyssa Beasley advances from the swimsuit component of the 2017 Miss America Competition.PHOTO: REUTERS
Suspended CEO Sam Haskell speaking during a news conference in 2010.
Suspended CEO Sam Haskell speaking during a news conference in 2010.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - The head of the Miss America Organisation was forced to resign on Saturday (Dec 23), a day after the revelation of emails in which he disparaged previous pageant winners.

The Huffington Post on Friday published emails sent between pageant chief executive Sam Haskell and organisation staffers and board members that included sexist, insulting comments about former Miss America's and laid bare deep dysfunction within the organisation.

After the report was published, 49 former Miss America winners signed a petition asking for Haskell to step down. In addition to Haskell, board chairman Lynn Weidner and board member Tammy Haddad also resigned.

In one email published, a telecast writer told Haskell he would refer to all former Miss America winners as a crass word for female genitalia.

"Perfect," Haskell replied, according to the report. "Bahahah."

Haskell released a statement on Friday night apologising for a "mistake of words," but he called the HuffPost story "dishonest, deceptive, and despicable."

The emails HuffPost reported are, at a minimum, indicative of deep fissures within the Miss America Organisation, a group known for lofty propriety and an aversion to scandal. But it is no surprise that they have emerged as the "Me Too" movement has swept across the nation, bringing bad behaviour to light in every corner of society.


Miss North Dakota Cara Mund reacts after being announced as the winner of the Miss America competition 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

"The language used and the attitudes toward the former Miss America's was completely shocking because they're usually treated with a lot of reverence," Hilary Levy Friedman, a professor at Brown University who studies pageant culture, told The Washington Post.

"The totality of it was quite surprising. And at this moment in American culture, this feels particularly weighty."

Caressa Cameron, a Fredericksburg, Virginia, native who held the Miss America title in 2010, in an interview with The Post said the problem was not one of language, but of respect and leadership style.

 

Haskell joined the Miss America organisation nine years ago after a successful career as a talent agent, and he is largely credited for bringing the pageant back to prominence. But former pageant winners are claiming he ruled with an iron fist and shamed and blackballed women who did not comply with his wishes.

Cameron said her troubles with Haskell began 30 days into her reign, after she invited a woman who had coached her to a homecoming party being thrown in Cameron's honour.

"Sam Haskell said I was not to invite her. She could not come. He basically threw a temper tantrum," she recalls. "And then he didn't come. He didn't come, along with very prominent members of the organisation and the board."

Cameron says the organisation prevented her from participating in events related to her platform, HIV/Aids prevention, and that she was once mistakenly sent an email in which Haskell referred to her mother as "uneducated trash."

Much of the HuffPost report focused on Haskell's ire with the 2013 Miss America, Mallory Hagan. The article included emails in which Haskell makes insulting remarks about Hagan's body and sexual history.

The story also includes emails attacking former winners Kate Shindle and Gretchen Carlson, the Fox News host who sued network chairman Roger Ailes for sexual harassment.

According to the report, a key production partner, Dick Clark Productions, ended a deal with Miss America after reviewing the offensive emails.

Cameron says she and a group of other former Miss America winners have organised to demand the resignations of the entire board and leadership team.

Haddad, a Washington media maven who is quoted in some of the negative emails, had submitted her resignation from the board earlier in the year and made it effective immediately after the report was published on Friday.

Cameron said she and the other former winners would like to see the reins of the pageant handed to Shindle and Carlson for temporary stewardship.

"I don't think it's the end," says Cameron. "Women who are this driven, this educated and this connected - we can definitely steer this thing and make it greater than it's ever been."