Miss America Ex-Winners Revolt Over Crude Emails as Broadcast Partner Severs Ties

Posted December 22, 2017 10:01 p.m. EST
Updated December 22, 2017 10:06 p.m. EST

The Miss America Organization suspended its chief executive Friday after a report that he had sent and received emails that were disrespectful and misogynistic. The suspension came after nearly 50 former winners of the pageant called on him and other top leaders to resign.

The emails, published by HuffPost on Thursday, show that the chief executive, Sam Haskell, had attacked and derided former pageant winners using derogatory language, with support, in some cases, from other members of the organization.

In one of the emails, Haskell expressed amusement when an employee used a vulgar reference to female genitalia to describe the former pageant winners.

In a letter, reported by HuffPost on Friday, 49 former pageant winners said the behavior of Haskell and several other top leaders was “despicable” and called for their resignation.

“We stand firmly against harassment, bullying and shaming — especially of women — through the use of derogatory terms meant to belittle and demean,” the pageant winners wrote.

The letter’s signatories include winners of pageants from 1948 to 2017. The pageant itself dates to 1921. The Miss America Organization did not respond to a request for comment.

The others named in the letter include the president of the organization, Josh Randle, and two members of its board, Tammy Haddad and Lynn Weidner. Haddad resigned Friday, fulfilling an intention announced internally earlier this year, she said.

Separately, the organization announced that its board of directors had suspended Haskell and would conduct an investigation, reaffirming that it was committed “to the education and empowerment of young women.”

The emails were shared several months ago with Dick Clark Productions, which produces numerous awards shows, including the Golden Globes, and which ultimately severed ties with the Miss America Organization, for which it had reportedly been a key broadcast partner.

“We were appalled by their unacceptable content and insisted, in the strongest possible terms, that the Miss America Organization board of directors conduct a comprehensive investigation and take appropriate action to address the situation,” the production company said in a statement provided to The New York Times on Friday. “Shortly thereafter, we resigned our board positions and notified MAO that we were terminating our relationship with them.”

The emails indicate that Haskell had privately shamed one former pageant winner, Mallory Hagan, over her weight and sex life and had engaged in a campaign to fight what he perceived as her attacks, according to HuffPost.

He had derided Hagan, who was named Miss America in 2013, as “a piece of trash” to one Miss America Organization employee, Brent Adams, who spoke to HuffPost. Adams said that he was romantically involved with Hagan at the time and that Haskell had instead wanted him to date Haskell’s daughter.

Other emails cited by HuffPost showed that Haskell had laughed when an employee suggested that a former pageant winner should be dead and appeared to express delight at the idea of needling yet another pageant winner, Gretchen Carlson, the journalist and author.

The two board members, Haddad, a Washington media consultant, and Weidner, a Las Vegas socialite, had strategized with Haskell on how to respond to Hagan, according to HuffPost.

In a statement, Haddad said that she had spent 14 years as a volunteer member of the organization’s board and praised the women in the program. She also said that she had “the highest regard” for Carlson.

In one of the emails, Weidner appeared to suggest that the organization’s decision to limit the help contestants can receive in preparation for the competition had hurt Hagan’s coaching business. In a statement to HuffPost, she defended Haskell, adding that, at the time, he was being “ruthlessly attacked by a handful of disgruntled malcontents.”

In a live recording shared on Twitter early Friday, Hagan, at times emotional, responded to the story, saying that she felt validated and hoped it would lead to changes within the organization.

“My hope is that this story that broke will bring light to the type of behavior that’s been in the leadership of the Miss America Organization and really help us put in place some people who care and who embody the mission of Miss America,” she said.

Carlson, who won the pageant in 1989 and previously served on the board of the Miss America Organization, said she was “shocked and deeply saddened” by the statements in the HuffPost report.

“No woman should be demeaned with such vulgar slurs,” she told the publication and repeated on Twitter. She declined a request for further comment.

In a statement to HuffPost, the Miss America Organization’s board of directors said it had investigated the allegations of inappropriate comments and then terminated its relationship with the “most egregious author,” whose controversial emails Haskell appeared to tacitly endorse. A spokesman said that the board, however, had “full confidence in the Miss America Organization leadership team.”