By Wayne Parry / Associated Press
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Dozens of former Miss Americas called on leaders of the pageant organization to step down in the wake of an email scandal in which the CEO and other officials used crass and vulgar terms to refer to past winners.
The Huffington Post reported Thursday on the emails, which mock some former winners’ appearance, intellect and sex lives. One email used a vulgar term for female genitalia to refer to past Miss America winners.
A petition organized by former Miss North Carolina Jennifer Vaden Barth garnered the signatures of 49 former Miss Americas by midafternoon Friday. The petition called the emails by CEO Sam Haskell and others “despicable” and faulted officials who “sat by without objection while such derisive comments were passed around.”
“We are deeply disturbed and saddened to learn of the sickening and egregious words used by Miss America leadership,” the petition read. “We collectively call for their immediate resignation.”
The Miss America Organization said Thursday night that Haskell has apologized, and that the group is revising its policies regarding communications, adding it considers the matter closed. Haskell and Miss America Organization officials did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
Several of the emails targeted Mallory Hagan, who won the 2013 pageant, claiming she had gained weight after winning and speculating about how many men she had sex with.
“My hope is that this story that broke will bring light to the type of behavior that’s been in 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,” Hagan said in a Twitter video . “Having somebody bully you, demean you, degrade you in any way is not OK.”
Miss America 2016 Betty Cantrell, who signed the petition, told The Associated Press she “lived under this misogynistic leadership for a year of my life, and I’m definitely glad to see all of this evidence come into the light.”
She also said pageant officials “told me which former Miss Americas I wasn’t allowed to associate with or pose for photos with.”
In other emails, a former writer for the pageant notes the death of one former Miss America and muses that he wished 1998 Miss America Kate Shindle, who wrote a book critical of the Miss America Organization, had died instead. Haskell responded to the email, indicating it made him laugh.
And Haskell wrote of tactics that would drive 1989 Miss America Gretchen Carlson “insane.” The Huffington Post reported she had clashed with Haskell and pageant officials over her push to modernize the organization, and her refusal to attack other former Miss America winners.
On Friday, Atlantic City’s incoming and outgoing mayors, as well as two state Assemblymen, called on the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority to end its partial subsidy of the pageant, which has about $4 million left on it.
The emails already cost the pageant its television production partner and raised questions about the future of the nationally televised broadcast from Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall the week after Labor Day each year. Dick Clark Productions told the AP on Thursday night that it cut ties with the Miss America Organization over the emails, calling them “appalling.”
The Huffington Post article shows that Haskell and others directed considerable attention to Hagan. He forwarded an email he had been sent regarding Hagan to a writer for the pageant, who has since been terminated.
The writer responded by questioning whether he and Haskell were part of a tiny group of people who had not had sex with Hagan.
According to the Huffington Post, Haskell replied: “It appears we are the only ones!”