Miss America shakeup: Gretchen Carlson becomes board chair after several execs are ousted for sexually demeaning emails

January 2, 2018

by Colleen McGregor

Sam Haskell (far left) and Miss America 2018 Cara Mund (far right) at a Miss America press conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey,  in September 2017. (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC)

Gretchen Carlson, who was crowned Miss America 1989, has taken the reigns of the Miss America Organization by being named chair of the board. The announcement comes two weeks after a HuffPost article broke the news that several high-ranking Miss America executives made derogatory comments about former Miss America winners and contestants in email exchanges dating back to 2014 and beyond. As a result, 47 former Miss Americas called for the offending parties to be fired, and the following people have been ousted from the Miss America Organization (MAO):  Sam Haskell (who was CEO), Josh Randle (president), Lewis Friedman (who was lead writer for the Miss America telecast), Lynn Weidner (board chair) and Tammy Haddad (board member).  Dick Clark Productions, which produced the Miss America telecast on ABC, cut ties with MAO after the board initially failed to reprimand the offending parties.

Gretchen Carlson
Gretchen Carlson (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC)

Among the more derogatory comments in the mails: Friedman described former Miss Americas collectively as “cunts,” in an email exchange with Haskell, who laughed in response to the obscene insult. In an another email to Haskell, Friedman commented on the death of Miss America 1959 Mary Ann Mobley, and said that Miss America 1998 Kate Shindle (who was a vocal critic of Haskell) should have been the one to die. Haskell also expressed amusement at this comment.

Some of the people who were ousted from MAO also made derogatory comments about Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan after she gained weight. Haskell also spread gossip about Hagan’s sex life and seemingly went out of his way to damage her career. According to emails published by HuffPost, Haskell was apparently very angry that Brent Adams, a high-ranking MAO employee at the time, chose to date Hagan instead of Haskell’s daughter.

Carlson, a former Fox News anchor, famously sued the network and its then-chairman/CEO Roger Ailes in 2016 for sexual harassment. The lawsuit, which was settled out of court, resulted in dozens of women coming forward with stories about Ailes sexually harassing them, and Ailes resigned/was ousted from Fox News in 2016. (Ailes died of complications from a head injury in 2017.)

Carlson was also a target of Haskell’s and Haddad’s wrath in several emails. After Shindle wrote a book that criticized Haskell and some aspects of MAO, Carlson refused Haskell’s demand to have Shindle banned from Carlson’s Fox News show. Carlson is the first former Miss America to become chair of the MAO board. Also joining the board as part of the shakeup are former Miss America winners Shindle, Laura Kaeppeler (2012) and Heather French Henry (2000).

Miss America 2018 contestants in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in September 2017.
(Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC)

The Miss America Pageant, which awards scholarship money, has had its share of ups and downs since it began in 1921. The show’s telecast is not the powerhouse that it was before the 1980s. In the 2000s, the show’s ratings fell to its lowest points, and ABC dropped the pageant in 2004. From 2005 to 2010, the Miss America telecast bounced around on cable networks such as CMT and TLC before returning to ABC in 2011.  Over the decades, the show’s locations also changed from longtime site Atlantic City, New Jersey, to Las Vegas (from 2005 to 2013), and then back to Atlantic City in 2014. In 2014, a deal with Dick Clark Productions helped bring the Miss America pageant telecast back to a certain level of prestige, although the Miss America pageant (with competition from the Miss USA pageant) is not considered as important as it was in decades past. It has not yet been announced if Dick Clark Productions will go back to working with MAO now that these sweeping changes to MAO’s board have been made.