Cara Mund, whose reign as Miss America comes to a close next month, accused the pageant’s parent organisation of systematically silencing her in a letter made public on Friday. It was the latest setback for the organisation, which has struggled to reinvent itself after a string of scandals.
In a missive that ran more than 3,000 words long, Mund said the pageant’s leadership had “reduced me, marginalised me, and essentially erased me in my role as Miss America in subtle and not-so-subtle ways on a daily basis.”
She went on to say that members of the organisation had prevented her from posting in her official capacity on social media and that it had criticised her appearance on multiple occasions. She added that she had researched New Jersey state laws and that the mistreatment amounted to “workplace bullying.”
She said she had been condescended to in a manner that suggested “I don’t understand this ‘big girl job’ or how and why Miss America is relevant,” and that she had often been reminded that she was dispensable.
“My contract still says — and I am regularly reminded by word and action — that I can be fired anytime, with or without cause,” she wrote.
In particular, Mund’s letter singled out the organisation’s chief executive, Regina Hopper, for disparaging her. It also took issue with Gretchen Carlson, chairwoman of the organisation’s board of directors, who Mund said had supplanted her as the organisation’s ambassador. Carlson, who was Miss America 1989 but is most famous for her tenure at and departure from Fox News, has appeared in the news on behalf of the Miss America Organization since she took the position as its chairwoman in January.
“They told me that I’m not important enough to do big interviews, and that the major press is ‘obviously’ reserved for Gretchen,” Mund, who represented North Dakota in last year’s pageant, said.
A former Miss America competitor said the letter had circulated among the show’s past contestants, but Mund did not answer calls, texts or an email asking for more specifics. After news of the letter broke, it was posted to a Facebook page that bears Mund’s name. A request for comment made through Carlson’s lawyer, Nancy Erika Smith, was not immediately returned.
Mund’s letter, intentionally or not, evoked scenes from the film Mean Girls, with Mund being instructed not to wear pink because “Regina hates pink” and being told that she should burn certain outfits. The letter elaborated on a statement Mund gave to The Press of Atlantic City in which she admitted that it had been a “tough year.” In that interview, Mund expressed fear of “being punished” for speaking her mind.
In a statement, the Miss America Organization responded to Mund’s letter by saying that it supported her and that “it is disappointing that she chose to air her grievances publicly not privately.”
“Her letter contains mischaracterisations and many unfounded accusations,” the statement said. “We are reaching out to her privately to address her concerns.”
This is the latest drama for the Miss America franchise, which has attempted to rebrand itself in recent months. The organisation’s leadership was compelled to resign last winter after HuffPost published emails sent by Miss America’s chief executive, Sam Haskell, that denigrated past pageant participants.
In May, the organisation announced that in addition to Carlson, it had hired Hopper as its new chief executive and Marjorie Vincent-Tripp, who was named chairwoman of the Miss America Foundation’s board of trustees. All three women were former contestants in the pageant, and Vincent-Tripp, an assistant state attorney general in Florida, was Miss America 1991.
“The induction of this all-female leadership team signals forthcoming transformational changes to the entire organisation and program, ushering in a new era of progressiveness, inclusiveness and empowerment,” the Miss America Organization and the Miss America Foundation said in a joint news release at the time.
In June, Carlson announced that the pageant’s swimsuit competition, which had been part of Miss America since its inaugural event in 1921 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, would come to a close. That decision caused an uproar within the organisation.
The following month, Vincent-Tripp, too, resigned from her position without saying what had led to the decision. Last week, 11 former Miss Americas, including Vincent-Tripp, signed a letter calling for Carlson to resign immediately.
Throughout the various fireworks, Mund, a graduate of Brown University, had stayed quiet, making appearances across the country on behalf of the organisation. Chatter about her interview with The Press of Atlantic City last week prompted her to elaborate on her concerns.
“I never expected — or wanted — to have to be a whistleblower,” Mund said in her letter. She asked for the support of her fellow pageant veterans, saying that without their voices, “the leadership will simply continue to push out, silence, and tighten security to reduce access around Miss America.”
“Miss America is fragile right now,” Mund concluded. “She needs all of us if she is going to survive.”