In a letter sent to her "Miss America Sisters," the current Miss America, Cara Mund, says she's been "silenced," belittled, and bullied by the new CEO of the organization, Gretchen Carlson, and that she has been researching "workplace bullying" as defined by the State of New Jersey.
"Ultimately, this is my year in a nutshell," Mund wrote after quoting the description of workplace bullying, which included "deliberate insults, threats, demeaning comments, constant criticism … and blatant ostracism."
Her bombshell letter comes a little more than three weeks before the scheduled Miss America telecast from Boardwalk Hall on Sept. 9, leaving the iconic Atlantic City institution in even more turmoil.
The pageant and organization has been rocked this year, first by an email scandal that led to the ouster of its former CEO and board of directors, then by renewed dissension with the new leaders, including Carlson, who eliminated the swimsuit competition and have tried to link the organization with the #MeToo movement, and new executive director Regina Hopper.
"If you want Miss America to be relevant, then the leadership needs to understand she is not a wind-up toy who they can power up to spit out the meaningless words that are put into her mouth, and then put back on the shelf until it's time to do it again," Mund wrote in the letter, dated Aug. 16.
The letter was leaked by a representative of a group of former Miss Americas and state pageant directors who have called for the ouster of Carlson and Hopper. They have also threatened a boycott or other protests during the week leading up to the televised broadcast, which current leadership is calling a competition, not a pageant. Many have objected to the changes in the pageant and what they say is a lack of transparency from the top.
Former Miss America Suzette Charles, who has been outspoken in her criticism of the current leadership, confirmed via email that she had received the letter.
Mund had given an interview to the Atlantic City Press on Aug. 6 during an appearance at a local Dairy Queen in which she said she wasn't heard or appreciated. In the letter, Mund said that after that story appeared, "the retribution was swift."
"Within 72 hours, I was told my final farewell as Miss America would be cut to a total of 30 seconds for the national telecast," Mund wrote. Further, she said, she was told her custom "Show Me Your Shoes" Parade costume would no longer be allowed, despite the fact that it had already been made and publicized.
In a statement late Friday, the organization said it would be reaching out to Mund "privately" to address her concerns.
"The Miss America Organization supports Cara," it said in the statement. "It is disappointing that she chose to air her grievances publicly, not privately. Her letter contains mischaracterizations and many unfounded accusations."
Late Sunday, Carlson tweeted out a statement herself saying Mund's letter had resulted in the loss of a $75,000 scholarship. She denied bullying or silencing Mund.
On Twitter, meanwhile, hundreds of pageant people, including recent contestants like Miss Oklahoma 2017 Triana Brown, tweeted their support of Mund with the #standwithCara hashtag. A petition calling for the ouster of the current leadership hovered around 8,000 signatures. "No one should go through what you've been through this past year," Brown tweeted. "I stand by you my sister and my Miss America."
Mund said her year-long reign, which she had been working toward since she was a girl in North Dakota and later as a student at Brown University who wrote a dissertation on the pageant, has been "devastating."
"I don't want to leave this mess for the next Miss America," she wrote. "This letter is for her. I don't want her to have to live in constant fear, expecting to be degraded and punished while she should be having an amazing experience."
"I never expected — or wanted — to have to be a whistle-blower," she said. "Miss America is fragile right now. She needs all of us if she is going to survive."