The turmoil engulfing the nearly century-old Miss America pageant intensified Monday as Board chair Gretchen Carlson came under new fire for a statement blaming the reigning Miss America for the loss of $75,000 in scholarship money.
"More reckless speech on behalf of the Miss America Organization," actor, activist and Miss America 1998 Kate Shindle tweeted early Monday. "The board members are clearly unable to control their chair. Time for a change."
Shindle was reacting to a statement released by Carlson through her personal Twitter account Sunday night in which she denied accusations of bullying from current Miss America Cara Mund and said Mund has refused to speak to her except through email. Carlson initially tweeted out the statement in a dozen separate numbered tweets, but deleted those and left up only a screen shot of the statement in full.
"Pro tip: maybe check in with your PR team on this," Shindle added.
Mund's accusations, released in a five-page letter addressed to a group of former Miss America winners who are calling for Carlson's ouster, have plunged the iconic Atlantic City institution into further disarray less than three weeks before the pageant is scheduled to take place in Boardwalk Hall and be televised on ABC.
Carlson, a former Fox News broadcaster and Miss America 1989 who has spoken out against workplace harassment against women, took over the organization after an email scandal ousted the former leadership. She eliminated the swimsuit competition, upsetting many in the state pageant system, and said the pageant would be remade as a competition to fill the "job" of Miss America.
But Mund, a graduate of Brown University who was Miss North Dakota, now says the reality of that job fits the description of workplace bullying and harassment under New Jersey law.
In Carlson's statement, she said she was "surprised and saddened beyond words" by Mund's letter, but wished Mund had reached out to her directly. She said her attempts to reach Mund via phone, text and email have been rebuffed.
"Unfortunately, Cara's response has been that she only wants to communicate via email, but I remain hopeful we can speak on the phone or in person soon," Carlson wrote.
In denying that she bullied Mund, Carlson added that she has acknowledged "to you and your parents many times, that the organization understands the frustrations of serving during such a change-filled and stressful year."
Carlson then went on to write; "Actions have consequences," and said a sponsor had pulled the plug on $75,000 in scholarships, "which would have been the first scholarship increase in years."
She said the money was "no longer on the table as a direct result of the explosive allegations in your letter," a charge that angered many in the organization, who took to Twitter and elsewhere and said they interpreted that as unfairly blaming Mund and continuing the pattern of belittling her.
"The impact won't stop there," Carlson wrote. "We are already seeing a negative ripple effect across the entire organization, and I am so concerned that it will dilute the experience for the next woman selected to wear the crown."
Miss America spokesman Karl Nilsson said in an email Monday morning that the loss of scholarship money referenced by Carlson "was not outlined or defined."
"This news is severely damaging the organization and is having an impact on securing future sponsorships," he said.
Ironically, the vulgar emails that undid the previous leadership were mostly about former Miss Americas complaining about the organization. Current Miss America CEO Regina Hopper has said she was instrumental in leaking the emails.
But now Carlson and Hopper are fighting a chorus of calls for them to step down themselves. Two of the former Miss Americas calling for new regime change, Heather Whitestone and Suzette Charles, appeared on NBC's Megyn Kelly Today Monday morning and called for their resignations. Charles, who was appointed to be the Atlantic City liaison, said the only community activity approved during pageant week was a Gretchen Carlson leadership seminar.
The Miss America Organization is in the final year of a three-year $12 million subsidy from the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.
ABC, which has given Carlson previous airtime to discuss the elimination of the swimsuit competition and other changes to Miss America, featured an interview Monday morning with Caressa Cameron-Jackson, Miss America 2010, calling for Carlson's ouster. "We are not going to do the victim shaming here," Cameron-Jackson said on Good Morning America.