ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) - Miss America chairwoman Gretchen Carlson has struck back against the reigning Miss America, saying Cara Mund's allegations that Carlson and others have bullied and silenced her has led to the loss of $75,000 in scholarship money for this year's contestants.
In a Twitter post late Sunday night whose authenticity was verified by the Miss America Organization, Carlson, the former Fox News host, wrote that she was "surprised and saddened beyond words" by Mund's letter on Friday complaining of how she has been treated during her nearly one-year reign as Miss America.
In her letter addressed to former Miss Americas, Mund wrote that she has been bullied, manipulated and silenced by the pageant's current top leadership, headed by Carlson and CEO Regina Hopper.
Both have denied bullying Mund and say they support her. "Actions have consequences," Carlson wrote, addressing herself directly to Mund. "Friday, as an organization, we learned that $75,000 in scholarships which would have been the first scholarship increase in years is no longer on the table as a direct result of the explosive allegations in your letter." "The impact won't stop there," Carlson continued. "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."
Carlson did not specify how the scholarship money was lost. She did not immediately respond to an email seeking further comment Sunday night. In a statement issued early Monday, the Miss America Organization said, "The $75,000 referenced was a new source of funding for scholarships. The scholarships to be awarded this year are consistent with those awarded in 2018."
Karl Nilsson, a Miss America spokesman subsequently said, "The news is severely damaging the organization and is having an impact on securing future sponsorships." The Miss America Organization told The Associated Press earlier this month it hopes to hand out at least as much this year as it did last year, approximately $500,000. Reaction to Carlson's Twitter post was fast and widespread among state pageant officials and former Miss Americas.
"The accusation of Cara being responsible for losing a $75,000 scholarship is wrong and completely uncalled for," Kira Kazantsev wrote in a statement Monday. "Gretchen, you must see that there is no way forward in this current state anymore. It is time to step down and let this organization move forward." Mund did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Sunday and early Monday.
But in her letter Friday, she said she was speaking out about how she has been treated, knowing she could be punished for doing so. "Let me be blunt: I strongly believe that my voice is not heard nor wanted by our current leadership; nor do they have any interest in knowing who I am and how my experiences relate to positioning the organization for the future," Mund wrote.
"Our chair and CEO have systematically silenced me, reduced me, marginalized me, and essentially erased me in my role as Miss America in subtle and not-so-subtle ways on a daily basis." Mund said she's been left out of interviews, not invited to meetings and called by the wrong name.
When she obliquely hinted at trouble with pageant leadership in an interview earlier this month with The Press of Atlantic City, Mund said she was swiftly punished by having her televised farewell speech cut to 30 seconds, and was told a dress she had been approved to wear in the traditional "show us your shoes" parade cannot be worn.
This year's competition will not include swimsuits, and pageant officials from at least 19 states have called for the current leadership to resign.
Carlson and Hopper are atop a wave of women swept into power in January after previous pageant officials were revealed to have circulated emails denigrating the appearance, intellect and sex lives of former Miss Americas.
In her Twitter posting, Carlson told Mund, "I have never bullied or silenced you. We've acknowledged your grievances and taken many steps to try to make your experience a good one." The next Miss America will be crowned at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall in a nationally televised broadcast on Sept. 9.
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