In a blistering letter sent Friday to former Miss Americas, reigning Miss America Cara Mund accused the organization's leadership, including chairwoman Gretchen Carlson, of having "systematically silenced me, reduced me, marginalized me, and essentially erased me in my role as Miss America." On Sunday, Carlson replied with a letter of her own in which she counters Mund's accusations.
"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 in a letter to all former Miss Americas. "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. After a while, the patterns have clearly emerged, and the sheer accumulation of the disrespect, passive-aggressive behavior, belittlement, and outright exclusion has taken a serious toll."
Mund says that she's been told by the leadership that she can only say three things in public appearances: "Miss America is relevant. The #MeToo movement started with a Miss America, Gretchen Carlson. Gretchen Carlson went to Stanford," THR reports.
Carlson, a former Miss America and Fox News host who sued then-network head Roger Ailes for sexual harassment, took over as chair of Miss America in the wake of an email scandal and what has turned out to be the rather tumultuous #MeToo period that her own bold actions helped to trigger. In her response to Mund which she tweeted out Sunday, Carlson cited the difficulties of handling the "change-filled year" for Miss America as it has made significant adjustments — including dropping the swimsuit portion and no longer judging contestants on appearance — but Carlson also made clear that Mund's accusations are both unfair and deeply damaging to the brand.
"I was surprised and saddened beyond words from our reigning Miss America Cara Mund," Carlson wrote (full letter below). "I so wish Cara had picked up the phone and discussed her concerns with me directly, before going to the media with allegations of bullying. Since her letter was posted, I have reached out to Cara via phone, text and email to try to speak, as I have always felt this is the best way to air grievances and find resolution. Unfortunately, Cara's response has been that she only wants to communicate via email but I remain hopeful that we can speak on the phone or in person soon."
Carlson then directed her comments to Cara, first telling her that the organization is proud of her, but also unequivocally denying the allegations that she ever "bullied or silenced" her.
"Cara, let me be clear: We, as an organization, are very proud of you and all you have accomplished. You are smart, caring and ambitious," wrote Carlson. "As a Brown graduate, you aspire to go to law school and one day run for Governor in your home state of North Dakota. You embody the mission of Miss America.
"I also want to be clear that I have never bullied or silenced you," Carlson continued. "In fact, I have acknowledged to you and your parents many times that the organization understands the frustrations of serving during such a change-filled and stressful year. It surely was not what you had expected. We’ve acknowledged your grievances, and taken many steps to try to make your experience a good one. You are at the epicenter of a very historic moment for women. Over the past two years, our country has undergone a seismic shift in how professional women are depicted and treated."
Carlson also underscored the negative impact Mund's accusations have had on the organization already, citing the loss of $75,000 in scholarships as a direct result of her claims, with more inevitable "consequences" to come.
"Actions have consequences," wrote Carlson. "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 — 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."