The Miss America Organisation has suspended its CEO less than 24 hours after leaked emails surfaced showing him and others disparaging the appearance, intellect and sex lives of former Miss Americas.
Sam Haskell will remain suspended for an indefinite period while the organisation investigates the content of the emails, their distribution within the organisation, and how they came to wind up in the possession of The Huffington Post, which published them on Thursday (local time).
“The board will be conducting an in-depth investigation into alleged inappropriate communications and the nature in which they were obtained,” the group said in a statement issued on Friday evening, hours after 49 former Miss Americas signed a petition demanding the resignation of Mr Haskell and other pageant officials.
“In addition, the board wishes to reaffirm our commitment to the education and empowerment of young women, supporting them in every way possible.”
It did not indicate whether Mr Haskell would be paid during his suspension. Mr Haskell did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
A petition organised by former Miss North Carolina Jennifer Vaden Barth garnered the signatures of 49 former Miss Americas by mid-afternoon on Friday (local time).
The petition called the emails by CEO Sam Haskell and others “despicable” and faulted officials who “sat by without objection while such derisive comments were passed around”.
“We are deeply disturbed and saddened to learn of the sickening and egregious words used by Miss America leadership,” the petition read.
“We collectively call for their immediate resignation.”
The Miss America Organisation said on Thursday night that Mr Haskell has apologised, and that the group is revising its policies regarding communications, adding it considers the matter closed.
Mr Haskell and Miss America Organisation officials did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.
‘Having somebody bully you in any way is not ok’
Several of the emails targeted Mallory Hagan, who won the 2013 pageant, claiming she had gained weight after winning and speculating about how many men she had sex with.
“My hope is that this story that broke will bring light to the type of behaviour that’s been in leadership of the Miss America Organisation and really help us put in place some people who care and who embody the mission of Miss America,” Ms Hagan said in a Twitter video.
“Having somebody bully you, demean you, degrade you in any way is not ok.”
— Mallory Hagan (@ItsMalloryHagan) December 22, 2017
Miss America 2016 Betty Cantrell, who signed the petition, told The Associated Press she “lived under this misogynistic leadership for a year of my life, and I’m definitely glad to see all of this evidence come into the light”.
She also said pageant officials “told me which former Miss Americas I wasn’t allowed to associate with or pose for photos with”.
In other emails, a former writer for the pageant notes the death of one former Miss America and muses that he wished 1998 Miss America Kate Shindle, who wrote a book critical of the Miss America Organisation, had died instead.
Mr Haskell responded to the email, indicating it made him laugh.
And Mr Haskell wrote of tactics that would drive 1989 Miss America Gretchen Carlson “insane”.
The Huffington Post reported she had clashed with Mr Haskell and pageant officials over her push to modernise the organisation, and her refusal to attack other former Miss America winners.
On Friday, the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority began reviewing its contract with the Miss America Organisation, which has about $US4 million left on it, after numerous local and state officials called for the final year of the deal to be killed.
The emails already cost the pageant its television production partner and raised questions about the future of the nationally televised broadcast from Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall the week after Labor Day each year.
Dick Clark Productions told the AP on Thursday night that it cut ties with the Miss America Organisation over the emails, calling them “appalling”.
The Huffington Post article shows that Mr Haskell and others directed considerable attention to Ms Hagan. He forwarded an email he had been sent regarding Ms Hagan to a writer for the pageant, who has since been terminated.
The writer responded by questioning whether he and Mr Haskell were part of a tiny group of people who had not had sex with Ms Hagan.
According to The Huffington Post, Mr Haskell replied: “It appears we are the only ones!”