Over the past few years, the Miss America pageant has made some gradual changes that some have called “groundbreaking” and others have called “not soon enough.” Meanwhile, even as 51 candidates are arriving in Atlantic City to take their shot at this year’s tiara, internal tension within the organization is spilling out from behind closed doors and across the headlines.
Of course, some of the strife has been public for a while. Current Miss America Cara Mund has been engaged in an ongoing Twitter feud with Chairwoman Gretchen Carlson. Mund claims she has been “silenced” by pageant officials who don’t appreciate her perspective on issues related to Miss America and other things. Mund says the pageant is trying to control her. Carlson says the organization just wants its current star to portray the best image.
Meanwhile, Carlson is facing public criticism from within the organization, with some representatives of state pageants that feed Miss America calling for Carlson to resign, along with CEO Regina Hopper. The issue there is strictly PR, as the complaint pertains to how Miss America announced the cancellation of the longstanding swimsuit competition.
Critics say the organization fumbled what was, in the pageant world, a momentous announcement. The swimsuit and evening gown competitions have become iconic aspects of the top pageant in the country, ingrained in culture as a large part of what Miss America is all about. Cutting one of them was a bold move.
From a PR perspective, all of this public infighting is not a good look, especially considering the fact that Carlson and Hopper were brought in earlier this year in an effort to shift the negative PR narrative around the pageant. When the media learned, earlier this year, that some pageant officials had been “denigrating the appearance, intellect and sex lives” of former Miss America winners, pageant leadership cleaned house, bringing in Carlson and Hopper to create a sea change, both in the pageant’s internal culture and in its public face.
Then came the swimsuit announcement, followed by the very public feud between Carlson and Mund. “Miss America” Mund took her complaints to the media and to social media, sparking a caustic response from former news anchor Carlson, who told the Twitterverse that “Mund’s actions cost the pageant $75,000 in new scholarships” then followed that bombshell with the statement that Mund’s comments in various news interviews were “already (causing) a negative ripple effect across the entire organization…”
Clearly, things are not all smiles in pageant land. So far this year, the public image of Miss America has gone from bad to worse, from outing bad actors to frustrating fans to public conflicts that cast doubt on the organization’s leadership. It’s past time for Miss America to regroup, reconsider, and get behind a cohesive message.