Three leading figures in the Miss America Organization have resigned after leaked emails revealed how pageant officials ridiculed winners for their appearance, intellect and sex lives.
The president, Josh Randle, quit on Saturday along with chief executive Sam Haskell and chairwoman Lynn Weidner, a former Miss New Jersey.
Randle said his comment in an email about the physical appearance of 2013 winner Mallory Hagan came months before he started working for the Miss America Organization in 2015. But he said it was wrong.
“I apologize to Mallory for my lapse in judgment,” Randle said on Saturday. “It does not reflect my values or the values I worked to promote at the Miss America Organization. Although this terrible situation was not caused or driven by me, in light of recent events and new developments, I am no longer willing to continue in my capacity as president and earlier today offered my resignation to the MAO board of directors.”
Randle said his resignation was voluntary and had not been requested by the board, which is based in Atlantic City.
Weidner said on Saturday night that she had “nothing but love for the Miss America Organization and the incredible women” who comprise it.
“Although I have certainly been vilified unjustly by some in recent days, I know that all will be made more clear with time,” she said. “My 46 years of involvement and my past 10 years on the board as a full-time volunteer have been a gift. It is amazing how most of the greatest blessings in my life can be traced back to that summer day when I was 16 years old and entered my first local Miss America Pageant.”
The scandal began on Thursday, when the Huffington Post published leaked emails showing pageant officials ridiculing past Miss Americas, including crass and sometimes vulgar comments about them.
The emails included one that used a vulgar term for female genitalia to refer to past Miss America winners, one that wished that a particular former Miss America had died and others that speculated about Hagan’s sex life.
Randle noted that the worst communications were exchanged in 2013 and 2014, years before he joined the Miss America Organization, and said the article’s implication of “complicit participation on my part in a years long array of inappropriate email communication” is untrue.
Haskell’s resignation is effective immediately, while Randle and Weidner will remain for a few weeks to help with a leadership transition. Dan Meyers, who had been vice chairman of the board, was named interim chairman.
The organization announced the resignations a day after dozens of former Miss Americas, including Hagan, signed a petition calling on the group’s leadership to step down because of the emails.
“We stand firmly against harassment, bullying and shaming – especially of women – through the use of derogatory terms meant to belittle and demean,” they wrote.
The resignations will intensify anger about the treatment of women in the entertainment industry in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the subsequent series of allegations against other men.
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 said on Thursday that it cut ties with the Miss America Organization over the emails, calling them “appalling”.
Also on Saturday, one of the main recipients of fundraising from the Miss America Organization said it was reviewing its association with Miss America. The Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals said it was “conducting an immediate review of the situation and will take appropriate actions”.
And New Jersey officials are reviewing their Miss America Organization contract, in which the state still owes $4m toward the cost of next year’s pageant.