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Story highlights

Suspended CEO apologizes for a "mistake of words" but says report on emails was dishonest

The Huffington Post first reported on the emails on Thursday

(CNN) —  

Sam Haskell, chief executive officer of the Miss America Organization, was suspended on Friday after a report revealed purported emails from him, board members and others disparaging pageant contestants, the organization said in a statement.

“The Board will be conducting an in-depth investigation into alleged inappropriate communications and the nature in which they were obtained,” the statement from the Miss America Organization’s board of directors said. “In addition, the Board wishes to reaffirm our commitment to the education and empowerment of young women, supporting them in every way possible.”

The Huffington Post on Thursday published an exclusive report that reviewed nearly three years of internal Miss America Organization (MAO) emails provided by two unidentified sources.

The report detailed email exchanges in which CEO Sam Haskell, current president Josh Randle, Lewis Friedman – formerly a writer for MAO – and board members Tammy Haddad and Lynn Weidner, wrote offensive emails about former Miss America winners, referencing their weight or their private sex lives.

Haskell, in a statement issued Friday night, apologized for “a mistake of words.”

He said he was stressed by “from a full year of attacks by two Miss Americas.” He did not name those women in his statement.

“This was not the CEO of an organization laughing at inappropriate jokes and speaking about a former Miss America in email conversations,” he said. “This was a father whose family was being attacked, and a man whose character was being assassinated daily, which impaired my judgment when responding to the inappropriate emails sent to me about them. For that, I deeply apologize.”

He called the Huffington Post story “dishonest, deceptive, and despicable.”

Following the report, 49 former Miss Americas – dating back to 1948 – called for the resignation of MAO’s leadership, including Haskell, Randle and Haddad.

Haddad is a former executive producer for CNN’s “Larry King Live,” and left the network in the early 1990s. “Larry King Live” stopped airing in 2010.

“As dedicated members of communities, businesses and families, and ambassadors for the Miss America program across the country, we stand firmly against harassment, bullying and shaming – especially of women – through the use of derogatory terms meant to belittle and demean,” the former Miss Americans said in a statement.

“We collectively call for their immediate resignation.”

Emails targeted former contestants

In some instances, Huffington Post reported, Haskell appeared to condone degrading comments others made about the women, or suggest that those comments were funny to him.

One example was an email from Friedman to Haskell, who wanted to refer to past pageant winners as “formers” instead of “forevers.” Friedman said he’d changed “forevers” to “c****,” to which Haskell replied: “Perfect…bahahaha”

The nonprofit organization, which hosts the competition, was founded in 1921, and claims to be a “movement of empowering young women everywhere to achieve their dreams,” according to its website.

Mallory Hagan, who was crowned Miss America in 2013, was one of Haskell’s targets, according to the report, which references one email exchange in which he and Friedman demean her for her weight after she won the pageant.

According to the report, Haskell was emailed a photo of Hagan and three other former pageant winners. “OMG she is huge … and gross … why does he want that?????” Haskell wrote, before forwarding the picture to Randle and repeating the comment.

“She’s a healthy one!! Hahaha,” Randle replied. Haddad also responded to the picture, saying Hagan was “barely recognizable.”

In another exchange, Friedman and Haskell made derogatory comments about Hagan’s sex life. “Ps. Are we four the only ones not to have f****d Mallory?” Friedman asked.

“It appears we are the only ones!” Haskell said.

In late 2015, Haddad also suggested Haskell hire a private investigator “to get something” on Hagan, because the CEO felt the former Miss America was “viciously and cruelly” attacking him, the report said.

Haddad contacted CNN Friday night and said, “My intention when suggesting an investigation was only to discover the source of anonymous character attacks launched on the Miss America private on-line community boards.”

At times, according to Huffington Post, the emails targeted Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox News anchor who won the pageant in 1989, when she declined to publicly defend Haskell after another pageant winner, Kate Shindle, released a book critical of the organization and the CEO’s leadership.

Gretchen Carlson, seen in this photo from October 11, 2017, became a target after she refused to attack another Miss America winner.
Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Fortune
Gretchen Carlson, seen in this photo from October 11, 2017, became a target after she refused to attack another Miss America winner.

Haddad, the Huffington Post reported, called Carlson a “snake” for refusing to attack Shindle.

Haddad told CNN Friday she was resigning, “effective immediately.” She said she had told CEO Sam Haskell she planned to resign early this year.

“The women who put their hopes and dreams into this program are the best of America, as well as those who have worn the Miss America crown, traveling the country lifting hearts and spirits through their service above self,” Haddad said.

CNN has attempted to reach Randle, Friedman and Weidner for comment, but those efforts have been unsuccessful.

Miss America winner: Emails ‘validated’ me

On Friday, Hagan told CNN she wasn’t “shocked” by the emails.

“I feel validated because for the longest time I had been trying to tell people that this thing is happening to me and I didn’t have any proof and now I do,” she said. “I feel a big weight off my shoulders.”

Some of the emails focused on Mallory Hagan -- seen in this photo from January 12, 2013 -- who told CNN the emails made her feel "validated" because they proved her earlier complaints.
David Becker/Getty Images
Some of the emails focused on Mallory Hagan -- seen in this photo from January 12, 2013 -- who told CNN the emails made her feel "validated" because they proved her earlier complaints.

Carlson – who stunned the media world when she filed a suit in July 2016 against Roger Ailes, the late former Fox News chairman and CEO – addressed the Huffington Post story on Twitter.

“As a proud former Miss America & former member of (the) Board, I’m deeply saddened by disgusting statements about women attributed to leadership of MAO,” she wrote. “No woman should be demeaned with such vulgar slurs. As I’ve learned, harassment and shaming of women is never acceptable.”

“I still believe that Miss America has relevance and purpose in 2017 and beyond,” Shindle, who CNN has attempted to reach for comment, said in a statement posted on Twitter. “But in order to achieve that purpose, the entire Board of Directors must immediately resign, including and especially Sam Haskell.”

“Only then can the women of Miss America reclaim its rich history and catalyze what is a clearly necessary evolution.”

MAO: Emails not representative

“The Miss America Organization (’MAO’) is committed to upholding the highest standards of character and integrity in all facets of its national framework,” the organization told CNN in a separate statement Friday. The statement says that after MAO’s board of directors was made aware of “inappropriate language” in internal emails several months ago, the board “acted immediately, forming an investigative committee and retaining independent legal counsel to conduct a full investigation of the matter.”

The statement adds the emails were “illegally procured,” but do not represent the “character and integrity of MAO or its representatives.”

When asked if MAO’s statement also represented statements for the MAO employees named in the article, the spokeswoman for the pageant said its statement “comes from the organization but I have directed your inquiry to the other individuals.”

Dick Clark Productions severed MAO ties months ago

Dick Clark Productions – the iconic American production company that produces the Golden Globe Awards, American Music Awards and Billboard Music Awards, among others – said the company severed ties with MAO months ago after becoming aware of portions of the emails the Huffington Post reported on.

“We were appalled by their unacceptable content and insisted, in the strongest possible terms, that the Miss America Organization board of directors conduct a comprehensive investigation and take appropriate action to address the situation,” the production company said in a statement.

Soon after, Dick Clark Productions resigned its positions on the board and ended its relationship with MAO, the statement said.

The Huffington Post, citing sources close to Dick Clark executives, said nothing changed after Dick Clark Productions brought the emails to the attention of MAO’s board, and that was when the production company ended its association with MAO.

CNN’s Chloe Melas, Jamiel Lynch and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.