FARGO - The first North Dakotan crowned Miss America, Cara Mund, is striking out at the Miss America Organization with claims of being bullied and silenced.
In the letter that circulated online Friday, Aug. 17, the Bismarck woman said Gretchen Carlson, a Minnesotan crowned Miss America in 1989 and head of the organization, is largely to blame along with CEO Regina Hopper.
“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,” Mund said in the letter to current and former titleholders that was leaked online.
The Forum couldn’t reach Mund for comment Friday morning. Miss America Organization didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
Mund said the organization has treated her with disrespect by excluding her as a representative and spokesperson.
“Right away, the new leadership delivered an important message: There will be only one Miss America at a time, and she isn’t me. To reinforce this, they told me that I’m not important enough to do big interviews, and that the major press is ‘obviously’ reserved for Gretchen.”
'Not a wind-up toy’
In the letter, Mund said she was told she needed to mention three things at every interview: Carlson started the #MeToo movement; Carlson went to Stanford University; and Miss America remains relevant.
Mund said she has been blamed for sponsors dropping Miss America because she is “bad at social media,” and that she has been banned from posting on the organization’s official social media pages and accounts.
“They post officially for me and as me - misspellings and all - without informing the public that it is not me posting,” Mund wrote. “When they shrink my voice in this way, it eliminates my chance to be a spokesperson for my generation on the very platforms where we consume our content.”
Mund said she was well-prepared to be the organization’s representative and for the ups and downs of wearing the crown after graduating with honors from Brown University and working for Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.
“No one needs to remind me that being Miss America is a job. I have known that and prepared myself to be the spokesperson for this organization with every single thing that I have done and every experience I have had,” she said. “Such comments are condescending and are meant solely to suggest I don’t understand this ‘big girl job’ or how or why Miss America is relevant. That could not be further from the truth.”
Mund said she never had a clothing sponsor, so she had to buy her own appearance clothing.
“Most of what I bought was rejected, and I was told what I wasn’t permitted to wear. What happened to the new motto of Miss America getting to express her own sense of style?” Mund wrote.
In the lengthy letter, Mund also reflected on a low point of the year – pageant leadership “openly belittling her” by frequently calling her by the wrong name, including one incident in front of a roomful of incoming contestants.
“No Miss America should be humiliated or erased. Ever,” she said.
About two weeks ago, Mund said, she started researching workplace bullying. In New Jersey, the location of the annual Miss America pageant that will once again take place Sunday, Sept. 9, she said workplace bullying includes things like insults, threats, demeaning comments, criticism and “overbearing” supervision. More subtle forms include withholding or supplying incorrect work-related information, sabotaging projects and passive-aggressive behavior.
“Ultimately, this is my year in a nutshell,” she said.
The letter is addressed to Mund’s “Miss America Sisters.” In it, she said she wanted to clarify critical comments she made in a story published earlier this month in the Press of Atlantic City newspaper.
“As I expected, the retribution was swift. Within 72 hours, I was told my final farewell as Miss America would be cut to a total of 30 seconds for the national telecast. Not only are they dictating my final appearance, but they are also reducing my final words,” Mund said.
Mund said she hasn’t felt like Miss America for the past eight months, adding change needs to happen.
“If you want Miss America to be relevant, then the leadership needs to understand she is not a wind-up toy who they can power up to spit out the meaningless words that are put into her mouth, and then put back on the shelf until it’s time to do it again. I do not want her to have to stand in the back, literally or metaphorically,” she said.
Mund said she never expected or wanted to be a whistleblower. She is“saddened” by what has happened and while Miss America’s rhetoric about empowering women and openness is “great,” she said the reality has been “quite different.”
“I never expected my year to be perfect, especially under the circumstances,” she wrote. “Imagine what it would be like if you were alone, not knowing who you could trust. Imagine that you finally got up the courage to speak up, not just for yourself, but for the 51 women who are dreaming that they will have your job just a month from now. Imagine how it would feel if it was actually two of your fellow Miss Americas who slapped back in the press and threw you under the bus. It was devastating.”
The full letter, allegedly written by Mund, can be seen below.