Former Miss America speaks out after reigning titleholder accuses Gretchen Carlson of bullying

A former Miss America is speaking out days after the reigning titleholder, Cara Mund, reportedly released a letter slamming the pageant’s current leadership, including chairperson Gretchen Carlson.

Caressa Cameron-Jackson, Miss America 2010, is part of a group of 19 former titleholders who are calling for the resignations of Carlson and Regina Hopper, the president and CEO and the board of trustees, according to The Associated Press.

Cameron-Jackson, 31, told “Good Morning America” Monday that she isn’t surprised by Mund’s letter, which accuses Carlson and Hopper of bullying, manipulation and intimidation.

“It’s never the wrong time to do the right thing,” Cameron-Jackson said. “[J]ust because we are asking for our chair and our CEO to step down does not mean the Miss America pageant will not happen and I think it will send a clear message — not only to our new Miss America but to the public that we are willing to do the right thing so that Miss America who is crowned on September 9 will not have to go through what Cara [Mund] has gone through.”

PHOTO: Miss America Cara Mund attends the Unbridled Eve Gala during the 144th Kentucky Derby at Galt House Hotel & Suites, May 4, 2018, in Louisville, Ky.Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
Miss America Cara Mund attends the Unbridled Eve Gala during the 144th Kentucky Derby at Galt House Hotel & Suites, May 4, 2018, in Louisville, Ky.

In her letter, Mund, 24, of Bismarck, North Dakota, wrote, according to the AP:

“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. After a while, the patterns have clearly emerged, and the sheer accumulation of the disrespect, passive-aggressive behavior, belittlement, and outright exclusion has taken a serious toll.”

Mund said she was excluded from the nationally televised announcement that swimsuits were being eliminated, even though she was with Carlson at the TV studio where it was made, according to the AP.

What’s more, her clothing choices were ridiculed by pageant handlers who chided her for wearing the same outfits too often, Mund said.

PHOTO: Miss Georgia 2017, Alyssa Beasley participates in the swimsuit challenge during Miss America 2018 at Boardwalk Hall Arena, Sept. 7, 2017, in Atlantic City, N.J.Donald Kravitz/Getty Images, FILE
Miss Georgia 2017, Alyssa Beasley participates in the swimsuit challenge during Miss America 2018 at Boardwalk Hall Arena, Sept. 7, 2017, in Atlantic City, N.J.

She decided to speak out despite the risk of punishment, the AP reported.

Pageant organizers told ABC News, “We have supported Cara [Mund] for her entire year and we will continue to support her.”

Carlson, the 1989 Miss America, denied the allegations in a statement posted to Twitter.

“I have never bullied or silenced you,” Carlson wrote. “We’ve acknowledged your grievances and taken many steps to try to make your experience a good one.”

Carlson went on, “Actions have consequences. Friday, as an organization we learned that $75,000 in scholarships is no longer on the table as a direct result of the explosive allegations in your letter. The impact won’t stop there.”

Not only did Carlson deny bullying but she said that Mund’s accusations have caused a “negative ripple effect” across the organization.

Cameron-Jackson said she disagrees with Carlson’s statement.

“[W]e are not going to do the victim-shaming here,” she said. “I’m sure she [Carlson] didn’t want that when she was part of the #MeToo movement and I think that these sponsorships will return when they see that we are willing to do the right thing. I don’t think that it’s also fair if someone has [said], ‘You hurt me’ to say, ‘No, I didn’t.'”

Cameron-Jackson continued, “I think what should have been said was, ‘I’m sorry for anything I have done that would have made you feel as though,’ and then continue on, but you don’t get to outright say, ‘No, I didn’t.'”

PHOTO: Caressa Cameron-Jackson, Miss America 2010, is one of the former titleholders who have called for the immediate resignation of Gretchen Carlson, chairwoman of the Miss America board of directors.ABC News
Caressa Cameron-Jackson, Miss America 2010, is one of the former titleholders who have called for the immediate resignation of Gretchen Carlson, chairwoman of the Miss America board of directors.

The Miss America organization announced June 5 that it would be eliminating its swimsuit competition and will no longer judge contestants based on physical appearance.

“We are no longer a pageant,” Carlson said on “GMA” at the time. “We are a competition.”

In place of the swimsuit portion of the competition, Miss America contestants will now take part in a live interactive session with the judges, the organization said.

Many thought changes to the contest were happening too far, too fast. But Cameron-Jackson said the call for new leadership has nothing to do with the end of the swimsuit competition.

PHOTO: Gretchen Carlson attends the 2018 Vanity Fair Oscar Party at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, March 4, 2018, in Beverly Hills, Calif.Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic via Getty Images
Gretchen Carlson attends the 2018 Vanity Fair Oscar Party at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, March 4, 2018, in Beverly Hills, Calif.

“What was upsetting is finding out that the reason that the board voted to get rid of swimsuit was under the impression that the network who was going to air the pageant would not do so if the swimsuit competition was part of it,” she added. “And then when it was found out that that was not the truth, that was just the beginning of a lot of undercurrents of transparency that states have been asking for, we as Miss Americas have been asking for and not getting it.

“And so that’s what this is really about and I hate that people are trying to make it a swimsuit issue when it’s more about a transparency and a leadership issue.”

Despite the turmoil, Cameron-Jackson said, she believes Miss America can thrive.

“I think it’s great that we are allowing and making sure that there is a space for accountability and then doing what’s necessary to ensure that we don’t continue down a path that’s wrong,” she said.

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