In late August 2014, the CEO of the Miss America Organization, Sam Haskell, sent an email to the lead writer of the Miss America pageant telecast, Lewis Friedman, informing him of a change he wanted to make in the script: “I have decided that when referring to a woman who was once Miss America, we are no longer going to call them Forever Miss Americas....please change all script copy to reflect that they are Former Miss Americas!”
Friedman replied, “I’d already changed “Forevers” to “Cunts.” Does that work for you?”
Haskell’s short reply came quickly: “Perfect...bahahaha.”
At that point, Haskell had been the leader of Miss America for nine years, after rising through the ranks at a top Hollywood talent agency. Many prior winners, or as they’re called, “formers,” consider the pageant a wonderful, wholesome activity for young women. But Haskell’s behavior behind closed doors shows he regularly maligned, fat-shamed and slut-shamed the former Miss Americas, calling them shocking names and in one case laughing at the suggestion that one of the women should die.
When it came to one particular former, Haskell took his efforts so far that she lost her pageant coaching business.
Two Miss America board members served as a virtual rubber stamp for Haskell’s behavior: Tammy Haddad, a media consultant and D.C. power connector; and Lynn Weidner, a Las Vegas socialite. And though Friedman was never a board member, he regularly sent offensive and sexist messages to Haskell, which Haskell often responded to by indicating he thought Friedman was funny or endorsed what Friedman was saying.
For this story, HuffPost reviewed nearly three years of internal emails provided by two sources. They reveal a CEO who regularly wrote and responded to unprofessional, offensive emails about the women who poured their hearts into the pageants and the organization he was leading.
(Update: The board suspended Haskell on Friday, hours after an open letter from 49 former Miss Americas called for top-level resignations, adding, “The Board will be conducting an in-depth investigation into alleged inappropriate communications and the nature in which they were obtained. In addition, the Board wishes to reaffirm our commitment to the education and empowerment of young women, supporting them in every way possible.”)
Improving A Struggling American Institution
Sam Haskell joined Miss America’s board in 2005 after retiring from the William Morris Agency (now called WME), where he was the worldwide head of television.
Most everyone agrees that to a certain extent, Haskell helped the organization get back on its feet. Miss America has returned to broadcast television, airing on ABC after being relegated to basic cable. It has also come back to its original home of Atlantic City, New Jersey, from Las Vegas, where the pageant took place in a smaller venue. In 2014, the Miss America Organization and Dick Clark Productions announced a one-year deal (later extended to three years) for the storied entertainment company to produce and cover the cost of the annual pageant telecast, in addition to paying a fee to the Miss America Organization for the rights to produce the telecast. As part of the deal, Dick Clark Productions received two seats on the Miss America Organization board.
Over the past 12 years, Haskell has gone from a board member to a well-compensated CEO. He makes $500,000 a year, which has been a source of internal and external controversy.
But despite his success at growing the pageant, internal emails show a different story.
In some cases, Haskell was professional. In an August 2013 email exchange, one month before Mallory Hagan, 2013’s winner, would crown the new Miss America in Atlantic City, Haskell exchanged emails with his daughter and one of his top employees, Brent Adams, about Hagan.
His daughter, Mary Lane, said, “Here’s hoping you get another good one!”
Haskell replied to Mary Lane, “It’s going to be hard to replace Mallory, but I’m hopeful!”
But in other cases, Haskell and Haddad routinely maligned the former Miss Americas, calling them “malcontents” and treating them as embarrassing inconveniences rather than honored alumnae.
In May 2014, Haskell forwarded one of Haddad’s emails to a Miss America executive. In it, Haddad had referred to some former Miss Americas as a “pile of malcontents and has beens who blame the program for not getting them where they think they can go.”
She added, “80% of the winners do not have the class, smarts and model for success.”
She then encouraged Haskell to try to avoid getting riled up by the “formers,” saying, “YOU have to let them go. You don’t need them. They need you. We also have to punish them when they don’t appreciate what we do for them.”
In his forward, Haskell called the advice wise.
In response to email questions sent to Haskell and Haddad, HuffPost received a response from a Miss America Organization spokesman. He said Friedman had been let go from the organization after an investigation.
“The Miss America Organization Board of Directors was notified about the concern of inappropriate language in email communications several months ago. Consequently, the organization’s Board of Directors took the allegations of inappropriate comments very seriously and formed an investigative committee,” he wrote. “As a result of the investigation, the Board directed the organization terminate the relationship with most egregious author of inappropriate comments. In addition, the Board has started the process of instituting additional policies and procedures for communication.”
“The Board has full confidence in the Miss America Organization leadership team,” he added.
In a reply to an email with questions about his statements, Friedman said, “Before commenting to correct your information and provide context, I’ll speak to my attorney as this matter is the subject of pending litigation.” It is not clear what litigation he was referencing.
‘It Should Have Been Kate Shindle’
Haskell sometimes focused on Kate Shindle, who was crowned in 1998. The former Miss Illinois is now a successful actor and singer, and serves as president of the Actors’ Equity Association, the union representing more than 51,000 American stage actors and stage managers.
In 2014, Shindle released a book in which she questioned the Miss America board’s decision to pay Haskell a $500,000 consulting fee, during a year the organization was over $400,000 in the red. (The board said the money was back-pay for Haskell.)
Shindle was not revealing new information; press accounts had already exposed the payment. In her book, she also alleged Haskell blacklisted those who dissented against his leadership, with the national organization calling state-level pageants and giving those groups names of people they could not associate with.
In December 2014, Friedman emailed Haskell to offer his condolences on the death of former Miss America Mary Ann Mobley, writing, “So sorry to hear about Mary Ann Mobley”
The subject line of Friedman’s email read: “It should have been Kate Shindle.”
Haskell replied, “Thanks so much Coach...even in my sadness you can make me laugh...how was the Kennedy Center Honors? Love you and appreciate you! Sam.”
Shindle declined to comment for this article.
‘Drive Gretchen Insane’
Haskell and Haddad also appeared to dislike Gretchen Carlson, who won the Miss America title in 1989 and was on the organization’s board of directors for many years. The root cause of their disdain, according to three sources, was Carlson’s push to modernize the organization and her refusal to attack former Miss Americas.
Haskell told Carlson not to have Hagan on her program, according to three sources familiar with the conversation. Carlson refused.
On Aug. 15, 2014, Weidner sent an email to a group of former Miss Americas, including Carlson, about Shindle’s book, saying, “Is it possible for each of you to speak out in defense of Sam and the organization?”
Carlson replied, “It’s one thing to talk about your own personal experience as Miss America … but totally different to attack people individually.”
Haskell forwarded Carlson’s response to Haddad, who replied to Haskell, “Snake but now u have not doubts as to her loyalty. Makes it easy not to respond. Right?”
Just before Shindle’s book came out, Haddad emailed Haskell and said, “Why don’t u read susan POWELL’s [former Miss America] email on the board call and say it’s a shame that only one miss america who has come forward to offer help in any way.” Haddad was referring to an email Powell had written that was supportive of Haskell.
Haskell replied, “Brilliant…..fucking Brilliant!!!! That will drive Gretchen INFUCKINGSANE.”
After the email exchange, Haskell did not feature Carlson in the next Miss America broadcast ― an unusual decision given her prominence.
In a statement sent by email, Haddad said, “I have the highest regard and gratitude for Gretchen and her extraordinary leadership in fighting for women.”
Carlson later resigned from the Miss America board. Haskell and other board members were telling people Carlson couldn’t be trusted, which she felt was maligning her integrity, according to a source familiar with her thinking at the time.
Carlson responded to HuffPost on Thursday, “As a proud former Miss America and former member of the Board of the Miss America Organization, I am shocked and deeply saddened by the disgusting statements about women attributed to the leadership of the MAO. No woman should be demeaned with such vulgar slurs. As I’ve learned, harassment and shaming of women is never acceptable and should never be tolerated. Every MAO executive and board member who engaged in such crude behavior and signed off on it like it was no big deal should resign immediately. The Miss America Organization, which is tasked to uphold an almost 100 year old tradition of female empowerment and scholarship, deserves better. I hope all former Miss Americas, state and local titleholders and volunteers will join me in a collective effort to fight for the dignity of this great institution.”
In 2016, Carlson rocked the media world when she sued former Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes for sexual harassment. Carlson’s suit led to Ailes being pushed out, and she later received a settlement. She has since focused on bringing attention to the epidemic of sexual harassment in the workplace and is working with members of Congress to approve legislation to protect women’s rights in the workplace.
Haskell also appeared to have special disdain for Hagan. In January 2013, she was crowned Miss America at the pageant in Las Vegas.
But just three months later, she was publicly fat-shamed for a bikini photo that surfaced. Haskell said nothing publicly about the images at the time. Later, though, he did internally.
As the reigning champion, Hagan spent time in Oxford, Mississippi, at Haskell and his wife’s home. It was there Hagan got to know Adams, whose official title was director of development at Haskell’s production company, which had a television deal with Warner Brothers. Adams essentially acted as a chief of staff, overseeing the various elements of Haskell’s business and personal life, including Miss America.
Adams and Hagan realized they had a connection after spending time together, but, fearful that professional entanglements could complicate a romantic relationship, the two decided if they were going to date it would be best to wait until Hagan’s reign was over.
Shortly after Hagan crowned the new Miss America in September 2013, she and Adams started dating. According to Adams, Haskell wanted Adams to date his daughter, not Hagan, and was open about this request.
Adams recalled an encounter with Haskell at his home in which Haskell attempted to convince Adams to break up with Hagan and instead date his daughter. Haskell stretched out his arms and told Adams, “All of this can be yours,” ostensibly referring to his Oxford mansion and the family’s money.
“You don’t need a piece of trash like Mallory. You need someone with class and money like my daughter,” he said, according to Adams.
When Adams was in New York with the Haskell family, Haskell accidentally sent a text message to a group chat that suggested his daughter try to hold Adams’ hand. Adams described the text in a phone interview.
Once, when Hagan made a payment for dinner to Adams via the peer-to-peer payment app Venmo (which shows payments between friends), Haskell confronted Adams about it, asking why he was still in touch with Hagan.
‘Are We Four The Only Ones Not To Have Fucked Mallory?’
In August 2014, Haskell received an email from someone he knew, who said Hagan’s hairdresser in New York had been commenting on Hagan’s sex life while Hagan was living in Los Angeles, as well as her recent weight gain.
Haskell forwarded the email to Friedman saying, “Not a single day passes that I am not told some horrible story about Mallory.”
Friedman replied, “Mallory’s preparing for her new career … as a blimp in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade As she continues to destroy her own credibility, her voice will attract less and less notice while she continues her descent to an unhappy pathetic footnote.”
Friedman ended the email with, “Ps. Are we four the only ones not to have fucked Mallory?”
Haskell replied and said, “It appears we are the only ones!”
He then wrote Hagan had slept with someone he knew, and he told the man’s mother “he needs to have a blood test because we lost count of the number of men she slept with at 25.”
A source close to Hagan says the accusations about her hairdresser and having sex with the man in question are not true.
′Why Does He Want That?′
On Jan. 25, 2015, Weidner sent Haskell a photo of Hagan with three other former Miss Americas. Weidner did not comment on the photo in her email.
Haskell replied, saying, “OMG she is huge...and gross...why does he want that?????” Haskell did not name Adams specifically, but it appears he was discussing his employee, who was still dating Hagan at the time.
Haskell then forwarded the email to Josh Randle, who now serves as president of the Miss America Organization, and added, “Look at MH in this photo...OMG...Why does he want that?”
Randle said, “She’s a healthy one!! Hahaha.”
Haskill said, “Look at this photo from the Former Retreat!!! Shindle was there too and I was told she made everyone sign an NDA as she rolled out her plan of attack...evil lurks.”
Haddad said, “Mallory is barely recognizable”
Haskell said, “It is unreal.”
Haddad replied, and said, in part, “U think he left u for that? Don’t believe it. It makes NO sense.”
Haskell also forwarded the email to Friedman, who said, “My screen just cracked! What happened?”
Hagan declined to comment for this article. A Miss America Organization spokesman replied to questions sent to Randle with the same statement he gave for Haskell and Haddad. That statement said Friedman had been let go and the board was instituting new guidelines for internal communication.
Consequences For Hagan
At the end of December 2015, emails suggest Haskell felt Hagan was personally maligning him. In an email to Haddad, Weidner and Randle, among others, Haskell asked for help, saying Hagan was “viciously and cruelly” attacking him and his family “every day.”
It’s unclear what Hagan was doing or saying at the time, but a comb of her social media posts doesn’t reveal anything egregious. She continued to be critical of Haskell’s leadership and the direction of the organization, but not in a way that would warrant what was suggested next by Haddad in response to Haskell’s urgent plea.
Haddad said, “Hi. I am so sorry. It is ridiculous but she is not going to stop. She has no control. I think u should hire an investigator to get something on her.”
(A source close to Haddad said she was not suggesting in the email that Haskell hire an investigator to dig up something of a personal nature on Hagan. Rather, her intention was to suggest Haskell hire an investigator to see if Hagan had been posting messages anonymously on internal Miss America message boards.)
Haskell said, “Thoughts on Tammy’s note below? Threatening her won’t work and we already have ‘enough info on her’ to shut down Ft. Knox.....ugh. I really think the best way is to shut down her social media, and convince the Formers to ostracize her”
Weidner said, “I wish I had an easy answer to this dilemma. If we can prove a direct connection between MH and specific instances of cyber bullying, we could at least threaten her with a lawsuit right? I do believe that our anti coaching initiatives are already impacting her business. And that our policy of ignoring her is driving her crazy!”
“I do believe that our anti coaching initiatives are already impacting her business.”
“I pray none of you ever experience anything like this....It is finally clear that I am on my own,” Haskell replied.
In response to list of questions sent via email, specifically if it was appropriate for nonprofit resources to be used to investigate former Miss Americas, Haddad said in an email, “This was a terrible, highly divisive time in the Miss America Organization, fueled by inflammatory character attacks. I along with the Board worked to stop the damage that was being inflicted on the organization and members of its community.”
In a statement, Weidner called Haskell “one of the most outstanding individuals I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.”
“Sam had led us to becoming a nationally recognized and positive force for the education and the empowerment of young women,” she wrote. “The fact that he would be so ruthlessly attacked by a handful of disgruntled malcontents is disgraceful. I am very proud of the way he has kept above the fray and always conducted himself in a way that does honor to this program.”
After winning the pageant, Hagan signed with a WME agent in Los Angeles, Lee White, whom Haskell introduced her to.
But within months, a source close to Hagan says White started to withdraw and decline requests to meet with her.
In one email from White to Haskell described verbally by a source, White suggests he shouldn’t have drinks with Hagan based on something Haskell told him. Haskell replies, saying White made the right judgment.
A few months later, Hagan dropped White as her agent. She moved back to New York and joined a friend training contestants for the all-important interview portion of the pageant.
But within months, the national Miss America Organization told contestants they couldn’t have coaches ― specifically, interview coaches. The national organization also said that anyone wanting to use a coach would have to seek approval from the executive director of their local organization.
The national organization had an informal list of coaches contestants couldn’t use, which contestants found out about through their local and state pageant directors. Hagan was on the list.
Soon after, Hagan’s lucrative coaching business fell apart.
In August 2016, Hagan moved back home to Alabama, where she had to rebuild her career. Today, she is the evening anchor of a small NBC affiliate in Columbus, Georgia.
Cease And Desist
In August 2017, Adams and a former Miss America board member, Regina Hopper, flew to Los Angeles to talk to Dick Clark Productions about Haskell’s behavior. They had copies of egregious emails from Haskell, some of which are included in this article.
The duo expected that Dick Clark Productions, a large entertainment company, would be horrified by the messages. In the meeting, Amy Thurlow and Mark Bracco, both executives at Dick Clark Productions who held the two Miss America board seats, thanked Hopper and Adams for providing the emails and told them Dick Clark Productions would conduct its own investigation.
A month later, Adams received a cease-and-desist letter from a law firm representing the Miss America Organization. It read, “Your deliberate actions constitute a clear violation of the Non-disclosure Agreement you knowingly and willfully entered into….the letter directed to the Chairman of the Board from Dick Clark Productions, dated September 13, 2017, noticed us of your illegal disclosure of information, which includes several internal email communications.”
The two Dick Clark executives presented the emails to the board, hoping it would lead to a change in leadership, according to two well-placed sources who are familiar with the executives’ thinking at the time.
But, the sources said, no change took place. In fact, last September, knowing full well the kind of language Friedman used in his emails about former Miss Americas, the board allowed him to continue to write for the Miss America pageant telecast.
Based on the board’s refusal to take action in response to the disturbing emails, Dick Clark Productions decided to end its agreement with the Miss America Organization, the sources said. Several prominent Miss America supporters were stunned at the news. The agreement was a lifeline to Miss America ― the production company covered the costs of producing the telecast; paid the Miss America Organization a fee as part of the agreement; and featured, among other things, the current Miss America on the various awards telecasts it produces, like the Billboard Awards.
In a statement Thursday to HuffPost, Dick Clark Productions explained its decision: “Several months ago, dick clark productions was made aware of a portion of the emails that were referenced in the December 21 Huffington Post article. We were appalled by their unacceptable content and insisted, in the strongest possible terms, that the Miss America Organization (MAO) board of directors conduct a comprehensive investigation and take appropriate action to address the situation. Shortly thereafter, we resigned our board positions and notified MAO that we were terminating our relationship with them.”
The same prominent Miss America supporters said they found it unfathomable that the board would side with Haskell and Friedman over Dick Clark Productions.
‘These Young Women Put Their Heart And Soul Into Being the Best They Can Be’
Unsurprisingly, the email that angered the people who spoke to HuffPost for this article the most was the one referring to former Miss Americas as “cunts.” In particular, sources found it offensive that Haskell appeared to think that was funny.
Hopper recounted how she reacted to the email by sharing what she experienced at the last Miss Arkansas pageant, when the reigning Miss America Savvy Shields, who is from the state, made an appearance.
“I sat in the audience and watched her [Miss America] walk out on stage, and the young women and those in the audience all wanted to see and hear her. And that email floated into my head, and tears started running down my face,” she said. “Across this country, there are parents who are sitting in audiences who put their young daughters into this system with the trust that they’re going to walk away from participating with something good. These young women put their heart and soul into being the best they can be. That the CEO of this organization would agree that word is the perfect characterization of Miss Americas and then laugh ― it’s heartbreaking.”
This article has been updated with Haskell’s suspension Friday.
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