Billboards slamming Gretchen Carlson, the chairwoman of the Miss America Organization, as a liar, a bully and ‘so fake’ cast an uncomfortable shadow on the second night of the pageant.
The Daily Caller revealed the signs cropped up around Atlantic City, where the pageant is being held, on Thursday morning, referencing claims from the most recent Miss America winner Cara Mund, who has accused Carlson and organization CEO Regina Hopper of having bullied and silenced her during her reign.
As of Thursday evening no one has taken responsibility for the signs, which were hung from traffic lights, posted at bus stops and glued to utility boxes.
When asked about the billboards, Carlson, a former Fox News host and former Miss America herself, said she had no comment.
Both she and Hopper have repeatedly denied bullying Mund.
The signs appear to parody Carlson’s book ‘Be Fierce.’ They include the same photo of her that appears on her book cover, but with the words ‘So Fake’ and ‘private bully, public liar’.
In addition, someone hung a pageant sash on the Miss America statue just outside Boardwalk Hall, where the competition takes place, that reads ‘Gretchen Sucks’.
This year’s pageant is taking place amid a revolt by state organizations, most of which want Carlson and Hopper to resign.
Forty-six of the 51 groups (the District of Columbia is included) have signed letters seeking their resignation.
They are unhappy with the way the decision to eliminate the swimsuit competition from the pageant was reached, among other issues.
The protest threatened to overshadow the second night of preliminaries Thursday night.
The first night, on Wednesday, was free of any reference to the controversy as Mund and Carlson took the stage together to introduce this year’s 51 hopefuls.
The reigning Miss America did not reference the leadership controversy in her opening remarks, but she did pay tribute to local and state officials without mentioning national ones.
‘This only exists because of our volunteers,’ she said. ‘We wouldn’t have any organization if it weren’t for them.’
She said she was confident whoever wins this year’s competition ‘will be 100 percent ready and supported throughout her entire year’.
Mund spent a majority of her speaking time deflecting questions about her August 17 letter criticizing the pageant’s leadership, saying: ‘It’s all about the women competing and we’re here to celebrate their accomplishments.’
Asked about the letter, Mund said: ‘I think my letter’s telling. At the same time, I’m a product of this organization and I’m very grateful for that. I’ll be able to go to law school because of the scholarship money I earned from this organization.’
Carlson and Hopper separately declined to answer questions after the ceremony.
On Thursday, an attorney representing Mund said the Miss America Organization had told him it was conducting an internal investigation into Mund’s allegations that included, in his words, ‘bullying and a corrosive work environment.’ In a letter to the organization’s attorneys, attorney Roger Haber urged that the results be made public.
The winners from Thursday night’s competition were Miss Virginia Emili McPhail, who won the onstage interview portion, and Miss Louisiana Holli’ Conway, who won the talent portion for a vocal performance.
Contestants from Florida and Wisconsin picked up wins Wednesday in the first night of preliminary competition.
Miss Florida Taylor Tyson won the talent competition for a piano rendition of ‘Mephisto’s Waltz’ by Lizst.
Miss Wisconsin Tianna Vanderhei won the onstage interview competition for her comments on how higher education should be more affordable and more widely accessible.
Scholarships totaling nearly $506,000 will be awarded, including $50,000 for the new Miss America; $25,000 for the first runner-up; $20,000 for the second runner-up; $15,000 for the third runner-up, and $10,000 for the fourth runner up.
The third and final night of preliminaries will be held Friday.
The next Miss America will be crowned Sunday night in Atlantic City.