The MAO board said it would investigate allegations that Haskell was highly critical and waged an effort to suppress criticism of his leadership of the organization, among other claims. In a statement, Haskell apologized for using poor judgment in some of his email communications with other MAO-connected individuals, but he also denied aspects of the Huffington Post report on his email exchanges.
“The Miss America Organization Board of Directors today voted to suspend Executive Chairman and CEO Sam Haskell. Mr. Haskell, in support of the organization, has agreed to abide by the Board’s decision,” the MAO board 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. In addition, the Board wishes to reaffirm our commitment to the education and empowerment of young women, supporting them in every way possible.”
Haskell said in a statement that the emails in question came at a time when he was under pressure from vocal criticism of his tenure with the non-profit organization.
“This was not the CEO of an Organization laughing at inappropriate jokes and speaking about a former Miss America in email conversations. 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,” Haskell said. “For that, I deeply apologize.”
The Huffington Post recently published a report uncovering a series of emails from Haskell, who made and/or agreed with disparaging remarks about former winners, including ex-Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson.
Among those pressuring Haskell to resign are 49 former Miss Americas, who issued a joint statement; the mayor of Atlantic City; and former MAO CEO Leonard Horn.
Dick Clark Productions, which had produced the broadcast which airs on ABC, announced that it was ending its relationship with the Miss America pageant in light of the revelations, which they learned about “several months ago.”
“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,” the production company said in a statement. “Shortly thereafter, we resigned our board positions and notified MAO that we were terminating our relationship with them.”
In the Huffington Post report, a barrage of emails were uncovered over a span of three years, in which Haskell regularly engaged in offensive conversations about women. He joked about the suggestion that Miss America 1998 Kate Shindle should pass away, and called Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan “trashy” and “huge” and speculated on how many men she had slept with. In response to an email from board member Tammy Haddad, who was offering a suggestion about promoting one Miss America in favor of others, Haskell wrote, “Brilliant…..f—ing Brilliant!!!! That will drive Gretchen INF—INGSANE.” Haddad has since resigned from the board.
“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,” Carlson said in a statement posted on Twitter. “No woman should be demeaned with such vulgar slurs.”
The former worldwide head of television at the William Morris Agency, Haskell left the agency in 2004, and joined the board of MAO in 2005. Haskell is also currently a partner and executive producer with Dolly Parton on her Christmas specials for NBC, including “Coat of Many Colors” and “Christmas of Many Colors.”
NBC and ABC did not immediately respond to Variety‘s requests for comment.
Here is Haskell’s full statement:
In response to the vicious story on me in the Huffington Post regarding Miss America and a series of conveniently edited emails, it is important for you to know that the events are not as described.
Much of what was reported is dishonest, deceptive, and despicable. The material is based on private emails that were stolen three years ago by ex employees. The story is so unkind and untrue, and hurts me, my family, and the stewardship of this non-profit. Those who know my heart know that this is not indicative of my character, nor is it indicative of my business acumen. I was under stress from a full year of attacks by two Miss Americas, and while I don’t ever want to offer an excuse, I do want to offer context.
This was not the CEO of an Organization laughing at inappropriate jokes and speaking about a former Miss America in email conversations. 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.
For years, I have dedicated my life to this organization – dedicated to empowering young women. This discussion is an unfortunate distraction from the good work that thousands of volunteers around this country have done to provide more scholarships to young women than any other scholarship organization in the nation. I have the utmost respect for the women of this program and contestants at every level. It breaks my heart for anyone to think otherwise.
My mistake is a mistake of words. Therefore, to allow the MAO Board of Directors and me time to properly evaluate the situation, I will be abiding by their decision to suspend me in my capacity as Executive Chairman and CEO of the Miss America Organization while an investigation takes place.