I never intended to write even once about the Miss America pageant. This is actually my third attempt. My initial effort, was posted in the midst of the racist reaction to having an Indian -American Miss America. A more recent post was about the sorority hazing drama surrounding her successor, and the invective posted on the pageant bulletin boards in the aftermath.
When one writes as an observer looking in, it's possible to miss the real story. In this case, it is far less about the racists of 2013 or the reaction to this year's result . It is about power and control, consolidation of power, and the quelling of dissent. It's about the creation of rules banning entire classes of volunteers and coaches because of a handful who have asked questions about real policy concerns, that are no different than those asked in the national press. No matter our differences with Roger Goodell and the National Football League, even "the shield" feels some responsibility to address accountability to public opinion.
In the case of the 501 (3c) MAO, no such strictures seem to apply. It is hard to believe that an arrangement exists, where no entry fees are said to be charged to participants, but each is required to raise money for a crippled children's charity that sees less than fifty cents on the dollar. Or that a group can still proclaim it provides millions in scholarships that are never going to be reedemed, falling back on the rather Orwellian term, "Made Available."
The topics raised by the pageant's behavior touches upon so many matters we discuss in the business world, and in the culture.
"A RIDDLE WRAPPED INSIDE A MYSTERY INSIDE AN ENIGMA." - CHURCHILL
The quote above was about the Soviet Union of Joseph Stalin. And it applies to the world of the Miss America Pageant today. Not because the incumbent is of Russian extraction, but because it appears that a wholesale purge is coming down the line of those not buying into the leadership style of pageant CEO Sam Haskell. Normally this occurrence in pageantry would be unworthy of the bandwidth invested in exposition. But it now appears that at least two of the former titleholders are way off the reservation, along with countless volunteers and longtime coaches and judges.
Kate Shindle was Miss America 1998, and is remembered as one of the most policy savvy as can be seen in this link ......from C-Span. Her well reviewed book Being Miss America , offers insight into the life of a titleholder back in the day where the pageant sought "relevance" and details the challenges facing the nearly century old pageant today. Upon it's publication it became quickly obvious the "powers that be" in Miss America's corporate offices were not amused issuing this non attributed gem to the local press, .....""We have not had the chance to read the book. We were disappointed to learn from a reporter at the A.C. Press that a former Miss America, from 17 years ago, has chosen to take this path to advance whatever issues she might have...."
But the "issues"are substantive. The Press of Atlantic City article continues... "Just days before this year's Miss America finals on Sept. 14, Shindle shares what she sees as "mismanagement and leadership instability" over the course of the organization's history and unethical moves made to maintain television ratings and make money, including partnering with Children's Miracle Network hospitals.
"Keep Children's Miracle Network around; it's a great group that does wonderful things. But stop balancing the books on the backs of kids with terminal illnesses. It's not only ethically reprehensible, it's borderline fraudulent," she said.
Shindle explains that under the terms of the agreement with Children's Miricle Network, Miss America is to serve as an ambassador for CMN during her year, and the Miss America Organization receives "reportedly as much as 60 percent" of the joint profit."
In a tribute to Karmic retribution, the pageant spokesperson also tossed in this boilerplate statement when questioned about "Being Miss America"....""The Miss America Organization is the largest provider of scholarships for young women in the world, making available $45 million in scholarships each year." That claim was blown out of the water by HBO's John Oliver, and earned the editorial comment, "Take a look at her now: Miss America, lying through her teeth about scholarships."
Then there is the email posted online from the well respected Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan. In it she notes the following to New York Pageant Executive Director Deb Cantoni, "If your instructions are, in fact, coming from Marc (Marc Angeli, MAO Vice President of Field Operations) to discontinue ..... involvement with the Miss New York Organization",....The ongoing reaction from readers writing of their experiences online, include those asserting they have been "blackballed" from involvement with MAO. was breathtaking.
- "Another instance of Marc dictating to the state who can and cannot be involved then lying about it when confronted. He needs to go. Since when has a grassroots volunteer organization devolved into such a nasty clique enforced by incompetent people whose loyalty has been bought by a disliked and disrespected CEO? "
- "Paying people more money than their skills allow turns them into henchmen. We are witnessing this everywhere. Only way to clean it out is thru the IRS and the court system. shame on Deb and Marc."
- "I have been on the fence on whether to continue my sponsorship of MAO (in my State). This email has solidified my thought process and actions to discontinue support for MAO on all levels. Volunteers need to take a stance against MAO and their current direction. Unless ALL THE VOLUNTEERS in MAO speak up and require change, then MAO will continue to be less important for those of us who have been supporters and sponsors.
- "I think that Mallory is great. Whether or not one agrees with her on this matter or not, she is willing to identify herself with her beliefs. I supported Sam Haskell and acknowledge that his tenure has seem some positive things. But the undercurrent of how that office operates is nothing short of sad and appalling. It frankly sucks so profoundly, it has made many of ask if the cure is worse than the disease. Marc is a bully."
- "no human being, let alone volunteer, deserves to be treated so coldly...."
- "After serving as a volunteer in the Miss America organization for over 20 years and serving on a state board, I have been blackballed because I reported abusive behavior to MAO that was happening at the hands of the State ED where I live. Marc went back to this state E.D. with my complaints and the complaints of all others and took her word for it, as this person lied their way out of it. Now, all of us who stepped forward have been blackballed and we can't judge state pageants and we can't get badged for Miss America. When I was asked to judge a state pageant, MAO claimed I was "a coach" and I was removed from the panel. Miss America is run by incompetent people, and Sam's so busy admiring himself in the mirror and being fawned over by his Board of "yes men" that the organization is falling apart. "
- "MAO is paranoid that when two or more people get together they will plot a coup! As they should IMHO!!! Seriously can you imagine the leadership of a volunteer organizations telling its volunteers that while they are gathered for the pageant they cannot get together and you know... VOLUNTEER!!! And for heavens sake why would MAO want the state leaders to get their titleholders together for a few days of fund and you know...education and empowerment of young women..those things the MAO is supposed to stand for. Once Fran Skinner lost the fixed arbitration the states lost their strongest voice. She was fearless. Valerie is also a strong voice for the states who leads thru collegiality something Sam! Sharon and liar liar pants on fire Marc do not understand."
- "I sent an email to Marc with my concerns about a local pageant one time. He sent a boiler plate reply and forwarded my email to the state ED. Not long after I received a scathing email from the state ED suggesting that I support the organization rather than tearing it down. And how about purchasing tickets to the upcoming fundraiser the state was sponsoring. Never again will I contact MAO about anything."
- "Marc and Sam go after anyone who dares to ask questions, speaks truth to power, or fits their often times completely made up agenda to keep some other lie going. They will do it to their own Miss Americas, banning them from partaking in events, shunning them when they meet them on the board walk, chastise them for loving the organization and its ideals instead of kissing Sam's ass...it is ugly. Imagine ignoring the complaints of families and titleholders for eight years...real abuse and mismanagement...because of some fake excuse they have made up. It is happening folks."
- "The coaching thing .....seems to me to be far less about coaches and far more about controlling who's allowed in "the club." IMHO that's an absolutely, unequivocally damaging approach to building a company. I could write another book on the phone calls Marc makes to the states to tell them who they are not supposed to work with. It's just gross."
- "It is quite concerning to me, though, that this organization is supposed to empower young women, but it seems that now it's spending more time trying to control them. At the end of the day, Miss ___ is a girl's experience and she should be able to do what she feels she should do in order to put her best foot forward. "
It bears noting that both Ms. Shindle and Ms. Hagan are engaged in businesses that could be construed as coaching, and that the association of state pageant organizations was dissolved by MAO under Mr. Haskell's leadership. I will leave it to the reader's judgement if Mr. Angeli's alleged activities/conversations falls under the definition of "Tortious Interference ."
It may be tempting for an organization under fire to act in a manner, inspired by the right wing Republicans portrayed in West Wing, who famously said, "We have enemies without and within and must purge them all until we are purified" But a Stalinist inspired "revolution from above " management style is not the way to lead a troubled American Institution away from the abyss of a 25% year over year decrease in ratings , much less the PR disasters of recent weeks. One must question the thought process of any group that has fallen from the heights as far as Miss America , that apparently is working as hard as is evidenced, to circle the wagons rather than open the tent.
It seems very obvious that whatever optimism was present at the pageant's 90th Anniversary, and whatever hope there was in Mr. Haskell's leadership has drastically abated. As seen in the clip below, he certainly has a unique public persona . History does not seem on his side either, as MAO has seen many leaders in recent years. As Sam Haskell is both the Chairman of the Board and the salaried Chief Operating Officer of the MAO, his odds of survival seems better than his predecessors, no matter how many voices are raised calling for "regime change." I'll give the last word to Ms. Shindle
"I don’t think the current leadership will make wholesale change on their own. They’ve already got “my way or the highway” so embedded in the volunteers’ minds that everyone is terrified to step out of line. The EDs and contestants and volunteers have far more power than they are using. Until everyone demands change, I’m not optimistic. There’s already so little accountability at the top that ONE PERSON is both boss and employee, and basically oversees himself, and his “friends on the board” gave him $500k as a thank-you for his past volunteer work. I mean, whaaaaa?"
MANY BLESSINGS- NOEL