ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — The Miss America Organization suspended its CEO on Friday, less than 24 hours after leaked emails surfaced showing him and others disparaging the appearance, intellect and sex lives of former Miss Americas.
Sam Haskell said he will abide by the suspension, even while decrying the Huffington Post story on Thursday that publicized the emails as "unkind and untrue."
"My mistake is a mistake of words," Haskell wrote in a statement issued Friday night, shortly after the board suspended him indefinitely while it investigates the situation. "Much of what was reported is dishonest, deceptive, and despicable.
"The story is so unkind and untrue, and hurts me, my family, and the stewardship of this nonprofit," he wrote. "Those who know my heart know that this is not indicative of my character, nor is it indicative of my business acumen."
Yashar Ali, who wrote the Huffington Post article, defended its accuracy Friday night, saying he was given the emails by two sources "who felt that Mr. Haskell's behavior was egregious." Ali said he now plans to publish all the emails he received in a future story.
The Miss America Organization said its board "will be conducting an in-depth investigation into alleged inappropriate communications and the nature in which they were obtained."
The statement came hours after 49 former Miss Americas signed a petition demanding the resignation of Haskell and other pageant officials, as did more than 1,600 state and local titleholders, contestants and pageant volunteers.
The Miss America Organization did not indicate whether Haskell would be paid during his suspension.
The emails included one that used a vulgar term for female genitalia to refer to past Miss America winners, one that wished that a particular former Miss America had died, and others that speculated about how many sex partners another former Miss America has had.
Several of the emails targeted Mallory Hagan, who won the 2013 pageant, claiming she had gained weight after winning and speculating about how many men she had sex with.
"My hope is that this story that broke will bring light to the type of behavior that's been in leadership of the Miss America Organization and really help us put in place some people who care and who embody the mission of Miss America," Hagan said in a Twitter video . "Having somebody bully you, demean you, degrade you in any way is not OK."
Haskell said he was attacked for a year by two former Miss Americas who he did not name, "which impaired my judgment when responding to the inappropriate emails sent to me about them. For that, I deeply apologize.
"I have the utmost respect for the women of this program and contestants at every level," he continued. "It breaks my heart for anyone to think otherwise."
Miss America 2016 Betty Cantrell, who signed the petition, told The Associated Press she "lived under this misogynistic leadership for a year of my life, and I'm definitely glad to see all of this evidence come into the light."
She also said pageant officials "told me which former Miss Americas I wasn't allowed to associate with or pose for photos with."
On Friday, the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority began reviewing its contract with the Miss America Organization, which has about $4 million left on it, after numerous local and state officials called for the final year of the deal to be killed.
The emails already cost the pageant its television production partner and raised questions about the future of the nationally televised broadcast from Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall the week after Labor Day each year. Dick Clark Productions told the AP on Thursday night that it cut ties with the Miss America Organization over the emails, calling them "appalling."
The Huffington Post article shows that Haskell and others directed considerable attention to Hagan. He forwarded an email he had been sent regarding Hagan to a writer for the pageant, who has since been terminated.
The writer responded by questioning whether he and Haskell were part of a tiny group of people who had not had sex with Hagan.
According to the Huffington Post, Haskell replied: "It appears we are the only ones!"
Follow Wayne Parry at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC