MEDIA WATCH: New rules tarnish Miss America pageant’s crown

Last month the Miss America Organization (MAO) decided future pageants would not exclude contestants who have been married or have had an abortion.

Last month the Miss America Organization (MAO) decided future pageants would not exclude contestants who have been married or have had an abortion.

Last month the Miss America Organization (MAO) decided future

pageants would not exclude contestants who have been married or have had

an abortion.



When new MAO chief exec Robert Beck announced the changes, the MAO soon

found themselves in the middle of a much larger debate on women’s

issues.



A look at the media coverage of these events by CARMA found that MAO’s

decision was hotly debated. A variety of organizations quickly took up

the issue and the MAO was jostled between a variety of political

agendas.



Beck and the MAO tried to present the changes as a non-issue rather than

a stance on divorce or abortion. They stated that the decision was made

to comply with anti-discrimination laws in New Jersey, where the annual

pageant takes place. ’The Miss America values ... have not changed at

all; we are simply attempting to ensure they comply with the applicable

law’ (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sept. 18).



But the majority of opinions expressed were against the decision.

Several state pageant directors threatened to disassociate from the MAO

because the changes would ’destroy Miss America’s strong history of high

moral standards’ (Fox News Network, Sept. 20).



In fact, the opposition was so vehement that the MAO decided to table

its implementation of the new policy until after the September 1999

pageant.



This brought more criticism: ’They made the changes because they wanted

more people to pay attention and then they flip-flopped. It’s sad,

really.



What is their message?’ asked Leslie Jane Seymour, editor of Redbook

magazine (Baltimore Sun, Sept. 17).



Interestingly, both those who supported and opposed the new policy often

stated that Miss America should be a role model for young girls. Where

the two camps differed was in their perception of what that role should

be - an idealistic or a realistic reflection of American women. The

issue was debated between those who supported a more contemporary woman

or a more traditional woman. The debate became even more heated when

accusations were leveled that the real issue was the ideal of virginal

purity and control over the sex lives of not only the contestants, but

women in general.



Unfortunately for the MAO, its decision not only placed it at the center

of a heated debate on morals, the sanctity of marriage and the right to

life, it also prompted a wave of public criticism of the pageant in

general.



’Silly, elitist and arcane’ were just some of the unfavorable

descriptions of the MAO that appeared in the media (San Francisco

Chronicle, September 21).



Perhaps even worse than the acrimonious debate over the pageant’s

decision were reports that cited apathy among the public. ’Who cares,

really? ... It would be a shame if the self-appointed moralists scare

pageant officials into retreating into a decorative but ultimately fake

world that no longer exists, or even interests us very much’ (San Diego

Union-Tribune, Sept. 19). The MAO appears to have its work cut out for

it. Not only does it need to soothe the rift between itself, the state

pageants and the public, it also has to fight to remain relevant.



- Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be

found at www.carma.com.



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