No, Miss America didn't suddenly get 'political' with Trump questions

Share on

Critics say the pageant went on a Trump-bashing spree. But focusing on the former pageant boss is an

ATLANTIC CITY -- While Miss America has long been criticized for objectifying women, contestants aren't just expected to saunter across the stage in an evening gown or strut in a bathing suit. They also have to have a working knowledge of contemporary issues -- you try cramming a fully formed opinion into 20 seconds of airtime and not creating a viral moment.

Nonetheless, some viewers have complained that the Atlantic City competition was suddenly "political" this year, and that the pageant or contestants were somehow intent on panning President Donald Trump -- former boss of rival pageant Miss USA -- in the current events questions. 

On Sept. 10, Miss North Dakota, Cara Mund, walked away with the 2018 crown after she was asked if Trump withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement was a good decision. Her verdict: "It was a bad decision."

Miss Texas Did Not Hold Back About President Trump's Response To Charlottesville | TIME

"There is evidence that climate change is existing," Mund said, emphasizing that the country should be at the table during climate talks. 

Writing for Fox News on Monday, Todd Starnes criticized the pageant's focus on questions about Trump.

"It was as if Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton were sitting underneath the Atlantic City boardwalk, sipping Chardonnay and writing this year's questions," he wrote, saying the pageant "was like a jazzed-up version of a Nasty Woman March."

To equate a woman expressing a sound bite of an opinion with women who took to streets across the country for the Women's March is itself problematic, but to call the question portion some kind of forum for making a pinata of Trump is utterly misguided. The pageant's "final question," which accounts for 20 percent of a contestant's score, has long been devoted to current events and politics. To gloss over the president's decisions would constitute a bizarre omission.

"I think my onstage question and answer was just my personal opinion," Mund, 23, said the day after the pageant. "I think everyone has a right to think what they want. Just the one thing is it's important to have a spot at the negotiation table and this isn't necessarily just about whether climate change exists or not, but rather the fact that we're going to keep our Earth clean for the future generations. I just think it's really important that we have a seat there and to pull out, I think, is just really unfortunate."  

Moreover, the notion Starnes and others critical of the questions are advancing -- that contestants would somehow be rewarded if they gave answers that were most critical of Trump -- doesn't hold up. Miss Texas, Margana Wood, got the lion's share of attention for her answer, with headlines saying she "did not hold back" and had "slammed" Trump. 

Wood, a competitor from Houston, had fielded a question about Charlottesville. 

"Neo-Nazis, white supremacists and the KKK in Charlottesville, Virginia turned violent and a counter-protester was killed," said judge Jess Cagle, editorial director of People and Entertainment Weekly. "The president said there was shared blame with 'very fine people on both sides.' Were there?" 

"It was very obvious that it was a terrorist attack," Wood answered. "And I think that President Donald Trump should've made a statement earlier addressing the fact. And making sure all Americans feel safe in this country, that is the number one issue right now." 

Does that sound like "slamming" to you? The point is moot anyway: Wood finished in fifth place, behind Miss North Dakota, Miss Missouri, Miss New Jersey, Miss District of Columbia, the four other remaining contestants.

Miss New Jersey, Kaitlyn Schoeffel, was asked about Confederate statues -- should they be kept or removed? (She said they should be moved, but maybe to a museum, and not destroyed.) Miss Missouri, Jennifer Davis, was asked about charges that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the election (she said she considers all who are currently being investigated innocent until authorities know more, but if they did collude, then they should be punished). 

This isn't first time highly charged political topics have been covered at the pageant, and it's not the first time Trump -- who has publicly said that he used to walk in on pageant contestants changing -- has been a topic of inquisition at Miss America. 

no-miss-america-didnt-suddenly-get-political-with-trump-questions photo 1Miss New Jersey 2017, Kaitlyn Schoeffel, right, reacts after being announced as second runner-up during the 2018 Miss America pageant on Sept. 10. Also reacting: Miss Missouri, Jennifer Davis, at left, and Miss North Dakota, Cara Mund, who became Miss America. (Tim Hawk | For NJ.com)
 

At the 2017 Miss America pageant last year, both Miss New York, Camille Sims, and Miss Arkansas, Savvy Shields -- who would go on to win the crown -- were asked rather open-ended questions about the 2016 presidential candidates.

Sims, who came in fourth, got the Trump question -- "Donald J. Trump. What do you think of him? You have 20 seconds, go." 

"I think that he's a great reminder of how our country needs to come together. If you don't agree with his message, then it's time to decide where you stand in this debate," she said. "As Americans, we need to make sure that we come together, represent what it means to be American, which is celebrating all people from all backgrounds, whether you're an immigrant or a Native American or an African American or an Asian American." 

Shields chuckled after she got the same question, only for Clinton -- "Hillary Rodham Clinton. What do you think?" 

"If you're trying to be leader of the world, everything you say and do matters and all of your actions are held to a higher standard," Shields said. "And unfortunately the media does love to sensationalize everything and it's hard to tell what is truth and what is truly scandal. I think going back to what my previous contestant said, both of these contestants have done a great job -- or, both of these candidates have done a great job -- in competing, but they also need to watch what they're doing."  

Politically correct responses like these that partially dodge the question at hand are part-and-parcel with this pageant. But still, political commentary was at the center of this pageant final -- minutes later, Shields took her victory walk down the runway at Boardwalk Hall. And since the "final question" comes at the very end of the pageant and accounts for a large chunk of the scoring, it can often make or break a Miss America hopeful. 

As the newly crowned Miss says, and Miss Texas and others showed, expressing an actual opinion sends a clearer picture than regurgitating pageant boilerplate. 

"If you're going to get asked a question, you should have an answer for it," Mund said at a post-crowning press conference.

"I wasn't necessarily afraid if my opinion wasn't the opinion of my judges," she said, later adding: "Miss America needs to have an opinion, and she needs to know what's happening in the current climate." 

Amy Kuperinsky may be reached at akuperinsky@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmyKup or on Facebook.

 

Share on
Article No, Miss America didn't suddenly get 'political' with Trump questions compiled by www.nj.com