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Gretchen Carlson Responds to Miss America Cara Mund's Claims That She Was 'Bullied'

People logo People 8/17/2018 Mia McNiece
Gretchen Carlson holding a sign posing for the camera: Gretchen Carlson Responds to Miss America Cara Mund's Claims That She Was 'Bullied' © Provided by TIME Inc. Gretchen Carlson Responds to Miss America Cara Mund's Claims That She Was 'Bullied'

Gretchen Carlson, who serves as the chairwoman of the Miss America board of directors and won the crown herself in 1989, says she was “incredibly sad” when she read current Miss America Cara Mund’s public letter Friday morning stating Carlson had “silenced,” “marginalized” and “bullied” her.

“I want to be clear that as a proponent of women my entire life, I have never bullied Cara Mund,” Carlson tells PEOPLE exclusively. “We have supported Cara for her entire year and we will continue to support her. It’s just disappointing that she chose to air her grievance publicly and not privately.”

In Mund’s letter, posted three weeks before the scheduled Miss America telecast in Atlantic City on Sept. 9, Mund, who hails from North Dakota, accused Carlson and Regina Hopper, the organization’s CEO, of “disrespect, passive-aggressive behavior, belittlement, and outright exclusion.”

a woman wearing a dress © Provided by TIME Inc.

Carlson, who reached a $20 million settlement in her sexual harassment lawsuit against former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes in 2016, joined the board of directors in December after the then-CEO reportedly used sexist and fat-shaming language in internal emails that led to several executives and board members resigning. She says she took on the role “out of the goodness of my heart and have been putting all of my energy and countless hours into moving this organization forward since January.”

One of the new initiatives put forward by Carlson is the elimination of the famous swimsuit competition in an attempt to downplay the importance of physical appearance alone. Mund states that during a recent Good Morning America appearance discussing the changes, she was told that “GMA only wanted Gretchen on the segment,” adding, “I served as my own advocate and asked if I could attend” despite not getting any airtime.

Gretchen Carlson wearing a black shirt © Provided by TIME Inc. But Carlson, 52, says this was not the case. “We brought her to New York the day before and provided her with media training. Quite honestly, ABC wanted me to do that interview and I proactively wanted Cara to be included. I expressed that to the producers and the decision was made that they wanted it to be a singular interview. We asked Cara to come to the studio because we thought by chance, even at the last minute, they would maybe include her.”

Carlson, who says she plans to reach out to Mund shortly, says she can sympathize with Mund’s comments about this being a challenging year.

“It’s the toughest job you will ever have,” Carlson says of being Miss America. “Every Miss America could tell you if they wanted to about the ups and downs of their year. I could. But you realize as more time passes what an amazing opportunity you have been given to serve as a role model and an ambassador for our country and to make a difference.”

Related video: Carlson defends Miss America changes:

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