- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 12, 2009

On an expansive stage glitzy enough for a beauty pageant, Donald Trump announced Tuesday that Carrie Prejean was not fired.

Miss California USA did not lose her glittering crown or her first runner-up title despite the outcry from critics opposed to her outspoken views on gay marriage or the compromising photos — some faked — that turned up at pivotal times in a drama that has dragged on for three weeks.

“Carrie is totally beautiful. And for that reason, her views took on more importance than they should have. But that’s the way the press works. You people should be ashamed of yourselves,” Mr. Trump said in a press conference that was carried live by cable news channels.

Indeed, journalists ramped up the tale of a “biblically correct” beauty queen who condemned same sex marriage during the Miss USA pageant April 19; the moment exploded, tiara and all, into the blogosphere and the mainstream press.

Mr. Trump, who owns the Miss USA pageant, made the judgment call even as new images of Miss Prejean surfaced in the press, including one taken with Olympic gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps — himself a victim of “gotcha” photography earlier this year when a photograph surfaced of the champion smoking marijuana out of a bong late last year.

But enough is enough, Mr. Trump said in full paternalistic mode, noting that the semi-nude and lingerie photos in question were not all that bad.

“We’ve determined the pictures taken were acceptable, fine, and in many cases they were very lovely pictures,” he said.

Miss Prejean, 21, allowed that a beauty pageant was not necessarily the best showcase for personal opinions, or as a forum for the culture wars.

“We’re ready to move on, move forward,” she said. “I’m ready to be the best Miss California USA I can be.”

But the battle is not entirely over. Some live embers of her outrage remain.

“We live in a great country; a nation that was built on freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Yet my comments defending traditional marriage have led to intimidation tactics that seek to undermine my reputation and somehow silence me and my beliefs, as if opinion is only a one-way street,” Miss Prejean said Tuesday.

“Being at the center of a media firestorm is not something I had planned or signed up for. Let me be clear, I am not an activist, nor do I have a personal agenda. I was thrown into this firestorm from the time I was asked the question on stage,” she added. “The president of the United States, the secretary of state, and many Americans agree with me.”

All this soul searching initially was sparked by a spat between Miss Prejean and entertainment blogger and gay rights advocate Mario Lavandeira (known as Perez Hilton), who originally asked the blond beauty about her views on marriage while he was serving as a judge during last month’s pageant. Using obscenities, he later lambasted the contestant on his Web site, and in later interviews. Activists from gay and evangelical communities, pollsters, analysts, commentators and comedians quickly descended on the unlikely match.

Miss Prejean was applauded at the Rock Church, a megachurch in San Diego, and later vowed to help the National Organization for Marriages campaign to preserve traditional unions.

She became a target, however.

TMZ, a syndicated celebrity gossip TV show and blog, labeled her “biblically correct” for her views, revealing that Miss Prejean had breast implant surgery earlier this year. An unscientific TMZ online poll of 47,000 people found that the majority of respondents — 52 percent — said that she should “retain her crown.”

Troubled beauty queens are not a new phenomenon, however.

Vanessa Williams, Miss America 1983, was forced to resign after nude photographs taken years earlier for a pin-up magazine became public. In 2006, Miss USA Tara Conner also retained her crown after she admitted to alcohol and drug abuse and unseemly behavior. She apologized and was reinstated by Mr. Trump after spending time in a rehabilitation clinic.

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