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 of her outspoken views on gay marriage or the compromising photos - some faked - that turned up at pivotal times in a drama that 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 30-minute press conference at Trump Tower in Manhattan, an event 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 on April 19. That 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, saying 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, did allow at the press conference 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 move on and be the best Miss California USA I can be.”
Thanks to broadcast and social media, the Twittering, chattering crowd weighed in on the events as they unfolded.
“This entire thing is a sham. It’s ridiculous. It’s all about superficial beauty. This is one of the most superficial events we will find in our culture,” said MSNBC anchor David Shuster.
“Prejean needs to hook up with ‘Joe the Plumber.’ That would be awesome,” quipped Markos Moulitsas, founder of the Daily Kos, a political blog.
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 was sparked by a question for Miss Prejean by entertainment blogger and gay rights advocate Perez Hilton, who asked the blonde beauty about her views on same-sex marriage while he was serving as a judge during last month’s pageant.
“I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one or the other, we live in a land that, you can choose, same-sex marriage or opposite marriage,” Miss Prejean replied. She then added: “In my country and in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman.”
Using obscenities, Mr. Hilton - whose real name is Mario Lavandeira - 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 later publicly claimed that she lost the Miss USA crown because of all the ballyhoo. Kristen Dalton - Miss North Carolina - won the title and quietly embarked on her yearlong reign.
Miss Prejean, the runner-up, did not take her experiences lightly.
“I felt as though Satan was trying to tempt me in asking this question,” Miss Prejean told Christian talk radio host James Dobson on Monday. “And then God was in my head and in my heart saying: ‘Do not compromise this. You need to stand up for Me and you need to share with all these people. You need to witness to them.’ ”
In recent weeks, Miss Prejean was applauded at the Rock Church, a megachurch in San Diego, and vowed to help the National Organization for Marriage’s campaign to preserve traditional unions.
That decision created even more complications after the group used a video clip of Miss Prejean’s pageant answer in an advocacy ad, prompting the Miss Universe Organization, which produces the pageants, to send the group a cease-and-desist letter, accusing it of unauthorized use of copyright material.
But tabloids and gossip mongers were not done with Miss Prejean yet.
TMZ, a syndicated celebrity TV show and blog, labeled her “biblically correct” for her views, and also revealed that Miss Prejean had breast implant surgery earlier this year. However, 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.
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 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.
As for Mr. Hilton, he has agreed to serve as a judge in future Miss USA pageants; Mr. Trump has already secured a three-year deal with NBC to carry the beauty bouts for the next three years.