May 14 marks the 66th annual broadcast of the Miss USA competition, one of the biggest and most well-known beauty pageants in America. The woman who is crowned the winner will also go on in a few months to participate in its sister pageant, Miss Universe. For many spectators, both contests still seem to be associated with President Donald Trump, who famously owned the organization for decades. But does Trump still own Miss USA in 2017?
It's true Trump did once own the Miss Universe Organization, which also hosts the Miss Teen USA pageant, but today he has no business ties to any part of the company. Just a few weeks before the 2015 Miss USA pageant was set to air, NBC announced that it would cut ties with Trump in a press release, citing remarks that the now-president made about Mexican immigrants during his candidacy announcement earlier that month. Univision also cancelled its Spanish Miss USA broadcast, giving the same reason.
Trump retaliated by accusing NBC of being weak in a statement (titled, of course, “NBC IS WEAK”) and later sued both networks for breach of contract. In September 2015, he tweeted that he’d bought out NBC’s shares of the Miss Universe Organization and “settled all lawsuits against them;” a few days later, WME/IGE announced on Twitter that it had purchased the organization from him. Trump also settled his lawsuit with Univision in February 2016, according to Variety, and the channel has continued to honor its five-year agreement to air the pageant.
While Trump did not own the Miss Universe pageant for most of the 2016 presidential campaign, his past treatment of contestants became a heated topic that year. The 1996 Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado spoke out frequently about how she claims she treated for gaining weight after being crowned, telling Inside Edition in May that Trump called her “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping.” Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton even brought Machado's remarks up during a presidential debate in September, citing them as an example of Trump’s mistreatment of women and his unsuitability for public office.
Perhaps it's due to all this negative publicity that the pageant's ratings have plummeted in the years since Donald Trump first announced his candidacy; in July 2015, CNN reported that Miss USA faced an all-time low of 925,000 viewers, no doubt because it was quickly moved to the lesser-known Reelz channel. Things improved in 2016 when the broadcast moved to Fox, according to The Wrap, but ratings still dropped 27% among total viewers compared to 2014 — which means that even a Backstreet Boys performance couldn't get the pageant back to its pre-campaign numbers.
This year the competition will air on Fox just as it did last year, when Deshauna Barber became the first active military member to be crowned Miss USA. Her win is doubly meaningful, considering that Trump’s pick for Vice President, Mike Pence, once penned an op-ed about Mulan that alleged the Disney movie set unrealistic expectations for women in combat positions. Barber addressed the role of women in the military just before winning the crown, saying:
As a woman in the United States Army, I think it was an amazing job by our government to allow women to integrate into every branch of the military. We are just as tough as men. As a commander of my unit, I am powerful. I am dedicated. And it is important that we recognize that gender does not limit us.”
Even if you think pageants place too much value on a contestant’s appearance, you’ve got to admit: it’s pretty cool to see someone who challenges so many anti-woman stereotypes be handed a crown that Donald Trump technically used to own. Hopefully this year’s winner will be a worthy successor.