Trump, the owner of the Miss Universe Organization and thus decider of Miss California's fate, resolved today to let the scandal-scarred and contract-violating titleholder keep her crown, over yesterday's urgings of Golden State pageant officials.
"Carrie will remain Miss California," the Donald announced at a press conference this morning, adding that "we are in the 21st century."
"We've really studied these photos," he said. "We've made a determination that everything we've seen to date that she's done—some were very beautiful, some were risqué—the pictures taken were acceptable, were fine, and in some cases were lovely pictures."
The aesthetic argument is one Trump returned to several times over the course of explaining his decision.
"If Carrie weren't so beautiful, this never would have come up," he said. "Carrie is totally beautiful. And her answer, because of that, took on more importance. Unfortunately, that's the way the press works. You should be ashamed of yourselves."
As for Prejean, she took time out to give thanks to her own holy trinity: Trump and Miss California officials, her fans and—no acceptance speech is complete without him—God.
"I would like to thank the thousands of Americans who have sent letters, sent emails, messages...I cannot count the number of fan mail I have received in the past three weeks of people expressing their support to me," she said, choking back tears. "They have confided in me that they have found hope and inspiration in my story.
"Most importantly, I would like to thank God for trusting me with this large task and giving me the strength to stand by my beliefs."
And while she dismissed the recent spate of leaked topless photos as one-off poses, Photoshopped snaps and otherwise unknowing outtakes from a surf magazine shoot, she did spend some time explaining the other alleged violation of her Miss California contract—lobbying against same-sex marriages.
"Being at the center of a media firestorm is not something I had planned or signed up for," she said. "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...The president of the United States, the secretary of state, and many Americans agree with me," she said.
And while she went on to admit that she has "become an advocate of not redefining marriage," she will continue to do so without ties to any particular organization.
"I am not working for the National Organization for Marriage. I spent about an hour with them," she said.
"I am not going to be speaking out against same-sex marriage. I'm going to resume my duties as Miss California, but also stay true to my personal beliefs. We will see how we will balance the two.
"I want to reaffirm my commitment to Miss California USA."
Part of how Prejean will now do that is by incorporating her hard-learned lessons in "civility, respect and tolerance" into her state duties.
"Not everyone may like me or agree with me, but I hope at the end of the day, everyone will respect my rights as I respect theirs."
"It has been a long journey for me, as you all know, but through all this I stand before you today a stronger woman than I was yesterday, and I am proud of that."
She also stands today as a beauty queen who once again has the support of the Miss California organization behind her.
While pageant codirectors Shanna Moakler and Keith Lewis yesterday all but replaced Prejean in her duties as Miss California, they appeared alongside her at today's press conference forming a united front.
"I think Carrie's excited to get back to being Miss California USA, and we're excited to have her," Lewis said.
"They were having some miscommunication with Carrie, and I use the term 'miscommunication' somewhat loosely," Trump said. "The communication problem, I believe, is totally solved.
"They are really getting along very well. They've been meeting for hours in my office and I really think that they developed a relationship they didn't have before."
Just yesterday, Miss California pageant officials crowned a replacement-in-waiting, Miss California runner-up Tami Farrell, whom they also announced as the ambassador for the new Beauty of California initiative.
Lewis and Moakler also let slip that they had strongly recommended that Trump give Prejean the old heave-ho from her pageant post, mostly due to her failure to disclose her racy shots.
"It was never about Carrie's opinion or the pictures, it was about the fact that we couldn't communicate with Carrie personally and there were too many organizations trying to exploit her title," Moakler said in a post-press conference statement.
"We are thankful for Donald Trump, who was able to facilitate getting us together to communicate, which allowed us the opportunity to discuss our feelings and reach a place where we could move forward with all that has happened," adds Moakler. "We want to work together on issues important to her and to our organization."
For her part, Prejean shrugged off the scandal, saying the most recent spate of photos were taken by a professional photographer between shots on a windy day, and blamed unexpected gusts—and an ethically challenged cameraman—on her unwitting exposure.
Trump has a history of being forgiving of misbehaving beauty queens. Back in 2006, he gave Miss USA Tara Conner a second chance after she admitted to drinking, drug use and other behavior unbecoming a pageant winner, and sent her to rehab.
"In a way this is a bigger issue," he said. "Tara had serious alcohol and drug problems, and I'm very proud of her. We gave her a second chance...She's doing fantastic.
"That was a personal problem that she had, this is a very big issue. This is an issue that probably will be debated for a long time."
Though it's a debate that, for once, won't be started by Trump himself.
After opening the press conference up to questions from the press, the mogul was inevitably asked what his response would have been on the now infamous pageant question.
"It's not up to me," he said, expertly sidestepping the query. "It's a very, very, big issue and it's an issue that has two sides—and I understand both sides very well."
And as for the question's equally infamous asker?
"I'd love to have him back," Trump said. "Look, I know Perez Hilton. He's doing his thing, I'm doing my thing, we're all doing our things."
As it stands, Prejean will be doing her thing as Miss California until November, when the next state winner will be crowned.
(Originally published May 12, 2009, at 7:55 a.m. PT)
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