11:44am PT by Jackie Strause
Chris Harrison Steps Away From 'The Bachelor' After Controversial Interview
Chris Harrison is stepping aside from The Bachelor franchise "for a period of time" after growing controversy over his recent interview about a contestant on the current season.
"This historic season of The Bachelor should not be marred or overshadowed by my mistakes or diminished by my actions," the longtime host and producer of the ABC reality franchise said in an Instagram post on Saturday. "To that end, I have consulted with Warner Bros. and ABC and will be stepping aside for a period of time and will not join for the After the Final Rose special."
He added, "I am dedicated to getting educated on a more profound and productive level than ever before. I want to ensure our cast and crew members, to my friends, colleagues and our fans: this is not just a moment, but a commitment to much greater understanding that I will actively make every day."
In his lengthy post, Harrison did not specify how long he would be stepping away from the franchise.
The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to ABC and producers Warner Bros. TV for additional comment.
Harrison has hosted The Bachelor and its spinoffs, including The Bachelorette, since the ABC franchise first launched in 2002. News of Harrison's indefinite departure comes days after a conversation with former Bachelorette star Rachel Lindsay that aired on Extra. During Tuesday's 13-minute interview, Harrison waded into the racism controversy that has emerged around Rachael Kirkconnell, a frontrunner on Matt James' historic season of The Bachelor, which is currently airing and still weeks away from its finale. James is the franchise's first-ever Black Bachelor.
After The Bachelor premiered in early January, questions over Kirkconnell's social media behavior began to circulate when a viral TikTok purported to reveal the contestant "liking" posts containing the Confederate flag and sharing QAnon conspiracy theories. Then, last weekend, resurfaced photos on Reddit appeared to show the Georgia native, who is now 24, attending an "Old South" plantation-themed college party in 2018. Kirkconnell verified the online activity when she posted an apology statement after Harrison's interview aired, and followed up her post with a joint statement from her entire cast denouncing any defense of racism.
When Harrison spoke to Lindsay, Kirkconnell had yet to publicly address the allegations. When pressed by Lindsay — who was the first-ever Black Bachelorette in 2017 and currently hosts the franchise podcast Bachelor Happy Hour — about the silence from both Kirkconnell and the franchise, Harrison refused to condemn Kirkconnell's behavior.
"Well, Rachel, is it a good look in 2018, or is it not a good look in 2021? Because there’s a big difference," he asked Lindsay in reference to the "Old South" party photos. "Where is this lens we’re holding up and was this lens available, and were we all looking through it in 2018?"
The interview prompted Harrison to release a statement apologizing for "wrongly speaking in a manner that perpetuates racism." He wrote, in part, in a social media apology on Wednesday, "While I do not speak for Rachael Kirkconnell, my intentions were simply to ask for grace in offering her an opportunity to speak on her own behalf. What I now realize I have done is cause harm by wrongly speaking in a manner that perpetuates racism, and for that I am so deeply sorry. I also apologize to my friend Rachel Lindsay for not listening to her better on a topic she has a first-hand understanding of, and humbly thank the members of Bachelor Nation who have reached out to me to hold me accountable. I promise to do better."
The following day, Kirkconnell said in her statement: "I'm here to say I was wrong. I was ignorant, but my ignorance was racist." She apologized to the communities and individuals who were harmed by her actions and acknowledged how viewers must be "sick" of reading such apology statements amid a recent wave of public figures coming under fire. "I want to put my energy towards preventing people from making the same offensive mistakes that I made in the first place, and I hope I can prove this to you moving forward," she added.
Kirkconnell then shared the joint statement from the cast of season 25, which was posted by several of James' contestants on social media late Thursday night. The statement noted that the 25 women who identify as BIPOC who were cast on James' season "denounce any defense of racism" and stand with Lindsay after her interview with Harrison. The cast of the most recent Bachelorette season followed with a similar joint social media statement, and all three of the most recent leads weighed by Friday night.
James, along with The Bachelorette stars Tayshia Adams and Clare Crawley, denounced the interview and offered their support for Lindsay in their own statements. James said of Lindsay, "Your advocacy of BIPOC people in the franchise is invaluable, I stand with you and the rest of the women advocating for change and accountability." Adams said she was "hurt and disappointed and confused at the ignorance" and clarified that she does not align with the franchise's actions this week. Crawley noted, "I have been listening to conversations and discussions as an ally and will always continue to learn, denounce and support BIPOC in the fight against racism."
Lindsay has become a vocal alum when it comes to holding the franchise accountable. She urged the ABC series to diversify both on-camera and off- amid public outcry in the summer of 2020; shortly after, James was named as the first Black star. When The Bachelorette featured its first Latina and Black lead with Adams in the 2020 season, she challenged the show to spotlight conversations about race; which was followed by an onscreen conversation about the Black Lives Matter movement. After James' premiere, Lindsay suggested on her podcast that Harrison might not have been the best choice to lead a conversation with James that delved into the pressures he feels as a biracial lead.
After announcing James as the star, the franchise diversified behind the scenes by hiring more producers of color and bringing in a diversity team to work with the cast and talent. James' season, as the contestants noted in their statement, was also the most diverse in the show's 19-year history. When sharing her response to the Harrison interview on her non-franchise-supported Higher Learning podcast, Lindsay said she believes the franchise "has a race problem" and questioned why Harrison didn't sit through the diversity training that was conducted by ABC.
In Harrison's statement announcing that he plans to step aside, he acknowledged his ignorance. "I have spent the last few days listening to the pain my words have caused, and I am deeply remorseful," he said. "I have no one to blame but myself for what I said and the way I spoke."
He continued, "By excusing historical racism, I defended it. I invoked the term 'woke police,' which is unacceptable. I am ashamed over how uninformed I was. I was so wrong."
In apologizing specifically to the Black and BIPOC communities, he added, "My words were harmful. I am listening, and I truly apologize for my ignorance and any pain it caused you. I want to give my heartfelt thanks to the people from these communities who I've had enlightening conversations with over the past few days, and I am so grateful to those who have reached out to help me on my path to anti-racism."
The reality dating competition became a juggernaut for the Disney network over the years, spawning 25 seasons of The Bachelor, 16 cycles of The Bachelorette, six years of summer spinoff Bachelor in Paradise, as well as several other spinoff series, after shows, reunion events and weddings specials, all hosted by Harrison. The Bachelor controversy comes amid a wave of public figures seeing swift consequences for problematic behavior. That includes The Mandalorian star Gina Carano, who was fired from the Disney+ series over offensive comments made on social media. Disney also famously fired Roseanne Barr from her ABC comedy following a racist tweet.