Bachelor host Chris Harrison steps aside amid racism row

Harrison, who defended contestant who attended ‘old south’ party, says he is ‘deeply remorseful … [for] excusing historical racism’

Chris Harrison said: ‘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.’
Chris Harrison said: ‘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.’ Photograph: Craig Sjodin/ABC/Getty
Chris Harrison said: ‘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.’ Photograph: Craig Sjodin/ABC/Getty
in New York

Last modified on Sun 14 Feb 2021 18.57 EST

Chris Harrison, the host of the hit reality series The Bachelor, said on Saturday he was “stepping aside” from ABC’s hit franchise for a “period of time”, following comments in defense of a current contestant caught up in a racism storm.

The contestant, Rachael Kirkconnell, appears to have liked social media posts featuring the Confederate flag while photos have also emerged purportedly showing her at an “old south”-themed college party several years ago, according to reports.

Kirkconnell has been described as a frontrunner to win the affections of series star Matt James, the first-ever Black Bachelor.

Harrison discussed the Kirkconnell controversy on Tuesday, in an interview with Rachel Lindsay, the franchise’s first Black star. Lindsay asked Harrison what he thought about why neither the Bachelor franchise nor Kirkconnell had addressed the controversy.

Harrison asked viewers to give Kirkconnell “a little grace, a little understanding, a little compassion”, rather than “taking a leap” in making a decision about her based on reported social media posts.

Lindsay explained that attending an antebellum party was “not a good look”.

“Well, Rachel, is it a good look in 2018, or is it not a good look in 2021? Because there’s a big difference,” Harrison said.

Lindsay replied: “It’s not a good look ever. Because she’s celebrating the old south. If I went to that party, what would I represent at that party?”

While Harrison said Lindsay was “100% right in 2021 … that was not the case in 2018. I’m not defending Rachael, I just know that, I don’t know, 50 million people did that in 2018. That was a type of party that a lot of people went to … where is this lens we’re holding up and was this lens available, and were we all looking through it in 2018?”

The interview spurred backlash and Harrison posted an apology on social media, saying: “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.”

He also promised “to do better”.

The fallout continued, however. Lindsay said she wouldn’t renew her Bachelor contract when it ends, according to reports, and on Friday, on her podcast, said: “I’m fucking tired. I’m exhausted. I have truly had enough.”

Announcing his time away from The Bachelor, Harrison apologized again.

“I have spent the last few days listening to the pain my words have caused, and I am deeply remorseful,” he said. “My ignorance did damage to my friends, colleagues and strangers alike. I have no one to blame but myself for what I said and the way I spoke.

“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.”

Harrison also wrote that “this historic season of The Bachelor should not be marred or overshadowed by my mistakes or diminished by my actions”.