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Chris Harrison to 'step aside' briefly from 'The Bachelor' in wake of controversy

Harrison has received widespread criticism after he seemed to defend contestant Rachael Kirkconnell's past racist behavior.
Chris Harrison
Chris Harrison has hosted "The Bachelor," The Bachelorette" and all of the series' spinoffs.Eric McCandless / Walt Disney Television via Getty
/ Source: Reuters

"The Bachelor" host Chris Harrison has announced that he is "stepping aside" from the franchise for "a period of time" amid controversy over his defense of current contestant Rachael Kirkconnell's past racist behavior. Therefore, he will not appear on the "After the Final Rose" special, which will air after the show's season finale.

"The historic season of The Bachelor should not be marred or overshadowed by my mistakes or diminished by my actions. 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," Harrison wrote. "I am dedicated to getting educated on a more profound and productive level than ever before."

Harrison has received widespread criticism after an interview on "Extra" with former "Bachelorette," Rachel Lindsay, where he spoke extensively through a 14-minute discussion, seemingly defending a racist social media controversy swirling around Kirkconnell, who had former photos resurface on social media — in the images, she is seen attending an antebellum plantation-themed fraternity formal in 2018, and she also allegedly liked photos on social media containing the Confederate flag.

In the statement, issued on Saturday, Harrison apologized again for his comments about Kirkconnell's resurfaced photos. "By excusing historical racism, I defended it," Harrison wrote. "I invoked the term 'woke police,' which is unacceptable. I am ashamed over how uninformed I was. I was so wrong."

"To the Black community, to the BIPOC community: I am so sorry. My words were harmful. I am listening, and I truly apologize for my ignorance and any pain it caused you," Harrison continued. "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."

It is currently unclear just how long Harrison's hiatus will be or who will be taking over his role during the "After the Final Rose" special.

During the interview with Lindsay, appearing to speak out against cancel culture, Harrison argued that Kirkconnell getting blasted online was perhaps unfair, given that the photos were taken in the past.

"The picture was from 2018 at an Old South antebellum party," Lindsay responded to Harrison. "That's not a good look."

Harrison became defensive and argued, "Well, Rachel is it a good look in 2018? Or, is it not a good look in 2021? Because there's a big difference."

"It's not a good look ever," Lindsay said. She added, "If I went to that party, what would I represent at that party?"

Kirkconnell, a frontrunner contestant on Matt James' season, apologized after Harrison, stating, "I didn't recognize how offensive and racist my actions were, but that doesn't excuse them...I was ignorant, but my ignorance was racist."

In the wake of swift backlash, Harrison issued an apology, stating: "I took a stance on topics about which I should have been better informed. 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."

Shortly after the interview caught fire and became subject of intense controversy online, Lindsay went on her podcast and shared that she and Harrison had spoken privately where he apologized, but that she was having a challenging time accepting the apology. She said that she would not renew her contract with Warner Bros. TV, the studio behind "The Bachelor" franchise.

The current female contestants on this season of "The Bachelor" banded together to issue a statement to denounce the defense of racism. "Twenty-five women who identify as BIPOC were cast on this historic season that was meant to represent change," the statement read. "We are deeply disappointed and want to make it clear that we denounce any defense of racism."

Criticism has been mounting in the days since the interview was published by "Extra" with many in Bachelor Nation speaking out against Harrison, even with a petition launching, calling for Harrison to be fired.

Tayshia Adams, the second Black "Bachelorette," after Lindsay (whose casting was historical for the franchise), spoke out against the overall diversity issues that have long-plagued the franchise, saying on her podcast, "First, I think we're going to need to hear from the franchise as a whole in not standing for racism...Just because you have a Black lead or a few of them doesn't mean you're not racist."