UPDATE: This story has been updated with Rachael Kirkconnell’s statement, which she posted on her social media on Feb. 11, the day following Chris Harrison’s apology, in addition to am Instagram statement released by contestants on the current season who denounced any defense of racism.
Earlier this year, social media accusations began to swirl against a frontrunner on the current season of “The Bachelor,” who has been criticized for photos that have re-surfaced from her past.
The contestant, Rachael Kirkconnell, appears to have been photographed in attendance at an antebellum plantation-themed fraternity formal back in 2018, though she has not verified the authenticity of the pictures. Kirkconnell also has been accused on TikTok of racially-insensitive behavior, including liking photos containing the Confederate flag.
In the midst of the bubbling controversy, Matt James — the first-ever Black star of “The Bachelor” who is currently dating Kirkconnell on the television show, among other women — has defended Kirkconnell in media interviews.
And then, Chris Harrison did, too.
During an interview that aired earlier this week on “Extra,” conducted by correspondent and former star of “The Bachelorette,” Rachel Lindsay, Harrison came out strong, speaking out against people who jump to conclusions with social media controversies.
The lengthy interview has received heavy backlash against Harrison, who is being criticized by critics and fans for defending racist behavior.
Harrison has apologized for his commentary, posting on his social media on Wednesday evening.
“To my Bachelor Nation family — I will always own a mistake when I make one, so I am here to extend a sincere apology,” Harrison posted. “I have this incredible platform to speak about love, and yesterday I took a stance on topics about which I should have been better informed.”
“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,” Harrison continued. “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.”
During the “Extra” interview, which spanned nearly 15 minutes, Harrison appeared to take a strong stance surrounding cancel culture. A few times throughout the interview, Lindsay — who has been a fierce critic of “The Bachelor” franchise’s diversity issues — questioned Harrison’s comments and provided her opposing viewpoint, but the interview never got overly tense or heated.
“I saw a picture of her at a sorority party five years ago and that’s it. Like, boom,” Harrison said, in regards to the photos of Kirkconnell at the plantation-themed party. “I’m like, ‘Really?'”
In response to Harrison, Lindsay said, “The picture was from 2018 at an Old South antebellum party… 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?”
“You’re 100 percent right in 2021,” Harrison then said. “That was not the case in 2018. And again, 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. And again, I’m not defending it. I didn’t go to it.”
Harrison also expressed sympathy towards Kirkconnell and her family, saying that the social media controversy has led to the public digging into her history and political views.
“People are just tearing this girl’s life apart and diving into her and her parents’ voting record. It’s unbelievably alarming to watch this,” Harrison said during the interview. “I haven’t heard Rachael speak on this yet. And until I actually hear this woman have a chance to speak, who am I to say any of this?”
ABC did not respond to Variety‘s request for comment, regarding Harrison’s apology.
James, “The Bachelor” star whose heart Kirkconnell is gunning for, was asked about the social media controversy in a recent interview, and did not speak out against her.
“I have not spoken to anybody since the show ended, but I would say that you have to be really careful about what you are doing on social media,” James said when asked about the allegations. “Rumors are dark and nasty and can ruin people’s lives. So I would give people the benefit of the doubt, and hopefully she will have her time to speak on that.”
Kirkconnell is not the first contestant to generate controversy on “The Bachelor,” which has been criticized for its lack of diversity for years, but has increased efforts surrounding inclusive casting in recent season. The franchise been in hot water before with people questioning the process of background checks for contestants, as social media controversies continue to pop up.
Garrett Yrigoyen, the contestant who won Becca Kufrin’s season of “The Bachelorette,” came under fire for social media posts that he had liked, including posts mocking Parkland high school students, liberal women, trans people and undocumented immigrants. The couple recently broke up after a two-year engagement and Kufrin has spoken out against her former fiancé’s “tone deaf” comments.
Back in 2017, a slew of tweets surfaced from a contestant on Lindsay’s season, who allegedly wrote, “What’s the difference between the NAACP and the KKK? Wait for it…One has the sense of shame to cover their racist a– faces.”
In 2020, a special episode aired where Harrison sat down with Lindsay who, alongside other female contestants of color, read aloud racist tweets they regularly receive, in an effort to shine a light on the show’s anti-bullying and anti-racist efforts.
The day following Harrison’s apology, Kirkconnell addressed the controversy for the first time, by posting on her Instagram, apologizing for not recognizing “how offensive and racist” her actions were.
“While there have been rumors circulating, there have also been truths that have come to light that I need to address. I hear you, and I’m here to say I was wrong,” Kirkconnell wrote. “At one point, I didn’t recognize how offensive and racist my actions were, but that doesn’t excuse them. My age or when it happened does not excuse anything. They are not acceptable or okay in any sense. I was ignorant, but my ignorance was racist.”
Her post continued, “I am sorry to the communities and individuals that my actions harmed and offended. I am ashamed about my lack of education, but it is no one’s responsibility to educate me. I am learning and will continue to learn how to be antiracist, because it’s important to speak up in the moment and not after you’re called out. If you are a person who doesn’t understand the offense in question, I urge you to learn from my mistakes and encourage you to use them as a teachable moment.”
The controversy swarming around Kirkconnell — and now, Harrison — is the latest issue “The Bachelor” has faced, as the franchise continues to grapple with constant criticism surrounding diversity and the handling of race.
On Thursday, after Kirkconnell released her apology, female contestants on the current season united to take a stand together, posting a statement, standing in support of Lindsay and denouncing the defense of racism. This season features the most diverse group of contestants in the franchise’s history.
“We are the women of ‘Bachelor’ Season 25,” the women posted. “Twenty-five women who identify as BIPOC were cast on this historic season that was meant to represent change. We are deeply disappointed and want to make it clear that we denounce any defense of racism. Any defense of racist behavior denies the lived and continued experiences of BIPOC individuals. These experiences are not to be exploited or tokenized.”
Appearing to knock Harrison’s comments, the statement continued, “Rachel Lindsay continues to advocate with ‘grace’ for individuals who identify as BIPOC within this franchise. Just because she is speaking the loudest, doesn’t mean she is alone. We stand with her, we hear her and we advocate for change alongside her.”
Variety has reached out to ABC for comment, in regards to the new statement released by the female contestants.