While much of Bachelor Nation considered Matt James’s season to be pretty boring, I think we can at least agree that there has been no shortage of drama behind the camera. ICYMI, obvious frontrunner and winner(ish?) of Matt’s season, Rachael Kirkconnell, came under fire after photos of her attending an “Old South”, plantation-themed party in 2018 resurfaced online. Viewers were quick to point out that these events, also known as “Antebellum parties”, are rooted in slavery and racism.
When the backlash first began, Kirkconnell chose to go the “no comment” route for quite some time, not addressing the situation on any of her socials nor taking any interviews. *SIDE NOTE*: This is actually one of the first big lessons that you learn while attending the Unofficial Juda Engelmayer School of Handling a Public Crisis: “no comment” speaks volumes, so use this tactic sparingly.
For those of you who don’t know, during Kirkconnell’s period of silence, Harrison was interviewed by former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay about the whole situation. This interview was chock-full of controversial comments on Harrison’s part. You can watch the entire 13 minute interview here, but let me save you time. Below are a some of the quotes in question:
According to his critics, Harrison expressed more concern and empathy for Kirkconnell than he did for Black Americans. Moreover, he had the opportunity to condemn Old South parties, but chose to spend more time going after Kirkconnell’s “woke police” internet trolls.
If you ask me how I personally feel about the Harrison/Lindsay interview, I could go on (and on and on and on). But I won’t. Not just because nobody asked, but also because this blog post is about Public Relations. When you’re a publicist, your own emotions should stay at the door. It’s your job to ensure the client’s public image is managed, negative press is mitigated, and reputations remain positive. Full stop. It is not your job to be your client’s moral compass (that sounds like a fun job, though!).
If you ask a publicist, (which I did), Harrison’s interview can only be described as disastrous. Crisis Communications guru Juda Engelmayer said, from a public relations perspective, Harrison made a crucial mistake: he failed to consider his surroundings. In that moment, the beloved host seemed to lose sight of who he was speaking to, who was watching him and, apparently, what year he was living in.
The Bachelor’s key demographic is adults aged 18-49, right where the Millennial generation falls, the most diverse generation in American history. According to Brookings.com, “this generation is set to serve as a social, economic, and political bridge to chronologically successive (and increasingly) racially diverse generations.” Of course, you can’t typecast an entire generation, especially one that is made up of over 75 million people. But it is rather safe to say that a good chunk of this group, and likely members of Bachelor Nation, are better at identifying when someone has fallen short of properly advocating for the BIPOC community. And with platforms like Twitter, there is no stopping them from speaking up.
Harrison might not agree, like, or care about this societal shift, but his publicist definitely should. Whether he intended it or not, the fact is this: the public saw Harrison communicating to a black woman his sympathy for a white woman engaged in what many believe to be racially insensitive actions. “Chris should have been a bit more humble, more appreciative of people’s feelings, and not be so quick to dismiss the people who were offended,” said Juda. “Even if he completely believed they were wrong for being offended.” As a celebrity or public figure, you must be conscious about what is good for your brand. If Harrison wanted to remain an uncontroversial host, he should have simply stated that he will allow Kirkconnell & James to speak for themselves when they are ready.
Harrison has already announced that he will be “stepping away” from the franchise, but did not specify for how long. He also told Michael Strahan on GMA, “those parties are not OK, past, present, future. And I didn’t speak from my heart. And that is to say that I stand against all forms of racism, and I am deeply sorry to Rachel Lindsay and to the Black community.”
Former Bachelorettes Kaitlyn Bristowe and Tayshia Adams will take over his hosting duties, at least for next season. In the meantime, according to Juda, Harrison should continue to remain humble, show his support for the replacement hosts from afar, and stay out of more trouble. GMA is a highly publicized platform but is also home to the same network as The Bachelor. Harrison, therefore, runs the risk of seeming inauthentic. He should also issue a statement of understanding and appreciation on his own personal feed, as a person, not an actor. What will go on behind closed doors? We might not ever know.