Sydney Morning Herald editor apologises for Rebel Wilson debacle

The Sydney Morning Herald has apologised for its actions in handling the revelation that actor Rebel Wilson had found happiness in a same-sex relationship.

It’s the fourth statement the newspaper has made since in recent days, initially entertainment writer Andrew Hornery chastised Wilson for publicly sharing her coming out story rather than allowing it to be a scoop for the newspaper.

As criticism of the newspaper’s approach to the actors personal life grew, editor Bevan Shields published a note to readers saying everyone had misunderstood what had occurred, and refuted accusations that the newspaper had forced Wilson to ‘come out’.

The response only triggered additional criticism and the situation grew to become an international news story, with Bevan Shield’s name trending on Twitter for days.

On Monday Hornery published an apology and withdrew his original column. Late on Tuesday editor Bevan Shields has also admitted that they got it wrong, apologising to staff and subscribers for the newspaper’s approach.

Shields said that while the newspaper had approached the story with the best of intentions, giving the actor a 48-hour window to respond may have appeared as an ultimatum or attempt to pressure her.

The editor said the tone of the article in response to Wilson announcing the  news all by herself was also wrong, and the article should never have been published.

“The Saturday piece should not have been published and that is ultimately on me as editor. For that, I apologise to Wilson and anyone offended by it.” Bevan Shields said.

Furthermore Shields said he had also acted inappropriately in his initial response.

“As editor I was conscious of supporting staff, but I should have also acknowledged our mistakes, which is what I’m doing today.”

Rebel Wilson shared last week that she had found her “Disney Princess” and was in a relationship with fashion designer Ramona Agruma. On Saturday the newspaper’s entertainment columnist criticised Wilson for her revelation, revealing that he had emailed her and given her 48 hours to decide if he wanted to be part of a story he was planning.

The newspaper then went on to suggest that it was reasonable to expect Wilson to be forthcoming about her new same-sex relationship because she had shared previous heterosexual relationships on social media.

The writer also asserted that Wilson had probably not been exposed to homophobia in the past because she had always identified as heterosexual, and Hollywood was a welcoming place for LGBTIQA+ people.

As condemnation of the article grew, and the newspaper was accused of forcing Wilson’s hand and pushing her to be ‘outed’, the newspaper’s editor published a note telling those criticising their actions that they had misunderstood the interaction.

Editor Bevan Shields said the newspaper had not actually made a final decision on whether or not it would publish the story, accusations of ‘outing’ the actor were without substance, and the follow-up article from Hornery was not a normal news story, but rather a behind the scenes glimpse into the actions of Wilson and her PR team.

The brush-off from the newspaper’s editor kicked the criticism into overdrive with health organisations and prominent celebrities voicing their disgust at the newspaper’s approach and subsequent justifications.

Wilson herself made a brief comment on social media saying it has been a hard experience for her, but she was hoping to handle it with grace.

Many members of the LGBTIQA+ communities highlighted that the newspaper’s actions were particularly worrying given that the newspaper in recent years had apologised for outing many people who were arrested at the first Mardi Gras protest in 1978.

Bevan Shields said he wanted to reassure readers that the newspaper still held those values.

“The Herald is an inclusive masthead and ally of LGBTIQ+ readers and Australians. It’s one of the many reasons I’m proud to work here. This episode was far from ideal, and while there was no malice involved I recognise our mistakes and apologise for them.” Shields said.

Graeme Watson

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