Editor Bevan Shields has now accepted full responsibility for the paper’s coverage and apologized for the delay in acknowledging mistakes were made.
The international response against the Sydney Morning Herald’s coverage of Rebel Wilson’s new connection with fashion designer Ramona Agruma has become stronger, with celebrities such as Whoopi Goldberg joining the chorus of criticism.
Wilson was given a two-day deadline to respond to intentions to publish about the relationship, and columnist Andrew Hornery and Herald editor Bevan Shields apologized this week.
Hornery first complained in Saturday’s Private Sydney column about being “gazumped” by Wilson, who had announced Agruma as her new partner on Friday.
Hornery’s explanation, in which he stated that it was never the Herald’s aim to “out” Wilson, was strongly criticized by Goldberg on her show The View, as per meaww reported.
Goldberg, on her show The View, was scathing of Hornery’s apology where he said it was never the Herald’s intention to “out” Wilson.
“If it wasn’t your intention you wouldn’t have done it,” she said. “You knew exactly what you were doing … They say ‘Oh well people want to know. I don’t care what people want to know, frankly. I want to keep my privacy. It should be my choice if I want to talk about something.”
Shields issued a “note to subscribers” on Tuesday afternoon in which he accepted full responsibility for the SMH’s coverage and apologized for the delay in admitting mistakes.
“The Saturday piece should not have been published and that is ultimately on me as editor. For that, I apologize to Wilson and anyone offended by it,” the editor said.
Shields also acknowledged that his “small note defending our approach” on Sunday was a misstep.
“As an editor, I was conscious of supporting staff but I should have also acknowledged our mistakes, which is what I’m doing today,” he wrote.
“The Herald is an inclusive masthead and ally of LGBTIQ+ readers and Australians. This episode was far from ideal, and while there was no malice involved, I recognize our mistakes and apologize for them.”
Australian comic Magda Szubanski has said the paper had “no God-given right to know anything about the private life of anyone” in a tweet addressed to Shields.
“I don’t claim to speak on behalf of Rebel Wilson. But for LGBTQIA+ people the consequences of what is nothing more than a hissy fit over who gets to print gossip can have devastating effects,” she said.
On the weekend, singer Ronan Keating described the Herald’s treatment of Wilson as “horrible.”
Hornery’s column and the response have been covered by international media outlets such as the New York Times, CNN, and the BBC. Wilson’s fans, journalists, and members of the LGBTQ+ community criticized him, claiming that “the decision to come out and when to do so is a personal one,” according to the Times.
Hornery wrote in his first-weekend column on Thursday that he had given the Australian actress two days to react and that he had enough confirmation to publish a story.
The next day, Wilson posted a picture of herself with Agruma on Instagram, saying she had thought she was “searching for a Disney prince”. “But maybe what I really needed all this time was a Disney princess,” she wrote.
On Monday, Hornery’s initial column was pulled and replaced with his mea culpa. The gossip columnist admitted that he had made mistakes and that he would approach the situation differently in the future.
Shields apologized on Monday afternoon, despite previously posting a message defending the paper’s actions. He agreed with Hornery that contacting Wilson was appropriate because she had posted images of herself with Agruma on social media, but he had expected to decide on Friday whether or not to run a piece based on Wilson’s reaction, he said in a message to staff.
It would be “impossible to publish” without such a response, he said. “Mistakes were made in our approach to Wilson and I apologize for them,” Shields wrote.
The editor said he would not have published a piece unless Wilson had agreed to be involved. “The inclusion of a deadline was an error as it appeared to be an ultimatum,” he wrote.
Hornery has also faced a storm of criticism on his personal social media accounts.
People have bombarded his Facebook page with abuse and accused him of outing the actor.
He has told those close to him to ignore the “pitchfork brigade” and not to take any notice of the “toxic vitriol and nutters barking at shadows demanding to be heard”.
“Friends and family, apologies for the incessant trolling on my feed these past few days the pitchfork brigade is baying for blood – can’t really be bothered deleting them all as it would take me days!” he wrote.
“Know that I’m OK and appreciate the support a few brave souls have dared to show.”