The international backlash against the Sydney Morning Herald over its reporting of Rebel Wilson’s new relationship with fashion designer Ramona Agruma has intensified, with celebrities including Whoopi Goldberg now criticising the masthead.
Columnist Andrew Hornery and Herald editor Bevan Shields have this week apologised after Wilson was given a two-day deadline to respond to plans to write about the relationship.
Hornery initially complained in Saturday’s Private Sydney column about being “gazumped” by Wilson who herself revealed on Friday that Agruma was her new partner.
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.”
Shields on Tuesday afternoon published a “note to subscribers” in which he accepted full responsibility for the SMH’s coverage and apologised for the delay in acknowledging mistakes were made.
“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,” the editor said.
Shields also acknowledged that his “small note defending our approach” on Sunday was a misstep.
“As 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 recognise our mistakes and apologise 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.
Singer Ronan Keating said on the weekend the treatment of Wilson by the Herald had been “horrible”.
International media outlets including the New York Times, CNN and the BBC have reported on Hornery’s column and the response. The Times pointed to criticism from Wilson’s fans, journalists, and members of the LGBTQ+ community who argued “the decision to come out and when to do so is a personal one”.
In his initial weekend column, Hornery wrote that on Thursday he had given the Australian film star two days to respond and told her 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.
Hornery’s original column was pulled and replaced by his mea culpa on Monday. The gossip columnist said he had made mistakes and he would take a different approach in the future.
Despite originally publishing his note defending the paper’s actions, Shields on Monday afternoon also apologised. In a message to staff, he said he agreed with Hornery that it was appropriate to approach Wilson, given she had posted pictures of herself with Agruma on social media, but he had expected to decide on Friday whether or not to publish a story depending on Wilson’s response.
It would be “impossible to publish” without such a response, he said. “Mistakes were made in our approach to Wilson and I apologise 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.”