Sydney Morning Herald columnist Andrew Hornery has admitted he made mistakes in his approach to Australian actor Rebel Wilson’s new relationship, her first with a woman.
After complaining on Saturday about being gazumped on a story about Wilson’s new partner, Ramona Agruma, Hornery has written a new column apologizing for his reaction and saying he will take a different approach from now on. Saturday’s column has been removed and replaced with the new one.
An email he wrote giving Wilson a two-day deadline to respond to his plans to write about the relationship was not meant to be a threat, he wrote, but he could now see why it was seen as one.
Monday’s apology column followed a public backlash to the SMH over its approach to the story.
The Hollywood star revealed on Friday she was in a relationship with US fashion designer Agruma, which prompted an outpouring of well wishes. But controversy erupted after the Herald reported on Saturday that he had contacted her on Thursday, wanting to do the story.
In a note to readers on Monday, the Herald’s editor, Bevan Shields, said the paper did not out Wilson, but “simply asked questions and as standard practice included a deadline for a response”. The ABC radio host Rafael Epstein called that “disingenuous”.
LGBTIQ+ Health Australia’s chief executive officer, Nicky Bath, said Wilson was put in “an appalling situation” when the Herald contacted her about her new relationship.
Bath said there was a process people went through to reveal their sexuality and it was an intensely personal and vulnerable time.
“They are personal decisions,” she said. “Who you disclose to first, how you do that, and when you do that.
“When people do come out, the important issue is that they have made the decision to do so, and have the right support around them to go public on an important part of their life.
“To have pressure put on you to come out is really unhelpful, and will impact on [people’s] mental health.”
On Friday morning, Wilson had posted on Instagram, with the hashtag #loveislove, that she thought she was “searching for a Disney Prince”.
“But maybe what I really needed all this time was a Disney Princess,” she wrote.
On Saturday, Hornery wrote that the paper had emailed Wilson’s representatives on Thursday morning, “giving her two days to comment on her new relationship with LA leisure wear designer Ramona Agruma”.
“Big mistake,” Hornery wrote. “Wilson opted to gazump the story.”
He wrote that “who anyone dates is their business”, but that Wilson “happily fed such prurient interest when she had a hunky boyfriend on her arm”. Wilson would be unlikely to have experienced homophobia, he wrote, and “sexual orientation is no longer something to be hidden”.
On Sunday, Wilson said on Twitter it was a “very hard situation” that she was trying to handle with grace.
In his new column, Hornery wrote that as a gay man, he is aware of the pain of discrimination, and that he regrets that “Rebel has found this hard”.
He thought Wilson would be happy to discuss her new love, but “we mishandled steps in our approach”, he wrote.
When he emailed Wilson’s representatives last week, he said he had “enough detail to publish the story”.
“However, in the interests of transparency and fairness, before publishing I am reaching out to Rebel to see if she will engage in what I believe is a happy and unexpected news story for her, especially given the recent Pride celebrations,” he wrote. “My deadline is Friday, 1pm Sydney time.”
That framing was a mistake, Hornery wrote on Monday. “The Herald and I will approach things differently from now on to make sure we always take into consideration the extra layer of complexities people face when it comes to their sexuality.”
He also conceded the tone of his Saturday column was “off”. “I got it wrong,” he said.
Shields wrote that the paper would have asked the same question had Wilson’s new partner been a man. Shields said he had not made a decision about or what he would publish, but that any decision would have been informed by any response from Wilson.
“This was not a standard news story,” he wrote. “We wish Wilson and Agruma well.”
Bath said that while society may consider “everything to be right as rain” for LGBTQ+ people, the reality was that “homophobia is alive and well in Australia”.
“In 2022, to find ourselves in this situation is really disappointing, when we know that people from LGBTIQ+ have elevated rates of mental health [issues],” she said.
She said coming out should be a joyful time for people to talk about who they are, and that process for Wilson had been “tarnished” by the Herald. She pointed to the Australian Press Council’s standards of practice, which refer to the need for respect and consent in discussing a person’s sexual or gender identity.