SMH editor Bevan Shields and actor Rebel Wilson (Image: SMH/Supplied)

Apologies are funny things. Sometimes you get them. Sometimes you have to threaten legal action for them. And sometimes you really deserve them from Sydney Morning Herald editor Bevan Shields, but just like when the NSW government shut down Sydney’s train network, he can’t seem to find the right words. 

Last week, Australian actor Rebel Wilson announced on Instagram that she was in a same-sex relationship with fashion designer Ramona Agruma. Great, good for them. Except that it was soon revealed that it wasn’t Wilson’s choice to publicly come out. 

Network 10 journalist Kate Doak pointed out on Twitter that the fine people at Nine had all but forced Wilson to come out, by giving her a “respectful” two days to comment on her new relationship.

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In an article that has since been taken down and replaced with a mea culpa by the same journalist, Nine’s “Private Sydney” columnist Andrew Hornery wrote that it was “with an abundance of caution and respect that this media outlet emailed Rebel Wilson’s representatives on Thursday morning, giving her two days to comment on her new relationship with LA leisurewear designer Ramona Agruma, before publishing a single word”.

He then went on to bemoan the fact that Wilson hadn’t responded to his threat questions, and instead had “gazumped” his story, deciding that she’d rather out herself than have it occur on page 36 of tomorrow’s fish-and-chips wrapping. 

Unsurprisingly, people were pretty critical of the paper’s conduct — and not just in Australia. The news went viral worldwide, with plenty of people pretty disgusted with Nine’s conduct.

Thankfully, it didn’t take long for SMH editor Bevan Shields to issue an apolo– wait, no, sorry: an excuse.

Shields published a short note defending the paper’s position in the “interest of transparency”:

The Herald’s view on the issue, it turns out, is that it did nothing wrong.

The paper would have asked the same questions had Wilson’s new partner been a man, Shields wrote, and “to say that the Herald ‘outed’ Wilson is wrong”.

It’s a strange assertion, given the fact that the SMH‘s intention of outing Wilson was literally in the first line of the article. Hornery opens with: “In a perfect world, ‘outing’ same-sex relationships should be a redundant concept in 2022. Love is love, right? As Rebel Wilson knows, we do not live in a perfect world.” He then goes on to describe how the paper outed her.

“I had made no decision about whether or what to publish,” Shields goes on to state in his non-apology. “And the Herald’s decision about what to do would have been informed by any response Wilson supplied.”

Not even a full 24 hours after Shield’s non-apology, the original article reporting Wilson’s same-sex relationship was removed and replaced with a link to an article by Hornery, titled: “I made mistakes over Rebel Wilson, and will learn from them“. The columnist stops short of actually saying sorry, but admits to making mistakes in his approach with Wilson and says he regrets “that Rebel has found this hard”.

Shields is yet to make an apology, although he did tweet the article saying, “The Herald made mistakes over Rebel Wilson, and will learn from them.”

At the time of the first note defending the original article, Twitter gave Shields a well-deserved piling on, pointing out the myriad issues in his statement.

The dark history that LGBTIQA+ activist Sally Rugg is referring to is how, as Rugg points out in another tweet, in 1978 the SMH published the names, addresses and jobs of the people arrested in the first Mardi Gras in Darlinghurst.

The SMH apologised for this in 2016, but it looks like Shields may not know his paper’s history all that well.

Of course, there are other ways you can get apologies on Twitter other than by deserving them, and if Wilson is interested, she should hit up former MP for Bowman Andrew Laming, a virtuoso at getting incredibly heartfelt apologies from people on Twitter, for tips.

Laming’s most recent apology came from Lisa Wilkinson, host of Channel Ten’s The Project — and it follows the format of those who came before her (Elizabeth Barr, Derryn Hinch, Georgia Dent, Murray Watt, and William Bowe, to name a few).

The great thing about these apologies is that every time they appear we get a refresher of what it is that the former Liberal politician was accused of. So here’s today’s refresher:

In 2019, 29-year-old Crystal White made a formal complaint to Queensland Police after Laming took a photo of her filling a bar fridge at a landscaping company.

White alleges that she was in a compromising position — bending over, with her underwear exposed. Laming denied it. To be clear, he denied there was anything compromising about the photo; he did not deny taking it in the first place, because that’s not creepy at all. 

Laming was cleared of any wrongdoing by Queensland Police and the former politician proceeded to take legal action against half of Australian Twitter.

This article was updated at 2:00pm AEST to include Hornery’s article where he admits that he and the Herald mishandled steps in their approach to the story.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief
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