rebel wilson bevan shields
(Image: Private Media)

Sydney Morning Herald editor Bevan Shields says he would not have published a piece outing Rebel Wilson if she did not respond to the publication’s request for comment, according to an all-staff message sent in response to internal and external pressure over the controversy.

On Monday afternoon, Shields posted a message to the company’s internal Slack channel for SMH staff shortly after an anonymous staff member sent a mass email calling the Rebel Wilson saga the latest in a series of decisions that had “trashed” the publication’s reputation. 

In a copy of the message seen by Crikey, Shields gave new details about the process of contacting Wilson’s representatives to confirm her same-sex relationship, a decision that led to international backlash over whether the paper was threatening to out the Australian movie star. 

Shields, who started as editor in January, told SMH staff that Andrew Hornery had told him of his intention to contact Wilson’s representatives. He also claimed that, in a detail that went beyond his initial public response to the saga, he would not have published the piece had Wilson not responded to SMH’s request.

“I had made no decision to publish anything and expected to make a call on Friday about whether to proceed with a story or not, based on whether Andrew heard from Wilson. If she had not responded, it would have been impossible to publish,” he said. 

Shields also told staff that he asked for Hornery’s column — which said Wilson “gazumped” the publication by announcing her relationship on Instagram before the SMH’s deadline — to be taken offline.

“Andrew also acknowledges the tone of Saturday’s piece was not appropriate, and I asked for it to be removed from online today,” wrote Shields.

“I appreciate Andrew being upfront about this.

“Mistakes were made in our approach to Wilson and I apologise for them … the inclusion of a deadline was an error as it appeared to be an ultimatum.”

Finally, Shields appealed to staff to discuss any concerns “in-person or over the phone”. 

One SMH staff member who criticised Shields’ handling of the controversy quipped to Crikey that his plea was “all well and good to say now”.

Meanwhile, Hornery has commented on his private Instagram account about being trolled over his column, telling his followers that “the pitchfork brigade is out for blood”.

“Don’t take any notice of them, it’s toxic vitriol and nutters barking at shadows demanding to be heard. Know that I’m OK, and I truly appreciate the support a few brave souls have dared to show in the face of the onslaught. Xx”