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Australian columnist admits mistakes in Rebel Wilson ‘outing’ controversy

By Hilary Whiteman, CNN

An Australian newspaper columnist has apologized for a story that appeared to accuse actor Rebel Wilson of spoiling his attempts to out her as gay.

In a new column published Monday, Sydney Morning Herald journalist Andrew Hornery says he did not seek to “out” the star, but understands why his email giving a deadline for comment on Wilson’s new partner “could have been seen as a threat.”

The original story, published on Saturday, prompted outrage on social media, as did a follow up article from the newspaper’s editor, who defended the columnist and denied the paper had “outed Wilson.”

In Saturday’s story, Hornery said he approached Wilson’s representatives on Thursday morning with a request for comment on the actor’s new relationship with LA leisure wear designer Romana Agruma. He said he gave them “two days to comment.”

“Big mistake,” Hornery wrote in the Private Sydney column on Saturday. “Wilson opted to gazump the story” (gazump is a British-Australian slang term suggesting one person has unfairly outbid or beaten the other).

He was referring to an image Wilson posted to Instagram Friday morning showing herself and Agruma with the words: “I thought I was searching for a Disney Prince… but maybe what I really needed all this time was a Disney Princess #loveislove.”

The post received thousands of congratulatory comments, but Hornery’s column on Saturday suggested he wasn’t happy with the actor’s post.

“Considering how bitterly Wilson had complained about journalism standards when she successfully sued Women’s Day for defamation, her choice to ignore our discreet, genuine and honest queries was, in our view, underwhelming.”

He was referring to Wilson’s 2017 court action against Bauer Media, the publisher of Australian magazine Women’s Day, who she sued for defamation over a number of articles she said depicted her as a serial liar. She was awarded a record-breaking $3.6 million defamation payout, though the figure was later reduced on appeal.

On Sunday, as outrage spread against Hornery’s column, Sydney Morning Herald editor Bevan Shields wrote his own column headlined “A note on Rebel Wilson” to give “the Herald’s view.”

“To say that the Herald ‘outed’ Wilson is wrong,” he wrote. “Like other mastheads do every day, we simply asked questions and as standard practice included a deadline for a response. I had made no decision about whether or what to publish, and the Herald’s decision about what to do would have been informed by any response Wilson supplied.”

Wilson later responded to a Twitter thread by another journalist who said the episode was “quite astonishing.”

“Thanks for your comments,” wrote Wilson. “It was a very hard situation but trying to handle it with grace.”

In his apology on Monday, Hornery said: “I genuinely regret that Rebel has found this hard. That was never my intention. But I see she has handled it all with extraordinary grace.”

“As a gay man I’m well aware of how deeply discrimination hurts,” Hornery said. “The last thing I would ever want to do is inflict that pain on someone else.”

The writer also addressed criticism that he seemed annoyed that Wilson had beaten him to his story by coming out on her own terms.

“In trying to tell the story within the story, which is what Private Sydney does, the tone of my column on Saturday was also off. I got it wrong. I allowed my disappointment to cast a shadow over the piece. That was not fair and I apologise,” Hornery wrote.

At the time of writing, Wilson had not publicly responded to his apology.

The original column has been taken down.

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Article Topic Follows: CNN - Asia/Pacific

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