As Sarah wrote last week, Rebel Wilson’s Instagram post about her “Disney princess”, designer Ramona Agruma, seemed like it was just straight up happy news, and during Pride Month too. Rebel was warmly embraced, people celebrated her love announcement…and then over the weekend we found out that it wasn’t her choice to come out because the Sydney Morning Herald made the decision for her. And we know this because they actually told on themselves in a weekend article that has since been deleted.
So apparently it wasn't @RebelWilson's choice to come out... The @smh/@theage have admitted to giving her a heads up 2 days in advance that they were going to "out" her. What's worse, openly gay men at the Sydney Morning Herald were involved in this. ðŸ¤¦ðŸ¼â€â™€ï¸ https://t.co/Zl80zg01SW— Kate Doak (@katedoak) June 11, 2022
Thanks for your comments, it was a very hard situation but trying to handle it with grace ðŸ’—— Rebel Wilson (@RebelWilson) June 12, 2022
In the original article, reporter Andrew Hornery pouts about the fact that he was looking into the story about Rebel’s relationship with Ramona and had reached out to Rebel and her team for comment, giving them a deadline for response which was, understandably, perceived as a threat. The piece was whingey, and called Rebel’s decision to confirm her relationship with Ramona on her own Instagram account “underwhelming”. The Herald’s editor, Bevan Shields, then followed up with his own piece defending Andrew’s. Up to that point, Rebel hadn’t disclosed the reason for her reveal so, again, it was the Sydney Morning Herald that told on themselves, sanctimoniously. As so many others have already pointed out, they were quite right to be dragged. Nobody should be outed and by now we should all know the potentially dangerous consequences for queer people when they are outed. Queer people have the basic uninfringable right make the decision for themselves when they’re ready.
Yesterday Andrew Hornery published an explanation and a weak apology for how it all went down. Bevan Shields followed up today with a statement on behalf of the Sydney Morning Herald acknowledging “what we got wrong with the Rebel Wilson story”. Or at least some of it. They’re saying there was no malice behind their actions, they did not intend for the timeline they gave to Rebel to respond to be taken as a threat or an ultimatum; they say they understand why it was interpreted that way. But some are questioning the sincerity of their public remorse.
More developments: The @Australian has just published an Instagram post by Andrew Hornery calling those who raised concerns over the @RebelWilson article the "Pitchfork Brigade" & "Nutters barking at shadows". This comes after multiple apologies from @smh. https://t.co/Q9XNC3C36c— Kate Doak (@katedoak) June 14, 2022
Obviously there’s no defence for Andrew Hornery and the Sydney Morning Herald’s handling of Rebel’s story from the jump – because it wasn’t their story to tell, even if the reporter himself is a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community. And that’s the intersection that’s thorny and complicated and still needs progress. Andrew Hornery thought he had a scoop, he very much wanted to break this story; he wanted to be the first to report on Rebel and Ramona’s relationship and was disappointed that his reaching out to her resulted in her controlling her own narrative, which she has every right to do. But that was why he had a suck attack in print: it was because he’d lost out on a scoop…that wasn’t his to begin with.
I’ve been consuming and contributing to the celebrity gossip ecosystem for almost 20 years, I know the scoop business, and I’ve been motivated by scooping – often at the expense of what’s right. When I first started the newsletter (in 2003) that preceded this website (in 2004) it was standard gossip culture to speculate about who was gay. That doesn’t make it right and of course we have hopefully seen the mistake of that approach and are learning to do better but it’s undeniable that it was condoned, even accepted, during those times. Again, to be clear, there is no justification for it, it was wrong, but I’m coming to a point about how that culture was normalised and what that says about who we were, then, and how those attitudes and that conditioning were entrenched.
Back in that era, the early 2000s, Ted Casablanca would regularly do blind items at E Online about queer celebrities. Those of you who were online then will remember everyone’s obsession with finding out who “Toothy Tile” was. Me too. I also did blind items about gay celebrities who hadn’t come out. Many gossip blogs outed people and were celebrated. I continue to reckon with that past, with the desire to scoop, to be the first to report something, to be more in the know than anyone else, over and above acting with integrity.
Over the last decade or so there’s been a shift in that kind of scoop mentality. Clearly, as we have seen with Rebel Wilson’s example, the shift is still in progress, there is obviously still much more work to be done, as the celebrity gossip ecosystem re-examines its past and is adjusting in real time. We’ve seen similar in the case of Britney Spears, for example, and how mainstream media outlets and the public have over the last two years especially reflected on the coverage of her personal struggles.
So on the issue of scoops and celebrities and coming out, there has to be a updated standard. Andrew Hornery and the Sydney Morning Herald initially defended their position on the basis of Rebel as a celebrity and how celebrity romances are typically covered. For example: breaking news, new couple alert, Kim Kardashian has a new boyfriend – it’s Pete Davidson! Well, sure. But this is a straight couple, and there are no potentially dire consequences for scooping a straight couple.
Another example: breaking news, new couple alert, Cara Delevingne has a new girlfriend! Well, sure. But Cara has been out for a long time. The scoop in this case isn’t that she’s queer, the scoop is that she’s dating someone new.
It's different for those who haven’t made the decision to come out yet. The ideal would be that it’s not different, and that they remain safe and not subject to harm, but that is crushingly not our reality. So in these situations, for the reporter, even if the scoop comes to them… what’s the move?
The move is to let go of the scoop. Because even if Andrew Hornery had reached out to Rebel Wilson and didn’t give a deadline/ultimatum, and simply gave her the heads up that he’d heard from sources that she and Ramona were together and promised that if she wasn’t comfortable and wasn’t ready, he wouldn’t go with the story, she still would have been aware that her story could potentially get out there, putting pressure on her to come to a decision she wasn’t prepared for. So you drop the scoop.
Is that the move that people, me included, would have made in 2002? Disappointingly unlikely. But hopefully it’s the move that more and more people would make today in 2022. Which might still not be enough when we look back on it in another few years.
And on that note, because we are still learning and making mistakes inevitably, if you have an even better take, please do share it with me. I likely haven’t gotten it all right even in this post. Please let me know.