Nobody owes you a story

Media and public obsession with celebrities doesn’t entitle us to their private lives

Response reveals a cultural problem.
Photo: 
Australian actor Rebel Wilson recently came out in an Instagram post after Andrew Hornery, a gossip columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald, contacted her team. Hornery claimed to have had information about Wilson’s relationship with fashion designer Ramona Agruma and gave her two days to respond with a comment.
 
Setting a deadline for a request is standard journalistic practice. The real problem with this situation is how Hornery responded to Wilson understandably choosing to come out on her own terms rather than cooperate with the publication. 
 
In a since-deleted statement, Hornery blamed Wilson for denying him a story for which he had enough information to tell. However, in blaming Wilson for “scooping” the story by coming out, Hornery played his own hand: clearly, the piece was meant to out her. 
 
Journalists should protect and respect their sources, especially when the requested material could put the source in danger. There is a certain level of responsibility that comes with the profession—even if you’re writing for a gossip column.
 
Hornery’s actions are unfortunately representative of how celebrity reporting is generally handled. 
 
Any respectable journalist should have recognized the situation’s nuances because Rebel Wilson is in a same-sex relationship and had not yet come out. The backlash likely wouldn’t be the same if a straight couple were involved since the social ramifications would have been different. 
 
Fortunately, Wilson occupies a position of privilege and was able to come out safely, albeit not in the way she may have planned. However, we have to wonder how this situation might have played out for a celebrity living in a country that’s more hostile toward queer people, someone coming from a family that wouldn’t accept them, or a celebrity of colour.
 
As much as we may enjoy content about celebrities’ private lives, how that content is produced matters. No one—not even famous people—should be coerced into sharing information that could endanger them or cause emotional suffering. 
 
Newspapers are not designed to protect marginalized voices. 
 
While the Sydney Morning Herald has apologized on behalf of Hornery, his behaviour shouldn’t be dismissed as an independent issue. Rather, it’s reflective of a deeper cultural problem: the media and the public feel entitled to celebrities’ private lives and become angry when denied access.  
 
Celebrity culture has normalized the commodification of people. When people become products and their identities synonymous with entertainment, it’s easy to justify invading their privacy. 
 
As a society, we should reflect on our sense of entitlement toward the private lives of our favourite—and least favourite—celebrities. When people work and are successful in entertainment, the job tends to bleed into the most remote corners of their identity. Choosing such a career does not obligate a person to put their every intimate detail on display. 
 
Famous or not, people’s experiences are their own and no one is entitled to them, least of all for entertainment or personal gain.
 
We would all do well to remember nobody owes us a story.
 

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