Sydney Morning Herald columnist Paul Sheehan has been “stood aside” by his editor following an internal investigation into his controversial article in which he alleged a woman had been gang raped by men of Middle Eastern origin and that police had failed to investigate.
Sheehan’s column ‘The horrifying untold story of Louise’ was found to be an unacceptable breach of fundamental journalistic practice, editor-in-chief Darren Goodsir said in a statement published on The Sydney Morning Herald this afternoon.
He wrote: “I have concluded a formal review into the column “The horrifying untold story of Louise”, published on Monday, February 22. The article has since been retracted and, on behalf of the Herald, I once again unreservedly apologise for the column and the hurt and distress it understandably caused.”
The episode has been one of the most damaging blows to the SMH’s journalistic reputation in its history.
In the original piece, published on Monday February 22, Sheehan described in unusually graphic detail the woman’s humiliations as the hands of her alleged attackers. He also used repeated the phrase “Middle Eastern raping c—-s”.
Sheehan followed up the column with one admitting he should not have written it without checking whether it was true. At the time, he conceded: “I had not considered the possibility that her story had been carefully constructed on a foundation of embellishments, false memories and fabrications.”
On Monday the SMH also belatedly apologised for the article.
Today’s statement from Goodsir continued: “The formal review, which included a comprehensive examination of editorial processes, found unacceptable breaches of fundamental journalistic practice. The columnist, who has also apologised for the report and admitted this serious lapse, will stand aside from his duties until further notice.
“The Herald’s reputation is founded on the trust our readers give us to provide fair, balanced and independent journalism, and it is critical that the editorial integrity of the Herald is maintained.”
Mumbrella understands there has also been at least one complaint about the original column lodged with the Australian Press Council.