John Key Prime Minister John Key yesterday reined back claims after singling out the Herald in an attack on the media's "aggressive and hostile" attitude to him and his Government.
In an interview on Newstalk ZB yesterday, Mr Key said he and his Government had received tougher treatment from the media generally during their second term.
"The media are in a more aggressive and hostile mood towards us. I am not bent out of shape about that, I expected that."
But he made special mention of the Herald, which he said had become more "tabloid" in an attempt to raise circulation.
The front page was "always one story, fairly sensational, and then the rest of the paper is a bit more traditional Herald, still a bit aggressive. They have brought David Fisher over from the Herald on Sunday, as an investigative journalist, Shayne Currie is now the editor and not Tim Murphy, and so they've got a completely different approach and they are doing that to stop the decline in sales."
But two hours later Mr Key denied singling out the Herald, saying: "I don't think I did."
Herald editor-in-chief Tim Murphy, via Twitter, dismissed Mr Key's comments as "a 2nd term thing".
Murphy recalled that former Prime Minister Helen Clark accused the Herald of a "tabloid beat-up over, of all things, the $11b leaky buildings scandal. Plus ca change ..." He added: "Next up, PMs start talking about themselves in 3rd person. Always happens."
Murphy noted that the Herald circulation had remained stable over the past six audits - from 170,400 to 170,800 - and that readership was up across print and digital platforms.
Mr Key said he was warned by Helen Clark last year to expect tougher treatment after the first three years in Government.
"I think it just happens with a second-term Government. We've got a lot of policies we're implementing, there will always be critical appraisal of that, doesn't bother me."
Labour leader David Shearer and NZ First leader Winston Peters agreed Mr Key was getting a rougher ride in his second term.
"People are holding him to account much more now," Mr Shearer said.
Mr Peters said the Herald, like other media, had been "absolute poodles" towards Mr Key during his Government's first term.
But he offered the media his blessing for their more aggressive approach now.