Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she's not about to start editing her partner's social media comments, but says she and Clarke Gayford accept they're in the public eye.
Deborah Hill Cone's NZ Herald column yesterday has divided readers, after she wrote that she admired Ardern but found Gayford's posing for photos "cringey" and his personality presented in the media as smug.
Gayford, a columnist for the Herald on Sunday, has hit back at Hill Cone on Twitter, comparing her to a "bottom-feeding fish", which features on his show, Fish of the Day.
"And welcome back to NZ - lol. Here's some other bottom feeding fish who I'd never met which feature as breaking news this weds 8pm on Prime TV, FISH OF THE DAY. - in the stunning COROMANDEL," the tweet read.
Ardern told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking today that she and Gayford accepted they were in the public eye, but that she was not about to start editing his social media.
"He had a public profile long before I came along. That means both of us have been in the public eye."
She said she accepted that came with positive and negative attributes.
"He supports me hugely and I appreciate that."
When questioned about a post he made in reply to the column yesterday, Ardern said, "I think you will find he made a comment about some fish".
On the AM Show on Tuesday, Ardern told host Duncan Garner she had not read the column.
"I could tell that it wasn't particularly nice," she said.
Garner said past spouses of prime ministers had done "really hard work" for New Zealand, and questioned whether Clarke was "fair game".
"I do acknowledge that he's in the public eye in a different way than perhaps other spouses, but I still think there are lines to be drawn," Ardern said.
Gayford hit out at Hill Cone, who accused him of piggybacking off Ardern's success, but readers' reactions show the country is divided over the matter.
In an article published in the Herald, columnist Deborah Hill Cone said she was "not convinced" by Gayford's "hipster salty seadog" narrative.
In the column, Hill Cone claimed she admired Ardern but found Gayford's posing for photos "cringey" and his personality presented in the media as smug.
"There's something about our First Bloke that keeps nagging me every time I see his cheerful face," she wrote. "Ardern seems to have done well in that regard. And I'm a feminist. I should be applauding Gayford for stepping up to this new role. So why does the 'first man of fishing' give me a little bit of acid reflux?"
The Spinoff has also had its say on the reputation-rocking column. Writer Danyl Mclauchlan stated that after an extensive investigation into Hill Cone's column he had decided "Gayford looks like he might be an OK guy" and looked like an old friend.
"This is not to deny that the Herald's investigation raises some valid issues which Ardern and her government must urgently move to address. Why were we not told that Gayford came second in the 2001 season of Treasure Island?" he wrote.
"And, most pressingly: is Clarke Gayford enjoying the political circus too much, and how much is too much, and how will Labour monitor and regulate Clarke's lovable goofy smiles going forwards?"
Many Herald readers and listeners calling Newstalk ZB contributed their two cents' worth, most defending Gayford and questioning what they dubbed a "personal attack".
"Past PM wives or husbands have not been subject to this sort of public ridicule," one reader wrote.
Another queried why it had become a "different ball game" now the Prime Minister's partner was male.
"Goodness, how many Prime Ministers' wives over the years travelled with their husbands at the expense of the taxpayer," they wrote. "Just because their photos might not have been of fishing but rather shopping and beauty salons huh?"
Others lashed out at Hill Cone, calling the commentary "mean-spirited".
"Why shouldn't the man be smug? His partner is the PM and they're having a baby. Seems to me he's having a really good year," one pointed out. "He should be smug."
Although many opposed the opinions expressed in the column, a small proportion threw their weight behind Hill Cone, suggesting he was "lapping up" the attention.
ZB host Heather du Plessis-Allan also weighed into the discussion. She was in two minds about the issue.
She said "cutesy" pictures of him and Ardern provided New Zealand great "PR" on the world stage, but she also claimed Gayford was Ardern's "weakest link".
"He doesn't know when to pull back," she said.
"Before the election he was defending the Prime Minister when she was just the Labour leader and he did a big crybaby thing about why people are mean to his girlfriend.
"The press team need to get around Clarke and watch out."
Some commenters backed Hill Cone in her comments on Gayford's positioning beside the PM.
"Clarke Gayford forgets that no one elected him and he represents no one on either the national or international stage," they wrote.
"Many people therefore feel insulted by his posturing when he is actually a nobody."
But others agreed with Gayford's comparing the columnist to a "bottom feeding fish".
"I find the reference to bottom feeding fish to be highly offensive," they wrote.
"Bottom feeding fish help to keep our oceans clean."
The country is also divided over its stance on the Prime Minister. RadioLIVE's Night Talk host Mitch Harris was recently labelled a "Jacinda apologist".
Harris said in a Newshub column yesterday that he felt the title wasn't accurate.
"I think I can be more fairly described as a 'Jacinda defender'," he said.
"The reason I have become a Jacinda defender is because, in my view, the general political discourse has been critical out of all proportion. A sense of fairness has compelled me to defend her and the Coalition."
However, he said he won't remain a "defender" forever.
"There are bound to be things from the Coalition Government that eventually annoy me. I will just try to be guided by what is actually happening."