Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has lashed back at criticism of his comments about the MediaWorks sale - describing network star Mark Richardson as "gutless" and "spineless".
MediaWorks revealed on Friday that it plans to sell its TV network and Auckland building.
The following day Peters told NZ First's annual conference: "Now I'm sorry for some of them because they deserve to stay. But for some of them - good riddance''.
The comment prompted Richardson to this morning describe Peters as "heartless and classless".
Now Peters has bitten back, saying he stands by his "good riddance" comment - and calling out Richardson as "gutless".
Speaking to media this morning, Peters directly addressed Richardson's comments and called The AM Show presenter "spineless" and "gutless".
"I feel like I have been mauled by a lamb," he said, after asking media after 14 minutes of questions why they hadn't asked about his comments about MediaWorks.
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"I feel seriously sorry for all those people who work for MediaWorks - I really do," Peters said.
"I feel sorry for them, but also sorry for their husbands and wives," he said, adding that many of them probably have mortgages they have to pay.
But then he changed tack.
"That said, I can remember them [Newshub] pillorying me for five months before the 2008 election.
"And as my staff members were crying about where they were going on Monday... [Newshub] (TV3 at the time) couldn't give a Tinker's damn."
After the 2008 election, NZ First did not win enough votes to return to Parliament.
Peters said he did not criticise all of MediaWorks staff when he said "good riddance" - "what I said was, for the odd one, it was 'good riddance'."
It appears he was referring to Richardson as "the odd one" as he referenced a time recently when The AM Show presenter cast a "serious slur" on his health after he said Peters had finished an interview on the show.
He called Richardson "spineless, gutless" for not putting questions about Peters' health to him when he was on air.
"My answer to Mr Flash White Teeth is: I couldn't give a rat's derriere what you think."
Richardson declined to comment on Peters' attack when contacted by NZME.
This is not the first time the two have clashed.
Peters lodged defamation proceedings against MediaWorks after Richardson likened him to pus on The AM Show.
"I'm not going to have people defaming me in this campaign: I was on The AM Show, the guy likened me to white pus and cancer cells and what have you, and I thought, 'Sorry, I'm not taking that, I'm suing you' - it's all filed," Peters told Newshub in August 2017.
Meanwhile Justice Minister Andrew Little, a former union leader, confirmed he had met with some Newshub employees this morning to express some solidarity.
He took some cakes to some of the company's employees in the press gallery.
"As a union leader that has been through, with many work forces, changes of ownership and potential redundancies and restructuring, it's incredibly stressful and uncertain times."
PM disagrees with Deputy PM's comments
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern distanced herself from Peters' remarks this morning, saying she did not share his sentiments.
"It is up to each of us to have our own opinions and express them," she told reporters.
Earlier today Richardson, co-host of The AM Show, described Peters' comments as "heartless and classless'' revelling.
"As a sports person, I understand competition. I understand your adversaries' right to challenge you, to test you, to ask the hard question and from time to time to better you.
"I also learned to respect their skill, respect them, to shake hands and move on - to regroup and come back better myself for it,'' Richardson said.
"It would appear your politics lacks this basic human aspect.''
In an opinion piece published this morning, Richardson let loose on Peters, saying: "Very classy, Winston''.
"Yes, after hearing your comments, your heartless and classless revelling, Your Right Honourable Sir, I sort of thought, you know what, if this is the type of person I'd have to be to enjoy longevity in politics then I want no part of it," Richardson wrote.
Richardson acknowledged that Peters had pointed out there were "some'' good people employed at Three.
But he guessed that those few good people must not be the ones challenging Peters.
"[The ones] who don't do their jobs, the ones who you've been able to cowardly bully into submission with your constant threat of legal action when challenged.''
Richardson referred to the veteran politician as "Winnie'' and rebuked him for his comments.
"You know what, Winnie? Sorry - your right honourable good sir Mr Peters. I'd rather endure a Labour-Green Government governing alone than another minute of you holding my country selflishly to ransom.
"Yeah, that Red-Green lot have some hare-brained schemes, but at least for the most part they're good people. They're good people with a genuine cause and a desire to help others.
"I don't know if I could say the same about you."