Judith Collins says she's 'talking about the things that matter' but media keep turning 'every little thing' she says 'into a clickbait'

Judith Collins has accused the media of turning "every little thing" she says "into a clickbait".

A quick Google search for headlines about the National Party leader from the last few weeks brings up stories about "fat-shaming" a microbiologist, getting into an argument with a TV host she accused of having a "political agenda", and various columnists speculating on her leadership - not to mention leadership spill rumours she claimed were started by Labour Party "activists".

All the while the country is in its toughest lockdown yet, fighting off the highly infectious Delta strain of COVID-19. 

Ryan Bridge, host of The AM Show, asked Collins on Wednesday to rate her recent performance out of 10.

"Well I'm here at work doing my job. I don't want to do ratings on it," she told him. "What I think is really important is that I'm actually here doing my job, which is what I expect everyone to be doing if they can."

Bridge asked her then why many of her headlines have been off-topic, asking if she's getting "distracted". 

"If you want to cover those things, then that's up to you. Obviously I'm here prosecuting the issues around the appalling lack of vaccination rollout that we've had. I'm talking about the issues that matter," Collins said.

"But if media and others want to pick up on every little thing and they want to turn that into a clickbait, as they do, well that's up to them. Ultimately I'm here talking about the things that matter." 

Bridge put it to Collins she was "feeding into" the media's hunger for clickable headlines.

"The thing is, is that if the media want to run those stories then they will. But I have to be able to do my job talking about the things that matter - such as the appalling vaccination rollout."

Collins went on to defend things she'd said about microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles, whose work to educate the public on the dos and don'ts of life during a pandemic has been used internationally, including by the World Health Organization. Collins last week ripped into the New Zealander of the Year, saying she was a "big fat hypocrite" for cycling to a beach to hang out with a friend.

"I'm sick and tired of listening to her telling everyone else what to do, and here we have the evidence that she had travelled from Freemans Bay to go and visit with her friend on the beach at Judges Bay in Parnell," Collins said on a Zoom call with a Pacific group aligned with the National Party. "That's about 5km, and unless she ran there - and I doubt it - then she wasn't exercising."

It turned out Dr Wiles had cycled there to meet up with a person inside her bubble, and hadn't broken any rules at all - confirmed by none other than the Director-General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield. 

Judith Collins.
Judith Collins. Photo credit: The AM Show

Collins denied she'd "fat-shamed" Dr Wiles, despite saying "big fat hypocrite" and questioning Dr Wiles' ability to get to the beach without a car. 

"I didn't talk about her weight. It is absolutely mischievous to say I did… it's a term just like calling someone a 'big fat liar'," Collins explained.

"The fact is we've got someone who is constantly telling New Zealanders about staying home, not talking to your neighbours, keeping your mask on, and we had someone like her in a public place, clearly without a mask, clearly nowhere near where she lived and she's lecturing everybody. We've seen what happens in Sydney when people feel like that - you start getting civil disobedience, and our lockdown programme has to work on the basis of people complying with it."

The beach was "near-deserted", the scientist said. Even after video of her at the beach was uploaded to a far-right blog, she said she ignored it "because we’re dealing with a delta outbreak & I’ve got more important things to think about". The story didn't go mainstream until Collins commented on it in the Zoom call. 

Bridge told Collins even if she didn't mean to mock Dr Wiles' weight, she sounded petty, rather than like a Prime Minister in waiting. 

"It's important to understand that New Zealanders often use colloquialisms. I'm one of those people who uses colloquialisms sometimes. If people want to be mischievous and try and make something out of it that's not, then ultimately they have to be responsible for that. 

"Everybody knows sayings like that. It's like when someone says someone's 'over the moon'. They're not actually over a moon are they? … What I was talking about and calling out was the hypocrisy and that was very evident that day."

A donation effort for Dr Wiles set up in the wake of the controversy raised more than $33,000 for her research into how New Zealand's unique fungi could be a source of potential new antibiotics.