Jacinda Ardern has distanced herself from a recently published biography documenting her leadership style, less than a week after joining the widespread criticism of a film that focuses on her role as New Zealand’s leader during the Christchurch terror attacks.
The new book, Jacinda Ardern: Leading with Empathy, was written by activist and journalist Supriya Vani and writer Carl A. Harte, based on “Vani’s exclusive interviews with Ardern,” according to its seller, Simon & Schuster.
But at a press conference on Monday, the prime minister said Vani had “clearly” misled her about the intent of the interview and the premise of the book. Ardern said she was approached in 2019 and “was told that the author was writing a book on women and political leadership.”
“They told me there were about 10 other female political leaders involved,” she said. Ardern said she agreed to the interview only “on that basis, as it was not specific to me.”
He said that “the claim that it was an exclusive interview for the purpose of writing a book of that nature [a biography] it is not true ”, and said that he would ask for clarification of the statement.
Harte denied the claim that she was misled and said Ardern’s office later learned that the book’s framing had changed to become a biography.
The dispute comes at a time when Ardern’s often brilliant international media appearances are under particular scrutiny in New Zealand. A proposed film about the Christchurch mosque attacks, called They Are Us and starring Rose Byrne as Ardern, has come under fire over allegations that Muslim victims have been marginalized in favor of focusing on Ardern.
Ardern said Sunday that it was not an appropriate focus for a film about the 2019 mosque attacks. “There are many stories from March 15 that could be told, but I don’t consider mine to be one of them,” he said. Ardern reiterated that he has nothing to do with the film.
In a statement to The Guardian, Harte confirmed that the original interview was for a book that describes various women leaders. “However, Prime Minister Ardern was not misled, because at the time of the interview, we had no intention of writing a biography on her alone,” he said.
Harte said they changed course to a biography of Ardern after Covid-19 excluded plans for interviews with other world leaders, and because “his story deserved a book in itself, for its model leadership.”
“Our decision to change direction, something that I must say is the hallmark of many creative endeavors, was made in 2020.”
He said Ardern’s office knew the book’s framing had changed to a biography, and said that in January, Vani had “informed the prime minister’s office of our intention to publish our Jacinda Ardern biography and shared the cover.”
“We regret the misunderstanding,” Harte added. “We stand behind our book.”
Vani did not provide independent comment, but said he would forward the request to his co-author.
The claims in the book of exclusive interviews with the prime minister raised some eyebrows in New Zealand, because Ardern does not usually give interviews to biographers. Two leading New Zealand journalists, Madeleine Chapman and Michelle Duff, have written biographies of Ardern. Neither of them was able to get an interview.
Vani posted a short excerpt from Vani’s interview in a Writers Digest article on how to write and research a biography. Vani asks: “I feel like she laid the foundation for her personality when she instantly empathized in her own childhood with children on the streets of New Zealand without shoes or anything to eat. Would you agree with me that you were able to observe all these things because you were born an empathic person ”? Ardern responds: “I would like to believe that it is something that is an inherent trait of all of us. It’s about having the space to be empathetic. “
Simon & Schuster quote Booklist as saying that the book is a “readable and admirable biography.” In a Spinoff review, Toby Manhire calls him “Absolutely uncritical, flattering, cloying.”
The book is sold by Simon & Schuster and appears to have several publishers in different jurisdictions, including Harper Collins India, Hardie Scholarship in Australia and New Zealand, and Oneworld Publications. The Guardian has reached out to Simon & Schuster, Oneworld Publications, Hardie Grant, and Harper Collins India for comment.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism