MediaFile

Behind Wendi Deng’s billion-dollar spike

By Eric Ellis
The opinions expressed are his own.

Tiger wife or Trophy wife? Slam-down Sister or caring partner doing a Tammy Wynette? New York socialite or about-to-be global media mogul?

When Wendi Deng soared on Tuesday, 42 and pretty-in-pink, left across our TV screens to clobber the idiot cream-pieing her struggling octogenarian billionaire husband, my first thought was of Messrs Wang Chongsheng and Xie Qidong, two hale and delightful old men retired in the central Chinese city of Xuzhou, where Wendi grew up as Deng Weng Ge, or “Cultural Revolution Deng” as was a parent’s political imperative of those dark Maoist days.

Wendi Deng's middle school volleyball team in Xuzhou, China, early 1980s. She is in the middle of the back row.

Mr Wang was Wendi’s volleyball coach at Xuzhou’s No 1 Middle School, and Mr Qie her academic supervisor. Wang taught her volleyball, and rather too well for the scholarly Qie’s taste. Both men can be seen in this slideshow.) “She lagged behind other students because of playing volleyball,” he complained when I met him in early 2007. Xie persuaded Wendi to give up volleyball and focus on university entry exams. “Because she had good health, she could stay very late at night to make up her study,” he says. “She has a struggling spirit and made big progress. I also would say she is smart.” Giving succour to those of us who wonder what use high school ever is for later life, it seems that Wendi at least retained Wang’s ability to execute an Olympic medal-winning spike over the net.

It may well be a spike worth billions. Wendi has never been the most favorite member of the Murdoch family among the clan itself since Rupert, double her age, took her as his third wife in 1999. Indeed, after getting over the shock that their Dad had left their sainted mother Anna after 32 years, Elisabeth, Lachlan and James Murdoch were relieved to read, shortly after he married Wendi, Murdoch’s remarks to an interviewer that Wendi’s job was “as a home decorator,” that she was not “some business genius about to take over News.”

Murdoch vs. parliament: No curtain call yet


Near the end of his dramatic testimony, at the end of what he called his most humbling day, a prankster tried to tag Rupert Murdoch with a pie in the face. He missed.

It may be the defining moment in the whole sordid ordeal of the cell phone hacking scandal which has beset News Corp: try as many MPs might have, it would appear at first blush that Murdoch father and son delivered the finessed performance of contrition, cooperation and combativeness that could change the tempo of the outcry against the media empire, now under fire on two continents — and possibly a third.

Murdoch’s answers will be picked apart for days — why was this the most humbling day of his career, and not his life? — but for the sake of appearances, which matter most because they will frame the meme, Rupert and James Murdoch did themselves every possible favor in an arena that could have resulted in unmitigated disaster.

How I Wolff’d down the Murdoch book

After nearly setting off my tilt mechanism at Thanksgiving dinner by eating twice my weight in food, I spent the earlier part of Friday gorging on as much of Michael Wolff’s new Rupert Murdoch biography as I could. I read just enough to think of some questions for Wolff that wouldn’t come off as sounding too stupid, and then we got on the phone.

First, a short reminder of why we care about Rupert Murdoch and want to read Wolff’s book, “The Man Who Owns the News,” which Broadway Books, an imprint of Random House’s Doubleday label, is releasing on Dec. 2 (after passing some copies around to people like me):

    Murdoch is the legendarily aggressive Australian businessman who built News Corp into an international media empire. He owns this crazy collection of stuff, from MySpace to the New York Post to Sky Italia to stakes in companies in countries you’ve never even heard of. He did it despite — and perhaps because of — his treatment by more well-heeled media contemporaries as a vulgar, Antipodean mutant form of themselves. He’s a big risk-taker, as evidenced by his $5.6 billion purchase of Dow Jones & Co and its crown jewel, The Wall Street Journal. That price was 65 percent more than the company was worth. His love life with the much younger Wendi Deng causes constant speculation about who will run his empire when he is gone. Some people think he uses his news outlets to advance his business interests, something that in utterly unremarkable in certain parts of the world.

Now for some Q&A with Michael Wolff. We moved one or two items out of chronological order to preserve a bit of continuity with the questions.